Friday, September 7, 2007

Filling the Holes in Swiss Cheese - Part Two

The year that started all wrong... then went downhill

Forwards:
Over the off-season Clarke traded Michal Handzus to Chicago for Kyle Calder, both players were going into the final years of their contracts, followed by pending UFA status. Although Keith Primeau was still under the effects of post concussion symptoms and would eventually retire, Clarke felt that he could still move 'Zeus' for a promising center/winger with a huge upside... Clarke, in an attempt to sign a potential long term shutdown center to replace Primeau, made an Offer Sheet to Vancouver's Ryan Kesler for three years at $1.75 million per year; this got him nothing but hard feelings, and another notch on his reputation as a hard nosed GM, as Vancouver begrudgingly matched the Offer Sheet and paid much more than they were prepared to pay... The Flyers now had no viable option for that all important shut down center in coach Ken Hitchcock's system. Without Primeau and Handzus the forward slots were hurting. Forsberg was to miss a couple of months as he was recovering from surgery to re-form his congenital malformed feet, but it was determined that only one foot's correction was required. Foppa would again be in and out of the lineup, yet another year, and his drama was detrimental to the team on many fronts... Simon Gagne was to play hurt for a part of the season and didn't have Forsberg around as much to feed him; he still did very well considering everything... Mike Knuble, after playing all 82 games the year before suffered two freak accidents and was not able to put up the points he would have with a full season... Calder was a total bust the first half of the season and was a fan whipping boy the entire season... Petr Nedved who was brought in at the Trade Deadline the prior season was Hitchcock's designated project to replace Primeau as the SD center... Geoff Sanderson was brought in by Clarke to provide speed and points off that speed... Turner Stevenson was bought out due to the deteriorated health which rendered him almost useless for a great part on the prior season... Sami Kapanen was brought back and provided energy, though his scoring touch was no longer a major factor in his game... The great duo of prospects, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, were back, but still on a learning curve, as was RJ Umberger. Clarke also filled in the team with the likes of Randy Robitaille, Niko Dimitrakos and Boyd Kane.

Defence:
Kim Johnsson was coming off a season ending concussion with its Post Concussion effects and was still looking for a huge contract; Clarke allowed him to leave... Eric Desjardins was retiring after another injury plagued season; his decade of being the Flyers anchor on defence, as well as their puck carrying offensive D-man, was now at an end. The Flyers were now greatly hurting on the blue line... Clarke signed a career minor leaguer in Nolan Baumgartner as the potential replacement for Johnsson, who was to be the successor to Desjardins. He was signed at $1.2 million and was expected to follow up his one decent NHL year with a new career as the Flyers puck carrier... Lars Jonsson was brought over from Sweden to also carry the puck from the back end. He had a good upside but a propensity for turning over the puck through indecisive puck handling... Also on the horizon was Jussi Timonen, the younger brother of NHL star, Kimo. He was an unproven, raw commodity with some talent but nowhere near that of his brother's.The main cog in the Flyers future at D was Joni Pitkanen who was coming off of a mixed season; all star quality the first half, and not so much the second -- the half were Peter Forsberg was out so often -- Also returning were Derian Hatcher, Mike Rathje, Freddy Meyer and Randy Jones; not a defense without some talent... but hardly a good one with any depth.

Goal:
Between the nets were Robert Esche who had displayed flashes of a real nice NHL career in the past, and second year goalie, Antero Niittymaki who had a brilliant stretch when Esche was hurt during the last year, but he was ran to the ground and played injured until he had not much left. 'Nitty' was counted on to be the main go-to goalie in the duo in '06-'07 but during camp he was injured with a torn labium on the left side, the opposite side from the one last year which was repaired in the off season. He ultimately was to play the entire year with cortisone shots to ease the inflammation.


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The season did not get off to a remotely decent start with a 4-0 shutout loss to the Penguins on the road, followed by a home shootout loss to the Rangers... The return match at the Garden in New York proved to be a better result with a 4-2 win... They then returned home only to find their offense again letting them down in a 3-1 loss to the Habs... On the road again, they were defeated by the Devils 3-2.
Then came the game that would set the wheels in motion that would forever change the course of the Forty-Plus year franchise... The Fly-Guys traveled up to Buffalo to play the team that beat them the previous year's playoffs in a six game series that was nowhere near as close as the number of games would lead one to believe. The Flyers were soundly defeated by the much more talented and speedier Sabres; Hitchcock left Esche in goal to be humiliated as he was hung out to dry... It was a total team loss with much blame to spread around and no praise to be shared by anyone.
Back in Philadelphia, Ed Snider was not happy in the least -- to make a colossal understatement -- Armed with information only he knew, which I will discuss a little later, Snider took the team in his irate hands and through assistant GM, Paul Holmgren, waived three players and sent them down to the AHL Phantoms; Petr Nedved, a veteran and one time star player in the NHL... Nolan Baumgartner, Clarke's great hope on D... and Niko Dimitrakos.

The following Sunday morning, after two more road losses to Tampa bay and Florida, the Flyers called a press conference that shocked the NHL and the City... It was announced that Bob Clarke was voluntarily stepping down from his positions with the Flyers and would no longer be the GM. It was decided that Paul Holmgren would be the interim General Manager and that there would also be a Head Coaching change; Assistant Coach, John Stevens, who had coached the AHL Phantoms to the Calder Cup during the Lockout year was tapped to replace Ken Hitchcock who they did not lay blame upon; it was also, at that time, on an interim basis... Stevens was very familiar with the young players on the squad and had a good relationship with them as well as the veterans, many of whom he coached the prior year with the Flyers. He was a highly regarded head coaching prospect throughout the NHL.


What was not known before was that Clarke had come to Snider and told him that he had lost his desire for being a GM in the NHL -- he was burned out -- He felt that he was no longer able to perform his duties as Flyers GM... Snider asked him to go home and sleep on it for a while before he made an official decision. Snider and only Snider was aware of this situation when he waived the three players; he was essentially the GM in Clarke's mental absence.

It is my humble opinion that Clarke was no longer able to handle the NHL as it now was; it was now a hard hearted 'business' where management must forget the personal aspects of the game, the players' situations, and work only on a bottom line basis... that is not Bobby Clarke the former player who played with his heart on his sleeve, but even more so not the Bob Clarke who managed with his heart and had his players as his top concern, right next to winning.

Soon after this, Mike Rathje's game went totally south with all his lower back pain; the top veteran Shutdown D-man was lost for the season... The D-partner who made Joni Pitkanen able to play like a future star. 'Homer' as GM was faced with a major task ahead and no commitment of a job in the future; he pushed the uncertainty aside and rolled up his sleeves and began to get down to business.

Part Three will address how the bleeding was halted and the tailspin was corrected... and how the foundation was formed for '07-'08.

11 comments:

Eggshmeg said...

You can't post pictures from viewimages.com, so the last one isn't showing up on this end. You should change it.

ForeverFlyer16 said...

thanks... I'll check into it.

ForeverFlyer16 said...

Can you see one now?

I 86'ed Rathje and incerted Clarke... albeit a less than sharp image.

The image thing, and having it look good -- ie; adjusting the spacing that gets messed up -- is a major pain... but I am getting the hang of beating the system.

Thanks again for pointing that out.

Eggshmeg said...

Yeah, I can see it now. It's just viewimages are a real stickler when it comes to bandwith. You'll get the hang of it eventually.

ForeverFlyer16 said...

The only thing is that on this side it was 'there' and okay... If you hadn't told me I would heve never known.

Anonymous said...

Great article found it a bit to long though

ForeverFlyer16 said...

I did worry about the length... It WAS long, but then again, it was a long season -- much too long for Flyers fans... if you catch my drift.

In order to totally understand the problem, I had to go into detail... please believe me, I held back on a lot of details.

Maybe I should consider breaking the parts down more; less info in each part, but more parts.

Anonymous said...

Maybe each of u should have your own page. Eggshmeg if u see this listen to me go to 50megs.com and make a free website each person can have there own pages.

signed,
HABSCAPS9

Eggshmeg said...

Uh, no. I think we're fine the way we are habscaps...

ForeverFlyer16 said...

I like it also... Gives the viewers a mixed bag... they can read one blog and then stumble on another... If they were looking at, let's say Egg's blog as a stand alone, they may never see my great blog ;O)

Eggshmeg said...

Good point FF ;)