Much of what the Flyers did correctly in executing a neat about-face in the NHL standings had to do with all the money GM Paul Holmgren threw at various free agents, a year after they finished dead last in the overall NHL standings. It worked too.
The continuing development of two young stars, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, supplemented by expensive additions such as Kimmo Timmonen, Daniel Briere and Scott Hartnell fast-tracked their turnaround. In one year, they went from 30th overall to a spot in the Stanley Cup semi-finals.
Of course, all that's coming home to roost for the Flyers now, going into the 2009-10 season. Even before getting Emery to agree to terms on a new deal, they had $53.96-million committed to 16 players - and reasonably need to upgrade their defence by at least one top-four player.
Briere is probably not tradable. Simon Gagne had a bounce-back season (74 points in 79 games), although there'll be lingering concussion fears there. His contract is reasonable for his production (two more years at $5.25-million), but he has a no-trade clause as well. Joffrey Lupul (50 points in 79 games, but a defensive liability) is another player they could gladly do without - but again, for what cost? Holmgren clearly has his work cut out for him.
AS THE CROW FLIES: For a few years now, the NHL's Western Conference has had a few 'tweener' franchises - teams that did well for long periods of time, but inevitably became susceptible to the ebb and flow of pro sports.
The three teams that fit the category most prominently: Detroit, Colorado and Dallas, which dominated the landscape in the West for a decade. Detroit was able to sustain that excellence in the post-lockout era; last year, the bottom fell out on an Avalanche team that had clearly lost its way. Dallas stayed right on the cusp.
As recently as two years ago, the Stars made it all the way to the Stanley Cup semi-finals, and en route, upset a couple of heavy hitters, the Ducks and San Jose Sharks, to do so. Devastated by injuries and distracted by Sean Avery, they eventually ran out of gas in the final month and missed the playoffs - at which point new GM Joe Nieuwendyk gave the highly competent Dave Tippett his walking papers and replaced him with a far more risky choice, Marc Crawford, who has not been able to sustain the early success he had in his coaching debut with Quebec/Colorado in subsequent stops.
The Stars' thinking is clear: If their injured players all come back and goaltender Marty Turco proves that last year was just an off year, they could vault right back into the playoff picture with an experienced head coach who is tough on players and not renowned for his teaching skills.
It will be interesting to see if Nieuwendyk's first major move is an inspired choice - or fails miserably.
ETC ETC: Prediction for what happens next in Detroit: Marian Hossa signs a long-term contract extension, despite a so-so playoff. Jiri Hudler, Mikael Samuelsson, Brad Stuart and possibly even Tomas Holmstrom all leave, in trades, or as restricted and unrestricted free agents, opening up permanent spots for Ville Leino, Justin Abdelkader, Jonathan Ericsson and Darren Helm on next year's roster. Ken Holland wins his first annual GM of the year award, after managing his dollars so effectively … The larger mystery is what the Sharks do after finishing first overall in the regular season but stumbling out again in the playoffs. Heatley might be an option for them if Ottawa took Patrick Marleau in return. The dollars would be relatively comparable; and while Marleau had an effective 71-point season for the Sharks, the prevailing thought is that maybe they need a change in the captaincy to move forward . . . This just in: Ovechkin will be the cover athlete and spokesman for the video game, NHL 2K10. Some of the video that will be used in the game will be shot, outdoors, in Las Vegas, two days before next week's award show, on an artificial ice surface laid down at Caesar's Palace, starting at about 8:30 p.m. You hope the temperatures have dropped by then from an expected high in the 90s (Fahrenheit). Ovechkin is a Hart Trophy finalist; the Canucks' Ryan Kesler, a Selke finalist, will also be involved in the shoot.
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