SIFTING THROUGH the charred remains of his team's season on Tuesday afternoon, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero - the son of the only man to ever coach the Flyers to a Stanley Cup - was asked about his cross-state rival and the battles that loom in coming years.
"They're not going anywhere," Shero said of the Flyers.
For Shero, it was an outward tip of the cap to Paul Holmgren, who was somehow left off the list of finalists for General Manager of the Year, as announced by the league on Tuesday.
The award for the league's top executive is voted on by all 30 general managers, five undisclosed broadcasters and five undisclosed media members.
Florida's Dale Tallon, Nashville's David Poile and St. Louis' Doug Armstrong are the three finalists. The winner will be announced June 20 in Las Vegas.
In Nashville, Poile has done more with less every year, producing an annual top-five contender in the tough-as-nails Western Conference while remaining at the bottom of the payroll list. He should be commended for sure, having never won the award.
Armstrong led the Blues to a 22-point turnaround, producing the Gateway City's first division title since 2000. Tallon brought the rats back to South Florida and ended at 10 years the longest playoff drought by one team in one city in the NHL's 94-year history.
Poile is a worthy finalist. You could certainly make a case for Tallon - even though he had nearly $30 million to spend last offseason just to get to the salary-cap floor, and he dearly overpaid for some players.
The fact that Armstrong muscled out more votes than Holmgren is a disgrace to the league's brass. What were they watching all season? Armstrong receives all the credit for having the cojones to can coach Davis Payne with a 6-7-0 record. He brought in an experienced coach, Ken Hitchcock, off the scrap heap.
Hitchcock admits he started to wonder if he was ever going to get an NHL job again before being hired in early November by Armstrong.
The Blues had virtually no makeover last summer. Armstrong added inexpensive, aged-out vets in Jason Arnott and Jamie Langebrunner and he brought in a backup goalie in Brian Elliott who barely beat out Ben Bishop for the second spot behind Jaroslav Halak. Elliott, of course, went on to post a ridiculous nine shutouts in 38 appearances and went 3-0 with a 1.37 goals-against average and .949 save percentage in the first round.
It is Hitchcock who should - and likely will - receive credit for the team's 47-16-11 run since Payne's dismissal.
No GM made the radical reshaping Holmgren performed last summer, trading away two franchise cornerstones for a pack of unproven prospects and draft picks who had not yet even sniffed their potential. The moves then - and even now - stunned the league's collective brain trust, assuming it would take years for the Flyers to return to last season's 106-point level. This season's Flyers fell three points short.
Even when you put aside the jaw-dropping additions of Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Jake Voracek, Holmgren's peripheral moves have been shrewd.
Most laughed at Holmgren for dropping $3.3 million on soon-to-be 40-year-old Jaromir Jagr. His 54 points in 73 games, not to mention his off-ice leadership skills and impression on young players, have been worth double that amount.
Max Talbot was a steal from Pittsburgh. Matt Read led all rookies in goals in his first year out of college. Couturier, the No. 8 overall pick in last summer's draft, jumped right to the show.
The trade-deadline deals for defensemen Nick Grossmann and Pavel Kubina likely saved the Flyers' season, skating without Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen and Andrej Meszaros for long stretches.
Holmgren's two noticeable warts are Ilya Bryzgalov's humongous, 9-year, $51 million deal and James van Riemsdyk's preemptive $25.5 million extension. Van Riemsdyk was hurt this season, but still has 6 years to prove the deal either a value or gross overpayment. And let's face it, Holmgren was just trying to please his superiors by signing Bryzgalov to the ransom the Russian demanded.
Bryzgalov has shown flashes of brilliance worth his price of $5.75 million per year. He just might be the guy who ends up leading the Flyers down Broad Street in 6 weeks. That's still to be determined.
What is defined, as Shero said, is that the Flyers are set for a while now. They are young. They fit under the salary cap. They have a clear and defined superstar with a worthy supporting cast. By not voting him a finalist, Holmgren's peers are dubbing this season a fluke. That's selling his bold, mad-scientist master plan way short.