Proud American Hockey League Affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks

Buy Tickets

News

Hawks, Flyers have gone from terrible to terrific in 3 years

By:
05/28/2010 2:57 PM - From chicagoblackhawks.com: (link)

CHICAGO -- The Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks will line up proudly on their respective blue lines Saturday night in the United Center as conference champions, Stanley Cup finalists and, based upon the only barometer that matters – the ability to win playoff games – the two best teams in the National Hockey League.

They were positioned side-by-side at the head of a very different line a mere three years ago.

On June 22, 2007, the Hawks were at table No. 1 and the Flyers at table No. 2 on the floor of Columbus' Nationwide Arena for the first day of the NHL Entry Draft. Such pole positions, while bearing the promise of better days ahead (and providing unobstructed views of the nifty draft board), are not coveted rewards for jobs well done. They're dreaded consolation prizes for teams that have had truly terrible seasons -- and the Flyers and Hawks of 2006-07 certainly qualified.

In truth, the two proud franchises arrived at that dark moment in very different ways.

Chicago had been down for years. The Blackhawks' 71-point, last-in-the-Central  and 26th-in-the-League performance marked the eighth time in nine years that they would miss the playoffs. In fact, it represented an improvement over their previous two dreadful seasons, in which they finished 29th and 28th in the 30-team League standings, respectively.

Philadelphia's 2006-07 season, in contrast, was more of a stumble along an otherwise high-stepping path. But even if it followed three straight 100-point seasons, the Flyers' 56-point mess in '06-07 was so calamitous it ranked as the worst in franchise history, cost icons their jobs and catalyzed some organizational soul searching.

Out of those ashes, however, rose two franchises that, just three seasons later, stand four victories away from a championship.

How each got from there to here in so short a time are less stories of dramatic shifts in organizational philosophies than examples of how quickly in today's NHL a team with a plan can go from worst to first.

The Blackhawks, though seemingly in worse shape, already had begun rebuilding toward big things when then-GM Dale Tallon came to the 2007 draft armed with the No. 1 pick --  thanks to winning the lottery to leap from fifth to first pick, sliding Philadelphia back to second.

Duncan Keith (2002), Adam Burish (2002), Brent Seabrook (2003), Dustin Byfuglien (2003) and Dave Bolland (2004) had been drafted before Tallon took over. He took Jonathan Toews with the No. 3 pick in 2006. Tallon also changed his own course by the end of the 2006-07 season, admitting that the organization underestimated how much the game would change coming out of the work stoppage and turning away from free-agent purchased time-buying in order to turn the team over to the young players who actually could play in the new NHL.

"We agreed to really purge and get to the bottom and start from scratch and have a clean sheet of ice," Tallon, just named GM of the Florida Panthers, told NHL.com this week. "We were able to develop and get a tremendous number of draft picks and strength by numbers. They're not all going to play, but we were able to get a tremendous number of those picks to get to play in our farm system first and then able to develop them, take our time developing them.

"And, all of a sudden, we won the lottery and that gave us a big boost, turned things around in our favor."

Had the game not changed to favor skill and speed, Tallon said he probably would have shied away from taking a small player with that No. 1 overall pick. But it had -- so the ‘Hawks selected a skilled, swift winger out of Buffalo named
Patrick Kane.

"It was a big boost to the organization -- to get a player that complemented Jonathan was important," Tallon said. "He was a game breaker, Pat. He wasn't the biggest guy, but I never saw him back away from anyone. He was really good in traffic. Took some abuse but never shied away, always played well in traffic, was determined. There was something special about him as well."

Not that the Hawks didn't seriously consider the other young American who was at the top of the Central Scouting Bureau rankings. That would have been New Jersey's own James van Riemsdyk, whom the Flyers chose with the No. 2 pick.

"No, it wasn't unanimous," Tallon said. "It was a tough decision to make. We had some guys that liked van Riemsdyk and some guys that liked Kyle Turris (who went third to Phoenix)."
 
After that, though not without its bumps along the way, Chicago's fortunes on the ice took a relentless turn for the better.

The 2007-08 season would be just the Hawks' second winning one since 1995-96, and it saw Kane win the Calder Trophy while the team narrowly missed the playoffs. The hiring of Joel Quenneville early the next season matched the perfect coach to the young team and resulted in 104 points and a trip to the Western Conference Final. Then came this season: 112 points, a Central Division title and a playoff run that has included knocking off three 100-point opponents.

Considering how much success they had had before 2006-07, it isn't surprising that the Flyers did not choose to purge their roster and start over following that season. But they did make some significant changes.

None was bigger than taking the GM's reins from franchise legend Bob Clarke and handing them to Paul Holmgren. The latter would spend the 2006-07 season making astute moves such as dealing oft-injured center Peter Forsberg to Nashville for picks and younger players; acquiring young stud defenseman Braydon Coburn from Atlanta for nearing-the-end blueliner Alexei Zhitnik; and, just before the 2007 draft, trading the first-round pick they had obtained in the Forsberg deal back to Nashville for Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell.

Holmgren would make another Draft Day splash two years later, acquiring Chris Pronger from Anaheim in a deal aimed at bringing a Cup-winner's presence into the Flyers' dressing room.

All of the building blocks Holmgren thought he had in place threatened to crumble at several points this season because of the shaky underpinning of a ridiculous number of injuries to goaltenders. But Philly persevered, making as stunning a run to a Final as any in history -- from making the playoffs in a regular season-finale shootout, then overcoming a 3-0 series deficit in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Of course, that only makes the Flyers one of two teams in this Stanley Cup Final who got here in remarkable fashion -- and just three years after bottoming out.

"We thought it would take a little longer than it's taken," Tallon admitted. "But it doesn't surprise me because of the quality of the persons, all of them."



Search Archive »




Browse by Year »

2014
2013
2012
2011
2010
2009
2008
2007
200

Browse by Month »

September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010

December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
December 0200