Some 30,000 feet over the continental U.S. on Monday, Philadelphia Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren and head coach Peter Laviolette spent time on the team charter to Tampa discussing which player newly acquired Kris Versteeg most reminded them of.
The verdict: Justin Williams of the Los Angeles Kings.
“Paul came up with that name and, while they’re not exactly the same, I think it’s a pretty good comparison,”
Laviolette said Monday night. “He kills penalties, he can play the power play, he can play on the first or third lines and he’s very aggressive on the puck.”
Holmgren is quite familiar with that type of player, having watched Williams play for the Flyers from 1999-2004. So too is Laviolette, who coached Williams during the Stanley Cup run of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006.
Fair enough. But how can both men be certain that Versteeg is cut from the same hockey cloth as Williams?
Simple. They saw it first-hand last June when Versteeg was part of a dynamic Chicago Blackhawks squad that beat the Flyers in six games during the Stanley Cup final.
Paul Holmgren didn’t forget.
Sure enough, eight months later, after his attempts to land the Hurricanes’ Eric Cole didn’t materialize, Holmgren pulled the trigger on a deal with the Maple Leafs for Versteeg, sending a first- and third-round pick to Toronto in exchange.
When he targets someone, he often gets him. That is Paul Holmgren’s way.
Chris Pronger. Kimmo Timonen. Scott Hartnell. Danny Briere. Braydon Coburn. Now Kris Versteeg.
Whether it be via trade or free agency, Holmgren coveted these players and doggedly pursued them until they finally were tugging that famous orange Flyers jersey over their chests.
“That’s a vision Paul has,” Laviolette said. “When he wants something, he goes after it. He said he wanted to build the blueline, so he went out and got guys like Coburn, Pronger and Timonen.
“When he wants something he acts aggressively.”
And with no fear.
The best example of Holmgren’s willingness to take a risk occurred in 2007.
With just two weeks to go until free agency officially kicked off, Holmgren, opting not to wait until Timonen and Hartnell went on the open market for all teams to bid on come July 1, swung a deal with the Nashville Predators to acquire the exclusive negotiating rights of the two players.
Knowing he had only a handful of days to get them signed before they could be bid on by the entire league, Holmgren successfully inked both players and subsequently watched them become key cogs in the Flyers march to the final in 2010.
Two years later, he was just as proactive in scooping up Pronger, sending defenceman Luca Sbisa, forward Joffrey Lupul, first-round picks in 2009 and 2010 and a conditional third rounder to the Anaheim Ducks. Forward Ryan Dingle also came to Philadelphia as part of the deal.
In Toronto, Brian Burke has been ripped for dealing a pair of first rounders away as part of the controversial Phil Kessel deal.
In Philly, Holmgren has given away his team’s first-round draft selections in 2009, 2010 and now, as part of the Versteeg trade, in 2011. Yet, in the City of Brotherly Shove, he is being applauded for it.
Talk about a tale of two cities.
The difference? Pronger’s impact was immediate. Kessel, meanwhile, has yet to meet expectations, high as they may be.
With gaggles of the so-called experts whining that you can’t win without top draft picks, Holmgren is going against the flow. So far, it’s working.
Then again, two of the foundations of his team — forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter — were selected in the first round earlier in the decade. Just part of Holmgren’s recipe — do whatever it takes.
“We think (Versteeg’s) a guy that over the last few years, particularly in Chicago, has really blossomed into a good forward,” Holmgren said.
By adding depth in Versteeg, Holgren has solidified the Flyers as the favourites in the east. With Evgeni Malkin out and Sidney Crosby hurting in Pittsburgh, the Washington Capitals continuing to be inconsistent and the Boston Bruins having lost Marc Savard for the season, the Flyers stand tall above the rest.
To get Versteeg, Holmgren gave up low first and third rounders without removing any players from his roster, one that he hopes will win the Cup this time around.
Once again, Paul Holmgren has put the Flyers in position to do exactly that.