Greenberg: Flyers can't keep trading draft picks


Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Posted: 11 a.m.By Jay Contributor

The NHL salary cap keeps risinggood when you are trying to sign Ilya Bryzgalov while keeping Ville Leino, not so great when you are trying to find the next Mike Richards or Claude Giroux at the same time. When fewer teams can afford to spend the cap limit, more emphasis is placed on the draft.

The last number of years most teams are tying to build their teams prior to July 1 and when you get to July 1 just trying to add that one piece, said Paul Holmgren Monday, four days before the draft. There are a few teams that have later picks that from what I can gather are trying to move up.

The Flyers GM knows that because he is competing to be one of them, a good, probably necessary, thing considering that as of Tuesday the Flyers did not have a first-round pick for the third consecutive draft and havent had a second-rounder in four.

A second-rounder is another stab at a prospect, the fact that we dont have any second-round picks is not an ideal position, said Holmgren. We havent had one in a while, so we are looking around at things right now.

Holmgren traded two first-rounders and Luca Sbisa, a former first-rounder who will play in the league for a long time, for Chris Pronger. So now the GM has to win a Cup before Pronger, 37 at the start of next season, breaks down, which already shows signs of happening.

The Flyers should have a payroll corresponding to high expectations. But Holmgren also knows he cant keep robbing coach Peter Laviolette or there will be no cap ceiling high enough to enable the Flyers, who have been in six finals and another six semifinals since their last Cup win in 1975, to expect to play deep into the playoffs most years.

Free agency has become a larger element in team building since the advent of the cap, no question. But the reason the Flyers can shop for a missing piece like Bryzgalov is that they only have to pay James van Riemsdyk 875,000 this season. That price will rise, corresponding to his restricted free agency eligibility for 2012-13 and his status as an emergent star. So, with long-term commitments in place with Richards, Jeff Carter, Pronger and probably Bryzgalov, a supply of cheap rising talent has become almost as important as finding talent, period.

The higher picks, we cant keep giving them up, said Holmgren. And the history of the organization, as it will with most organizations, demonstrates the importance of the draft clearly.

Each spike in draft success the Flyers have had has been followed by their most sustained runs at Stanley Cups. Two years after their best-ever draftHall of Famer Bill Barber in the first round, all star Jimmy Watson in the third round, top-four defenseman Tom Bladon in the second in 1972the Flyers won their first Stanley Cup. And their fourth-rounder in that draft, a 12-year pro of 240 NHL goals named Al MacAdam, was the bait in the trade for Reggie Leach, a key to Cup II.

Neither Ken Linseman nor Behn Wilson, taken sixth and seventh overall in 1978, performed up to the hype. But Linseman and Wilson, as of course did 1979 first-rounder Brian Propp, played huge roles on the 1979-80 Stanley Cup finalist, then Linseman was the bait that brought Mark Howe, who is either No. 1 or No. 1a with Pronger as the best defenseman the franchise ever has had.

The Flyers had lost in the first round three consecutive years in the early eighties until the second deepest draft they ever hadthe 1983 haul of Rick Tocchet, Peter Zezel, Derrick Smith and Pelle Eklundfinished off a roster that went to the finals twice in the Mike Keenan years.

Mike Ricci and Chris Simon, the top two picks in 1990, were the bait, along with 1991 No. 1 Peter Forsberg, for Eric Lindros, and 1990 third-rounder Mikael Renberg was Lindros linemate during the franchises revival of the mid-nineties.

A year after Simon Gagne was the 22nd player taken in the 1998 draft, the Flyers were playing in Game 7 of the conference final. And there was no rise from the 2006-07 crash-and-burn to the bottom of the NHL without the Carter-Richards draft of 2003, plus no 2010 run to within two games of the Cup without Giroux being found with 22nd pick of 2006.

Conversely, a succession of 1985-88 first-round bombsGlen Seabrooke, Kerry Huffman, Darren Rumble and Claude Boivin, was a precursor to missing the playoffs five consecutive years (1990-94).

No wonder why Holmgren said on the Flyers cant keep giving up picks.

Hard to argue that Andrej Meszaros wasnt worth a No. 2, but Kris Versteeg is a third-line guy who cost a No. 1 and a No. 3. Granted, if Versteeg is on a parade stand next June after scoring a big goal in a final, who is going to say he wasnt worth it?

But historically you get your third-liners with volumes of second-to-fifth round choices, why Holmgren, who picked 81st in 2009, and 89th in 2010, will squirm uncomfortably if he is waiting through 83 picks for his first one on Saturday.

Jay Greenberg covered the Flyers for 14 years for the Daily News and Evening Bulletin. His history of the Flyers, Full Spectrum, was published in 1996. He can be reached at

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