Sharks and Flyers Fix What’s Not Broken in Search of Cup

19 January 2009: Chicago Blackhawks right wing Martin Havlat (24) and Brent Burns (8) during 3rd period game action the United Center, Chicago, Il

The most interesting part of last week’s roster moves (and this weekend’s) was that two very successful NHL teams were willing to dramatically reinvent themselves, even though the previous season’s versions of the teams were successful.

Both the Philadelphia Flyers and San Jose Sharks, two teams that, had some things gone just a little bit differently, could have played each other for the Stanley Cup, made big moves via trade and free agency, sacrificing rosters that were proven to be effective to take each team in a new direction.

In essence, Philadelphia GM Paul Holmgren and San Jose GM Doug Wilson each said that winning doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t result in a Cup. So each GM reworked their winning-yet-Cupless teams.

The Flyers started with a purge of their core, trading away Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. They ended by signing Jaromir Jagr and Max Talbot (maybe…).

The moves represent a change in philosophy for the Flyers. Coach Peter Laviolette will have a lot less speed to work with. Instead, the Flyers are probably going to be a full-time grind-it-out kind of team, not unlike the Cup-winning Bruins. The Flyers will be able to defend in their own end, and control the puck in the offensive zone.

And that’s where Jagr comes in. Jagr hasn’t had much speed in quite a few seasons, but the Flyers are still banking on his shot. With Jagr in the lineup, the team just needs to regularly get him the puck down near the circles, and Jagr will, the Flyers hope, be able to score.

If the new Flyers were an NBA team, they’d now be considered a half court team. They should be challenging to play, but without a lot going on in the neutral zone.

The Sharks also are going through a reinvention, trading away both Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, two of last season’s top five San Jose goal-scorers.

In trading away Heatley, the Sharks got back the inconsistent Martin Havlat for Heatley, with the Sharks getting a reclamation project and a little bit of extra cap space.

In trading away Setoguchi, the Sharks got defenseman Brent Burns, a well-rounded defenseman that gives the Sharks more blue-line offense, conceivably making the Sharks a little harder to defend.

While the Sharks say they don’t plan to regularly pair Burns with offensive defenseman Dan Boyle, imagine the offensive possibilities when they are on the ice together. It’ll be like five forwards on the ice, without the defensive vulnerability (or at least less vulnerability).

The Sharks had previously put much of the team’s fate in the hands of its forwards, but since that still hasn’t resulted in a Cup, Wilson is trying another approach.

Both Wilson and Holmgren have violated the cardinal rule of sports: if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Sports thrives on maintaining the status quo, since risk can very quickly be followed by failure and very few owners have the patience to let management learn and improve from failure.

It’s refreshing to see GMs trying to do more. Just about every NHL coach and player has probably said, at one time or another, something along the lines of a season not meaning anything unless it results in a Cup.

It’s nice to see some GMs starting to practice that ideal also.