In a past life, the Philadelphia Flyers were called the Broad Street Bullies for introducing a take-no-prisoners style of play that helped define a new era for the NHL.
More than three decades later the Flyers are Bullies-lite at best. Yet for reasons that have more to do with brains than brawn, Philadelphia could end up having a similarly lasting impact thanks to the bold blueprint it created for rebuilding a team without going through any of the requisite growing pains.
|Daniel Briere has delivered in the playoffs. (US Presswire)|
"I'm absolutely thrilled -- and surprised," admitted Flyers owner Ed Snider. "I didn't know how far we could go; I was just hoping to make the playoffs. Now I'm getting greedy."
Might as well. The Flyers used the franchise's worst season ever last year to dismantle the team and recast it in a way that took full advantage of the salary cap contained in the most recent collective bargaining agreement. The irony is that while the cap was designed to create parity by putting every team on a level playing field, it also removed the inherent advantages deep-pocketed organizations like Philadelphia had.
It just didn't matter.
"It's even and this is the way it should be," Snider said. "Personally I like it because it should be up to the GM to push the right buttons."
In Philadelphia's case, that's exactly what Paul Holmgren has done. He took over as general manager from Bob Clarke just three weeks into the 2006-07 season, after it became apparent the Flyers were going nowhere with a lineup that was poorly constructed for the newer, faster-paced NHL. Holmgren brought rookie coach John Stevens with him to replace Ken Hitchcock, but there was little Holmgren could do to salvage the season, even at that early stage.
Instead, he put together a plan that enabled him to take advantage of desperate contenders and start an overhaul that would be massive in scale.
In the space of a couple of weeks around the trade deadline, the Flyers shipped off expensive veterans Peter Forsberg and Alexei Zhitnik and some draft picks, landing a No. 1-caliber goalie in Martin Biron; a couple of highly touted young defensemen, including Braydon Coburn, who now plays on the top unit; and most important, the salary cap room to make several critical changes over the summer.
The budget space allowed the Flyers to become major players in the free-agent market, and they came back with a bounty that included quality veteran defensemen Kimmo Timonen and Jason Smith along with young forwards Scott Hartnell and Joffrey Lupul.
And there was an even bigger prize in forward Daniel Briere, who signed an eight-year, $52 million deal after playing a key role in turning Buffalo into one of the league's post-lockout elites. Briere had some rough spots during the regular season, but he ended up as the Flyers' second-leading scorer and has more points than any Flyer in these playoffs.
"This organization wasn't going to sit back and just wait to rebuild," said Biron. "They were going to go strong and they knew exactly what they were going to look for. They went and brought in some very good character people and guys that had ties in the locker room, so they felt right a home from the beginning, which worked out pretty good."