Yzerman, Holmgren not performing to expectations

By: Tim Kolupanowich

@TimKolupan_

When a team is struggling and playing far below expectations, rumors of a coaching change start spreading like wild fire. It’s obvious why; it’s one move, one person being swapped for another in order to bring a different voice into the locker room the players will hopefully respond to. It works quite often too. The fortunes of Los Angeles and St. Louis changed drastically last season thanks to mid-season coaching changes.

The onus is now on Steve Yzerman to assemble an NHL-caliber roster. (Dave Hogg/Wikimedia Commons)

The onus is now on Steve Yzerman to assemble an NHL-caliber roster. (Dave Hogg/Wikimedia Commons)

But have you ever stopped to wonder why it’s the coach and never the GM who is deemed the problem? Earlier this season the tandem of GM Darcy Regier and coach Lindy Ruff was split up in Buffalo when the latter was fired due to a poor record, yet Regier remains in his position despite putting together a team that isn’t going to be a serious contendor regardless of who is behind the bench. The Sabres were 6-10-1 under Ruff this season and while Ron Rolston’s record is an improvement, it’s not by much as he has gone 7-7-3 with three of those wins coming in a shootout.

They say good goaltending can make any coach look like a genius, but a GM who puts together a poor team for him to work with will make the best bench bosses look lousy. There’s rarely a GM change in the middle of a season as that would involve rebuilding a roster which takes a lot longer than implementing a different system, but that could be just what is needed in Tampa Bay and Philadelphia.

A Hall of Fame career and resume that includes building the 2010 gold medal-winning Canadian Olympic roster will allow slack for anyone, but some believe it’s Steve Yzerman and not Guy Boucher who should have been given the axe in Tampa.

Like Philadelphia, goaltending has been a major issue in Tampa Bay as Allan Muir of Sports Illustrated explains:

It was Yzerman who gambled last summer that Anders Lindback, an inexperienced back-up with Nashville who had all of 38 NHL games to his credit, was ready to step into a No. 1 job with the Bolts.

Lindback is just 24, and in time, he may mature into the elite netminder Yzerman believes he can be. Plenty of scouts say he has the size and tools to be a good one. But he hasn’t been up to the task this year, battling the learning curve and technical problems with his game. His positioning needs refinement and he tends to give up juicy rebounds. Little mistakes seemed to snowball with him, and you could see his confidence sagging as games began to get away from him.

Again, this is all part of the process for a young keeper. But it left Boucher with no true No. 1 stopper, and forced him to play a game of “Guess the Hot Hand” with Lindback and aging veteran Mathieu Garon as his choices.

Yzerman gambled and lost on the goaltending decision. It may end up working in the future, but it cost a coach who helped take the Bolts from 80 to 103 points just two years ago his job. There is top-end talent on the roster for sure as Steven Stamkos is one of the top three players in the league and Martin St. Louis remains dangerous in his late 30s, but aside from that the roster is spotty as Ken Campbell of The Hockey News explains:

The Lightning are known as one of the more underachieving teams in the NHL over the past two seasons and if that’s the case, then Boucher should have been fired. After all, it’s a coach’s responsibility to get the most out of the roster his GM gives him.

But what exactly did Yzerman give Boucher, aside from a couple of superstar offensive players that he had already inherited? Virtually every other aspect of the Lightning’s game – from goaltending to depth on defense to secondary scoring – has been far below the NHL standard. And that’s on the GM.

As Campbell notes, Yzerman has to make the tough calls, including buying out Vinny Lecavalier’s albatros of a contract to make room for more depth. He has been taking chances on the goaltending, getting lucky with Dwayne Roloson in 2011, but there have been no improvements in net since. He gave Matt Carle far too much money with a six-year deal with a $5.5 million cap hit and they have no NHL-caliber defensemen after their so-so top four of Carle, Victor Hedman, Sami Salo and Eric Brewer.

Paul Holmgren looked like a genius early in his tenure. The Flyers were horribly mismanaged coming out of the 2004-05 lockout as former GM Bobby Clarke placed value in big, slow players like Darien Hatcher and Mike Rathje and they finished last in ’06-07. Holmgren was not afraid to make the tough moves and completely rebuilt the roster in one summer, taking the Flyers from last overall to Eastern Conference finalists and they have only failed to get past the first round once since then.

But despite early success and reaching the Stanley Cup final in 2010, the team is in disarray right now thanks to Holmgren’s penchant of blowing up the roster every few seasons. The intentions may have been good, but the results have not yielded anything positive. Goaltending has been the problem in Philadelphia ever since Ron Hextall went to Quebec in the Eric Lindros deal and they finally decided to stop going the cheap route and get a superstar goalie. Well Ilya Bryzgalov, the supposed savior in net, has been anything but and the netminding is just as inconsistent as it ever was. Only now they are stuck with the same problem for seven more years with a $5.66 million cap hit and no room for improvement in front of the wannabe cosmonaut. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were traded to make room for Bryzgalov as it was said they couldn’t lead the Flyers to a championship; they then proceded to bring the Cup to Los Angeles in their first season on the west coast.

If one of their amnesty clauses isn’t used on Bryzgalov this summer, then it’s definitely time for Holmgren to go. The Flyers are eighth in the NHL allowing just 27.5 shots per game, but they are 26th in goals against allowing 3.06 per game. They have talent that’s for sure, but they don’t have the right players whatsoever and there’s a huge difference between the two. Of course you can’t blame him for Chris Pronger’s career suddenly ending and he did try hard to go after Shea Weber, but turnover machine Braydon Coburn and human pylon Luke Schenn just aren’t cutting it.

Something has to give and it can’t be a third rebuild in six seasons. Coach Peter Laviolette has Holmgren’s blessing according to Jordan Raanan of NJ.com and Holmgren’s job appears to be safe for now according to Sam Carchidi of Philly.com, but one of those has to give.

Hockey is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sport and lately Holmgren has built a mess. From Richards and Carter to Sergei Bobrovsky and Jaromir Jagr, players are having more success once they leave town. From Carchidi:

Holmgren is in his seventh season as the Flyers’ GM. In 2007-08, Holmgren’s first full season in the position, the Flyers collected 95 points after registering just 56 points the previous season.

In the next four seasons, the Flyers recorded 99, 88, 106, and 103 points.

This year, they are battling to avoid missing the playoffs for just the second time in the last 18 seasons.

A 100-point season followed by a year out of the playoffs is exactly why Ken Hitchcock was fired and Clarke resigned in 2007. Holmgren can’t be given leeway because of what he did early in his tenure, he must be judged by how the team is now ans where they are headed which appears to be nowhere. Owner Ed Snyder has never been one to sit back and let the situation work itself out, he always goes after the immediate solution. If the coaches are doing such a good job while the team sits 14th in the Eastern Conference, then it’s the players at fault and by extension the person who assembled them together.

There is no chemistry in the lineup. Laviolette can develop the perfect system, but until the right players are acquired, the team is going to continue to flounder. Despite losses of Jagr and James van Riemsdyk, the Flyers still boast one of the top forward units in the NHL, yet Holmgren signed and traded for Mike Knuble and Simon Gagne respectively this year, two players far past their prime who aren’t going to add much offense and won’t help the obvious problem which is defense. Campbell’s quote about Yzerman not giving Boucher enough to work with goes for Holmgren as well when considering the Flyers’ blueline.

Campbell said of Yzerman:

The Lightning already have $62 million devoted to salaries next season with virtually no impact free agents on the docket. Usually that’s a good thing. In this case, it’s not. It’s an indictment of the GM.

Exchange “Lightning” for “Flyers” and the exact same thing holds true for Holmgren.

It doesn’t matter who is behind the bench for either team right now or next season, with the rosters that are assembled, both the Lightning and Flyers are fringe playoff teams at best. It’s hard to imagine either team climbing much in the standings next season. They don’t need coaching changes, they need better players and someone who will put the right team together and Yzerman and Holmgren just aren’t getting the job done right now.

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