Running an NHL GM team has always meant sticking with what worked.
If your team won a Cup, you did whatever you could to make sure that same exact team was with you the following season.
Sure, Chicago got rid of a lot of players from their Cup-winning team, but I doubt they would have if cap pressure hadn’t have been a factor.
The Flyers almost won the Stanley Cup using what was basically a four-man defensive rotation.
It allowed their best defensemen to see lots of ice time.
It obviously worked.
And yet the Flyers are still trying to improve upon success.
They’re embracing the idea of a strong, third defensive pair, thinking Sean O’Donnell and Andrej Meszaros can help reduce the minutes on Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen, both in their mid-30s.
Both need reduced minutes because they’re older, but also because they played so long into last season.
The Flyers are getting proactive about the dreaded playoff hangover. Rather than waiting for either defenseman to run out of gas at an inopportune time, they instead decided to plan for it.
And Meszaros and O’Donnell have come in handy with Pronger out recovering from knee surgery.
The nice thing about embracing the third pair is that coach Peter Laviolette can always change his mind about them and reduce their minutes. It allows him to take the pressure off of his top four defenseman, but also to give them pressure, should they need it.
GMs probably like the idea of sticking with what worked in previous seasons because it gives them an out with the fans and the media if things start to go south for a team. The GM just has to stand up and say “This is what got us to the finals last season. It’s obviously proven.” and the fans and the media really can’t say anything else. Because if something worked once, why shouldn’t it work twice?
But by using his limited cap space to give the Flyers a strong, viable third defensive pair, even though they didn’t really need one last season, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren is showing a willingness to try and anticipate team issues before they emerge, rather than after.
It goes against GMing conventional wisdom, but maybe since the Flyers didn’t actually win the Cup, Holmgren feels some kind of tacit mandate to change things up a little bit.