When Paul Holmgren was named general manager on an interim basis in November of 2006, the uphill battle he had in front of him to salvage the worst season in Flyers’ history was massive. Yet, he had no problem rising to the occasion. He jumped into action, trimmed the fat and made additions where it counted. His actions were so impressive that by the time the 2007-08 season started, the interim tag was removed from his title and he oversaw the Flyers roster until Ron Hextall took over in 2014. The 2007 offseason became a blueprint for overturning a roster and maybe a schematic that Chuck Fletcher should read up on as his journey to resuscitate a lifeless Philadelphia Flyers team.
Summer of 2006
To understand how the 2006-07 season went so wrong in the first place, it may help to look at the issues the Flyers faced during the summer of 2006 first. The team lost four key pieces during the offseason, that being Michal Handzus, Kim Johnsson, Eric Desjardins and Keith Primeau. They failed to sign Ryan Kesler to an offer sheet. Peter Forsberg, who was named captain in place of Keith Primeau, was sidelined for more than half the season with a foot injury, and just eight games into the 2006-07 season head coach Ken Hitchcock was fired and GM Bobby Clarke resigned. John Stevens took over the coaching duties and Paul Holmgren, who was an assistant GM, got promoted to full-time GM on an interim basis.
Paul Holmgren started the reconstruction early by getting his hands dirty during the trade deadline. Dealing draft picks and veteran players was the name of the game in Philly and was executed flawlessly.
Peter Forsberg for Ryan Parent, Scottie Upshall, 2007 1st (Jonathan Blum), and a 2007 3rd (Phil Desimone)
Peter Forsberg was an effective player when healthy, but those days when he was good to go were starting to dwindle. Calling his future into question, he was dealt to the Nashville Predators in exchange for defensive prospect Ryan Parent, depth forward Scottie Upshall, a first round pick and a third round pick. While Parent didn’t develop as hoped and was shipped out of town by the 2010 trade deadline, it was the pair of draft picks that were the crown jewels of the trade as both played a role later on as currency for other trades.
Alexei Zhitnik for Braydon Coburn
This is one of those trades that just doesn’t get enough credit. Coburn, who was 22 at the time of the trade, was a former eighth overall pick and had a high ceiling despite underperforming in the Atlanta Thrashers organization. He ended up being a great building block that Holmgren relied upon when making other trades throughout the summer. Coburn was a crucial part of the Cup run a few years later.
Kyle Calder for Lasse Kukkonen and a 2007 3rd (Garrett Klotz)
While Kukkonen ended up playing about 100 games for the Flyers, this was a trade to undo a bad deal with the Blackhawks from the previous summer. Calder performed will in Chicago, posting 26 goals and 59 points during the 2005-06 season, but a contract dispute in the summer of ’06 lead to a sign-and-trade with the Flyers. The problem was, he only put up 9 goals and 21 points in 59 games in Philly, so Holmgren, realizing a guy the previous regime added wasn’t working, decided to flip him for a different player.
2007 2nd (TJ Brennan) for Martin Biron
Biron was a disgruntled goalie in Buffalo after Ryan Miller emerged and took the starting job. The Flyers, who were struggling in net with a duo of Antero Niittymaki and Robert Esche, traded their own second round pick in exchange for Biron, who immediately took the starting job and played well for the following two seasons. The Flyers knew that was going to be a very high pick (ended up being 31st overall) yet traded it anyway to get a piece to help salvage the roster at that moment.
2007 1st round pick (Jonathan Blum) for the rights to Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen
This was probably one of the best deals Holmgren made during his tenure as Flyers GM. Trading a first round pick that they acquired earlier at the trade deadline back to it’s original owners, the Nashville Predators, for the signing rights of two of their top players Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen. Oven the next few weeks both signed six year deals and ended up becoming cornerstones in the Flyers’ Cup run in 2010.
James Van Riemsdyk
We all remember the story at the 2007 entry draft. The Flyers were in line to pick first overall, then were jumped by the Chicago Blackhawks in the lottery and the rest is history. JVR didn’t actually make his NHL debut until the 2009-10 season, then only played for three years with relatively mediocre production before being dealt to the Leafs for Luke Schenn. Probably shouldn’t have ripped the mental scab off this whole situation.
2007 3rd (Phil Desimone) 2008 2nd (Dmitri Kugryshev) for 2007 2nd (Kevin Marshall)
Moving up in the draft is a fairly regular occurrence, so when the Flyers packaged their third round pick in 2007 and a second rounder the following year to secure a second round pick, it was a fine move. Holmgren dealt his own second rounder a few months prior to acquire Martin Biron. It ended up being a nothing move as Kevin Marshall only suited up for a handful of games as a Flyer, but it was proactive nonetheless and done with the best of intentions. Not going to mention Marshall was selected two spots before PK Subban, however.
Paul Holmgren knew the Flyers needed help down the middle, so he went and got them help down the middle. Briere had a career-best 32 goals and 95 points during the 2006-07 season with the Buffalo Sabres and it made him a hot commodity in the free agent market. Rumors swirled about his landing spot, most figured it would be his hometown Montreal Canadiens but Holmgren was able to snag him with an eight-year, $52 million contract. He posted 31 goals and 72 points during his first season in orange and black and was an incredibly effective player when he wasn’t dealing with injuries later in his career. Adding Briere is the kind of splash that was a perfect icing on the cake of a phenomenal couple of months for Holmgren.
Joni Pitkanen and Geoff Sanderson for Jason Smith and Joffrey Lupul
The final move of the 2007 offseason was trading Joni Pitkanen and Geoff Sanderson to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Jason Smith and Joffrey Lupul. Smith was born to be a Flyer. The 13-year NHL vet was a leader on and off the ice and was tough as nails, never afraid to drop the gloves and protect a teammate. He was named captain before the season and was the perfect experienced guy to wear the “C”. Lupul was a underrated addition as well, posting consecutive 20-goal seasons during his time in Philly. He also played a major role during his departure from the organization, as he was one of the key pieces going to Anaheim when the Flyers acquired Chris Pronger in the summer of 2009.
Paul Holmgren was never afraid to wheel and deal. Most people remember him as the unhinged madman towards the end of his tenure, but the Flyers’ Stanley Cup Final run in 2010 was exclusively thanks to the work he did. Focusing on 2007, it’s important to focus on the moves that were made. Nothing too crazy, nothing too obscene, Just a flurry of trades that involved trading veteran players for picks and prospects as well as making smart, targeted additions to the roster filling holes in the lineup. This is hockey 101 and a fine blueprint for Chuck Fletcher this offseason when it comes to salvaging the legacy of the Philadelphia Flyers.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: bleacherreport.com / thehockeywriters.com / inquirer.com / goaliesarchive.com