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Ed Moran: When it comes to Flyers, judge Holmgren's 'body of work'

EVERY COACH has a few sayings he latches on to. One of John Stevens' favorites this year is "body of work." The first few times I heard him say it I thought, "Yeah, right. But . . . "

EVERY COACH has a few sayings he latches on to. One of John Stevens' favorites this year is "body of work." The first few times I heard him say it I thought, "Yeah, right. But . . . "

Since he first used it, I think in October during the Flyers' 0-3-3 start, I've tried to look at the Flyers, and Philly sports in general, the same way.

And what I've concluded is that the fans and the media, me included, live and judge in-the-moment. We make a big deal out of a bad game, out of a player's scoring slump, the rotation of the goalies, and conversely a good game or a stellar performance in net.

You saw it with the Eagles. When they started losing and Donovan McNabb was benched, it was time for both him and Andy Reid to go - trade one, fire the other. Then they started winning again and it all changed.

You saw it again this past week with the NHL trade deadline, Danny Briere's return to the lineup, and the team's flat response Thursday night against Calgary.

It seemed like the world had caved in on the Flyers and on general manager Paul Holmgren's decisions, both those he made to clear salary cap space to get Briere back in, then the ones he made because of the inability to make any moves for that same reason.

When Briere left that game in the second period, the e-mails started right away. "I called that one," read one of my favorites. "Holmgren has to be called on this by the media," read another.

No doubt, it would have been a huge blow to the team after losing both Glen Metropolit and Ossi Vaananen and sending Scottie Upshall to Phoenix all for salary-cap flexibility, only to see Briere go out for the season the very next day.

All week, fans have been telling me I'm soft on Holmgren because I didn't write that he had messed up.

Well, the reason I didn't - and won't - is I don't think he has and I don't think the Flyers are in trouble. In fact, I think the opposite.

"Body of work."

Look how far the Flyers have come since hitting the bottom rung of the NHL ladder two seasons ago. Holmgren rebuilt the team through a series of carefully planned and executed moves. He may have overspent on the free agents he brought in, particularly Briere, but the majority of the fans, the organization, the media, wanted change and big-name players, and he got them.

He plugged them in while holding on to the core of the young, drafted players the team had been collecting and developing and they went to the conference final last year.

Manager of the year, said everyone.

They are better again this season, through experience and continued development. And if not for the Flyers' crappy luck with injuries at the start of the season and the moves Holmgren was forced to make then, the trade deadline actions might have been different.

But his hands were tied. He could have made a move, he could have dismantled his team for Jay Bouwmeester. The Panthers wanted two top-nine forwards, a top-four defenseman and prospect James van Riemsdyk.

That's a joke.

Other teams in the conference got better, including Pittsburgh, Boston and New Jersey. The Calgary Flames got way better and came in the next night and creamed the Flyers, 5-1.

"What a mess," wrote another fan.

Really?

The Flyers are currently fourth in the conference and holding home-ice advantage. With Joffrey Lupul's two-goal performance in Saturday night's 4-1 win over Nashville, the Flyers have six players with 20 or more goals; Jeff Carter has 36, Simon Gagne 26, Mike Richards 25. The goalies haven't been great or consistent, but neither have they been awful. There are better teams, teams with more points, better goalies, bigger, big-game players, better defensemen, but by how much?

The Flyers are 35-19-10. They will get to the playoffs, and they could get out of the East and to the Stanley Cup finals.

Anything can happen once you are in. It will be about matchups, about goalies getting hot or going cold, about teams committed to systems and competing every night, every shift, every puck battle.

Injuries will play a part, just like they do every year.

But remember, in the end it will come down to the "body of work," and that has, so far, been very good.

The Flyers and Holmgren have done enough to earn the right to have everyone, fans and media, watch and see what happens in the end before passing judgment.

Snap shots

Glad to see Mark Recchi go to Boston at the deadline. He has had a late career habit of getting traded from a bad situation to a good one and has done it again. Two games into his stint in Boston and he has a two-goal game and the Bruins snapped a three-game losing streak that started Tuesday night against the Flyers . . .

ESPN.com reported yesterday that former Flyer Rick Tocchet is going to get a contract extension and return as coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning next season . . .

A true Philadelphian, the last place that 20-year-old Eric Tangradi wanted to be traded to was to Pittsburgh. So when he learned that his rights had been traded, his first reaction was, "Oh, anyone but Pittsburgh," Tangradi told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last week. Tangradi was part of the deal to move Ryan Whitney to Anaheim for Chris Kunitz. He played for the Junior Flyers before moving to northeastern Pennsylvania for prep school hockey. "My family was born and raised in Philly," he said. "We were huge Philly sports fans. For me, it was mostly the Flyers just because I was so into hockey." *

Send e-mail to morane@phillynews.com

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