Paul Holmgren’s retirement can only help the Philadelphia Flyers

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

When word came down last week that Paul Holmgren was retiring, it hopefully signified the end of a very unsuccessful era of Philadelphia Flyers hockey.

I’m sure that Paul Holmgren is a very nice man, and I also believe that he had the organization’s best interests in mind all throughout his time as a Philadelphia Flyers player, coach, and executive.

Yet, if you had to point at one single person who is the most responsible for the team’s interminably long Stanley Cup drought, I truly feel that Holmgren is the only legitimate choice for that dishonor.

And so, if nobody else will say it, I will.

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Good riddance.

He was drafted by the Flyers seven days after the team won the Stanley Cup in 1975, and so in my mind, he is the poster boy for the frustration and ultimate failure that have come from being a Flyers fan ever since.

I can see the appeal that “Homer” has had for the Flyers organization over the years. On the ice, he fit perfectly with the identity that the team had forged in its “Broad Street Bullies” days, endearing himself to fans and, most importantly, owner Ed Snider.

It’s because of this that he was one of the first former Flyers players to be given a job with the club after his playing days had ended 1985. He wore the crest with pride over 500 games as a Flyer, and this would be his reward for giving the team everything he had, even despite his inability to deliver a Stanley Cup as a player.

After three years as an assistant coach, which included two trips to the Cup Final but again no championship, Holmgren graduated to the top job. The Flyers made a run to the semifinals in his first season as head coach, but his next two seasons were awful, and he ended up getting fired partway through his fourth season. Eerily reminiscent of Dave Hakstol, if you ask me.

Holmgren next moved on to the Hartford Whalers, which is the first place I remember seeing him when I became a hockey fan as a young lad around that time. His time there was terrible, he was again fired, but he would be welcomed back into the Flyers family.

It’s impossible to know what specific contributions Holmgren made to the Flyers over the next decade, as he held roles in scouting, player personnel, and finally as assistant GM under Bobby Clarke. On the ice, it was an entertaining but ultimately disappointing era of Flyers hockey, as several deep playoff runs and great individual performances still could not bring the Cup back to Philadelphia.

When Clarke resigned in 2006 very early in what would turn out to be a monumental disaster of a season, Holmgren became the Flyers’ general manager, no doubt the job that he had coveted for decades.

Paul Holmgren sporting the second-coolest Flyers Starter jacket, after that pullover I still have in my basement. (Photo by: Getty Images)
Paul Holmgren sporting the second-coolest Flyers Starter jacket, after that pullover I still have in my basement. (Photo by: Getty Images) /

A favorite son of Ed Snider, Holmgren was given the keys to the castle by the chairman, although he had an unenviable task ahead of him. And I have to give him credit for orchestrating a rather quick turnaround through a series of bold trades and big spending on free agents. The guy was clearly doing everything he could to make up for lost time.

But he must be judged by results, and the team came up short repeatedly in the postseason. The roster that Holmgren had constructed was clearly unable to ford the river in the Oregon Trail of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

After numerous bad contracts given out by Holmgren put the team in salary cap hell, Ron Hextall (another good ol’ boy) was installed as GM in 2014. But Holmgren received a “promotion” to team president in a bizarre move that one can only assume was another reward by Snider for Holmgren’s years of faithful service.

Hextall did a nice job cleaning up most of the mess made by Holmgren, but when the Flyers announced Hextall’s firing last season, it was Holmgren once again who appeared to be the biggest factor in the organization’s direction. All Flyers fans were right to be worried.

But the dismissals of Hextall and Dave Hakstol last year, as well as the hiring of new GM Chuck Fletcher, can all be seen more clearly after last week when Holmgren announced that he had been planning to retire for the past year or so. It now appears that he wanted to “get things right” before stepping aside.

As he hands over the reins fully to both Fletcher and Dave Scott, I would like to at least laud Holmgren’s commitment to the late Ed Snider’s vision on how the Flyers should be run. As the last true “steward” of the club left from Snider’s ownership, Holmgren had a lot on the line to make sure the club was in the best possible hands.

Holmgren isn’t completely gone, of course, as he will remain on in a senior advisory role, whatever that means. But the fact remains that he is no longer part of the Flyers’ day-to-day decision-making process.

One can never question Paul Holmgren’s complete and total commitment to the Philadelphia Flyers. His input and influence no doubt contributed to some great Flyers moments and memories for all of us.

But, and this is going to sound unbelievably cruel, the team will be better going forward without him playing an active role.

The Flyers’ mounting decades of failure are due to a great many factors. But If I have to single out one person, it’s Paul Holmgren. And no, I’m not yet ready to call a 44-year Cup drought “The Paul Holmgren Curse“, but I certainly reserve the right to in the future if the Flyers can finally manage to win another championship.

So, thank you for everything you did for the Philadelphia Flyers, Paul Holmgren.

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There’s the door.