|AP Photo PX201, NY151, NY150, PABB104|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 28 September 2007 20:11|
The team otherwise known as the worst in Philadelphia's 40-year franchise history.
And what does the Flyers general manager think when he looks at that picture?
``Uh, well,'' he chuckled. ``It was a very difficult year for our franchise. It was bizarre for sure. A lot of things went wrong.''
So many things went wrong for the Flyers, but here's just a snapshot: The Flyers (22-48-12) were the worst team in the league, missed the playoffs for the first time since 1994, and set team records for most losses and fewest points (56).
What else? Ken Hitchcock was fired as coach after only eight games, general manager Bobby Clarke resigned and team captain Peter Forsberg was traded after 1 1/2 injury-filled seasons.
Skip ahead six months and the Flyers on the ice now barely resemble the lineup in that photo. Holmgren, who wasn't even Philadelphia's first choice to take over for Clarke, has shrewdly revamped the roster and plugged nearly every weakness. Now, the playoffs are a real possibility.
``It's certainly not out of the question to aim high and our aim is to get back in the playoff picture,'' Holmgren said. ``We want to be playing meaningful games in March and that means you're in the playoff hunt.''
Playoff hockey in April and May was as much a staple in Philadelphia as scrapple and cheesesteaks. The Flyers, who won Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975, instead headed home in early April and without a postseason appearance.
``It was a different year,'' coach John Stevens said. ``We certainly had a lot of adversity to overcome. But that's behind us now. We need to learn from that and move on to continue to make this right.''
Holmgren started the overhaul around the trade deadline, adding some needed grit, skill, speed and youth. The addition of players such as defensemen Braydon Coburn and Lasse Kukkonen, and forward Scottie Upshall showed the Flyers were serious about becoming faster and more mobile.
Another deadline deal gave them Martin Biron, their latest goalie of the future, who they quickly signed to a two-year extension. Stuck as a backup in Buffalo, the Flyers had their eye on Biron for a few years and hope he can stabilize an erratic situation in the net.
``I always thought Marty was a stable goalie,'' Holmgren said. ``He always seemed to give his team a chance to win. He makes the saves he's supposed to make.''
Then Holmgren spent the summer plucking some top talent away from other teams. He traded for Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, Jason Smith and Joffrey Lupul.
The boldest move, though, came when the Flyers signed Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere to an eight-year, $52 million contract to fill the spot vacated by Forsberg.
``Homer's had that stance from the beginning that we were going to have to maybe get through some lumps here, but he felt he could make the changes necessary to have us be successful,'' Stevens said.
Briere emerged as a star with the Sabres and finished 10th in the league with 95 points (32 goals, 63 assists) last season. He also produced in the clutch, scoring 10 game-winners over the past two seasons.
``What I can promise is that we're going to give it our all,'' Briere said. ``I'm going to face it the same way I faced last year.''
Briere is paired with Simon Gagne (41 goals, 68 points) and Mike Knuble (24 goals, 54 points) which gives the Flyers one of the most potent first lines in the Eastern Conference.
Generously listed at 5 feet 10 and 179 pounds, Briere should give the Flyers the spark at center that they couldn't get last year out of a gimpy Forsberg.
``I think Danny learned over the years how to survive in the NHL,'' Holmgren said. ``He's an extremely quick player. He's also a smart player and a competitive player and I think those three factors overall have got him to where he's one of the top players in the game.''
Should the young core of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and R.J. Umberger start to play up to their potential, the Flyers really could have a reason for their renewed optimism.
But the Flyers sorely need more out of Richards and Carter, once considered two of Philadelphia's top prospects who combined for only 24 goals last season and battled injuries.
``There comes a time when the honeymoon has got to be over and you've got to get down to business,'' Holmgren said of the pair.
Injuries already threaten a quick start for the Flyers. Upshall (wrist) could miss up to six weeks Umberger (hand) could miss two weeks with injuries this week in a preseason game. Lupul also has a sprained left wrist and the Flyers hope he's ready to play next week.
The only question left for the Flyers before they open their season Oct. 4 at Calgary is who will wear the C on the sweater. Holmgren said he knows already (``It's somebody who's been around, yeah.'') who will fill the leadership role that's been vacant since Forsberg was traded.
The revamped Flyers almost certainly won't be the worst team in the league again. But playing in a competitive Atlantic Division that sent four teams to the playoffs last season might make the Flyers have to wait another year to play those meaningful April games.