Jan 14, 2012, 5:53 PM EDT
Paul Holmgren’s makeover of the Philadelphia Flyers this past off-season is still fresh in our minds midway through the season. The makeup of the team changed somewhat dramatically, catching nearly everyone outside of the club’s front office entirely by surprise. But it wasn’t Homer’s first time hitting the reset button on a Flyers roster — just the first time he did it with a winning team. Two players he targeted when initially rebuilding the club the four years ago were Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen, who visit the first NHL city they called home tonight with the Flyers in Nashville to face the Predators.
Below, a look at the Flyers’ first transformation under Holmgren, and how the conjoined paths of an unlikely duo survived hockey depravity in Nashville and another roster implosion in Philadelphia.
After Holmgren took over GM duties for an abruptly retiring Bobby Clarke early in the 2006-2007 season, he took aim at reshaping the on-ice personnel to better fit a league that had changed and left the Flyers behind. The 2006-2007 season was the worst in Flyers franchise history, coinciding unfortunately with the club’s 40th anniversary. It was the first time they missed the playoffs since the Dark Ages — a span of five straight postseason absences from 1990-1994.
2007 in some ways marked the start of the current overall era in Flyers history, perhaps something of a “modern” era. As the team skidded toward a dead-last-in-the-NHL finish to the 2006-2007 season, Homer shipped off players at the trade deadline in exchange for new faces he saw as building blocks toward a team better equipped to compete in a revamped league that also yoked big-spending teams with a prohibitive salary cap. Homer did not immediately become accustomed to shackled spending, but he did almost immediately turn around the team’s fortunes, and the Nashville Predators played a vital role in that rebuilding.
At the 2006-2007 trade deadline, the Flyers traded Peter Forsberg to Nashville for Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent, and a pair of 2007 draft picks (a first and a third). Alexei Zhitnik was dealt to the Atlanta Thrashers for Braydon Coburn (one of the best trades in Flyers history?), and Martin Biron was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a second round pick.
In the off-season, Homer stayed busy, jumping the market by trading for the rights to Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell before they hit free agency, and signing them to long-term deals with the Flyers. Interestingly, the cost of Kimmo and Hartnell was the same first round pick the team had received in exchange for Forsberg.
Jason Smith and Joffrey Lupul were acquired from Edmonton in exchange for Joni Pitkanen and Geoff Sanderson, and several other deals were consummated.
That summer also saw the drafting of James van Riemsdyk after the Flyers got shafted on the first overall pick (Patrick Kane) in a weighted lottery, then the signing of Danny Briere to a long and lucrative deal.
One season after posting a paltry 56 points, the new-look Flyers returned in 2007-2008 with a 95-point season and a playoff run that ended in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Briere, Coburn, Timonen, and Hartnell represent a core of key Flyers who remain with the club despite a near constant transfer of players during Holmgren’s tenure and of course the shakeup of 2011. That’s likely due in part to some stationary contracts (at least in the cases of Briere and Hartnell), but all four have been positive contributors in recent seasons.
Briere may not have ever assumed the world-beating role many expected, and he has endured some down stretches in his time as a Flyer in part due to injuries. Hartnell’s contract has at times been viewed as an albatross, especially during a difficult season for him on and off the ice in 2009-2010. But in the 2010 playoffs, the union of Hartnell, Briere, and Ville Leino helped Briere set a franchise record for points in a postseason and the Flyers make it all the way to game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Briere was second on the team in scoring last season, and Hartnell is tied for the team lead in goals right now, perhaps enjoying a career year once again on a top Flyers line.
It’s been a while since anyone’s complained about the Briere and Hartnell contracts, and it’s exceedingly rare to hear the name Kimmo Timonen mentioned in a negative light. The man is some kind of hockey saint, loved and respected in all circles. In some ways, he’s the polar opposite of the player with whom he’s essentially shared a career. Hartnell is popular among teammates, but generally considered one of the league’s more effective pests.
Timonen was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in 1993 (dust that off for your next Flyers trivia round with the friends). After playing in Finland for a few years, he was traded along with Jan Vopat to the Predators in June 1998 for an interesting set of future considerations involving a former Flyers defenseman. The nascent Preds would soon be given access to the league’s unprotected players in the Expansion Draft, and the Kings offered up Timonen and Vopat in exchange for Nashville not selecting Garry Galley. (Note: This is a story I recall hearing, and it’s hard to find any confirmation outside of Wikipedia, perhaps due to its age and relative obscurity. If anyone has details one way or the other, please feel free to share.)
Not a bad move by Nashville GM David Poile, who still holds the post today. In fact, Barry Trotz has been behind the Predators’ bench since that time too, and their one-time captain Timonen has only the best to say about them upon his return to Nashville for Saturday night’s game. Read more on that here.
Hartnell was drafted by the Predators in 2000, going with the sixth overall pick. His career in Nashville lasted six productive seasons to Timonen’s nine. Neither is shy about their affection for the franchise, the city, and fans and Nashville. We don’t often hear that sentiment expressed, perhaps too deep in our northeast hockey bias to listen.
The Flyers face the Predators in Nashville only rarely, but each meeting of the clubs is a reminder of the moves that were part of a sea change in the Flyers franchise. Some of the former Predators have since been packaged and dealt, but Timonen and Hartnell remain together as they have for more than a decade.
Tonight they’ll draw applause from a fanbase that has seen little to cheer during the course of its existence. At the same time, Timonen and Hartnell have probably never been more appreciated by their current fans than they are right now.
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