Philadelphia Flyers: How the 2007 Last-Place Finish Made a Stanley Cup Contender

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Philadelphia Flyers: How the 2007 Last-Place Finish Made a Stanley Cup Contender
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Five years ago, the Philadelphia Flyers were in the midst of a summer that carried high hopes for the team's upcoming season.

This was because after the entire 2004-05 NHL season was cancelled, the Philadelphia Flyers had come back to action with a new look.

John LeClair, Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte were gone. Peter Forsberg, Mike Knuble, Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje arrived. Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and R.J. Umberger were rookies.

In the 2005-06 season, the Flyers would tie for the lead in the Atlantic Division with the New Jersey Devils at 101 points.

Philadelphia was eliminated in the first round by a Buffalo Sabres team that had won 52 regular-season games.

This led to a positive outlook for the 2006-07 campaign.

The next season brought a similar team to the ice, with some new additions such as Geoff Sanderson and Kyle Calder. Alexei Zhitnik would be added in early December.

However, the Flyers lost 15 of their first 17 games. The second half of November showed a slight improvement, as the team won five of nine games.

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Then they absolutely tanked.

Philadelphia went on a 10-game losing streak in December, and a nine-game losing streak in January. The team went from November 24th to February 10th without winning a game in Philadelphia.

On February 1st, the team's record was 12 wins, 32 losses, plus seven overtime or shootout losses.

Earlier in the season, General Manager Bobby Clarke resigned. Assistant General Manager Paul Holmgren had taken over Clarke's position, and wasted no time in fixing the team.

In February 2007, Holmgren robbed the Atlanta Thrashers by trading 34-year-old Alexei Zhitnik for 21-year-old Braydon Coburn. Zhitnik played just one more season in the NHL, and Coburn is now a key part of the Flyers' strong defensive core.

Holmgren also traded Peter Forsberg to the Nashville Predators for Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent and the Predators' 2007 first- and third-round picks.

Upshall was eventually traded to the Phoenix Coyotes for Dan Carcillo in 2009, and Ryan Parent was a non-factor during his time with the Flyers.

However, what the Flyers did with Nashville's first-round pick was the jackpot of this trade.

During the offseason, the pick was traded back to Nashville for the rights to Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell.

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Timonen is regarded as one of the most underrated defensemen in the NHL. Since joining the Flyers, Timonen is a plus-28, averaging 41 points per season.

Scott Hartnell has averaged 49 points per season with the Flyers. Hartnell scored 49 last season, making him third among scorers still with the team. The power forward has been a contributing factor to the Flyers' recent success.

Though the Flyers would lose the draft lottery and pick second overall, Philadelphia acquired a more admirable player. Patrick Kane went first overall to the Chicago Blackhawks.

James van Riemsdyk is a power forward and New Jersey native. His approach to scoring goals involves skating through opposing defensemen, a style embraced by the tough city of Philadelphia.

Unloading Forsberg's $5.75 million salary-cap hit was essential in clearing space to sign Danny Briere that summer.

Briere has averaged 69 points per 82 games since joining the Flyers, the second-most of any Flyers' player during that time frame.

Also that summer, Joni Pitkanen, Geoff Sanderson and Philadelphia's 2009 third-round pick were traded to the Edmonton Oilers for Joffrey Lupul and Jason Smith.

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Smith became the Flyers' captain that season and led Philadelphia to the Eastern Conference finals, but is not the most important part of the trade.

Two summers later at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, the Flyers traded Lupul, along with Luca Sbisa and the 2009 and 2010 first-round picks to the Anaheim Ducks for Chris Pronger and Ryan Dingle.

Pronger had helped the Ducks to the 2007 Stanley Cup in his first season with the team. This was one season after carrying the Edmonton Oilers to the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals in his first season with them.

During his initial season with Philadelphia, the result was no different. Pronger and the Flyers were the 2010 Eastern Conference Champions.

It was the third time in Pronger's career that a team had turned into a Stanley Cup finalist upon his arrival. It's no coincidence.

Paul Holmgren turned a last-place team into a Stanley Cup contender by adding players such as Chris Pronger, Danny Briere, Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell and James van Riemsdyk.

If it weren't for the worst season in franchise history, none of those players would belong to Philadelphia.

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