Former Flyer back with organization gives perspective on a team's quick turnaround

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Sami Kapanen has come back to the Flyers familiar with the spot in which the organization finds itself.

A low, daunting spot, with a tall climb ahead.

The Flyers last Thursday announced the additions of Kapanen and Kyle Shero to the club's hockey operations. Kapanen will focus on European player development and pro scouting, while Shero, the grandson of Flyers icon Fred Shero, will work in amateur scouting.

Kapanen, a 48-year-old native of Finland, played parts of five seasons with the Flyers. He experienced the worst season in franchise history when the club finished an NHL-worst 22-48-12 in 2006-07. But he also experienced the club's huge turnaround the very next season. In 2007-08, the Flyers went 42-29-11 and made a run to the Eastern Conference Final.

The present day Flyers are crossing their fingers they can come even remotely close to the magnitude and rapidness of that rebound. A lot goes into it. The Flyers had a disastrous 2021-22 season marred by injuries, instability and underperformance. It resulted in significant change. The Flyers fired head coach Alain Vigneault in December and traded captain Claude Giroux in March as they finished 25-46-11.

Are more dark days in store or can general manager Chuck Fletcher quickly retool and revive things?

Another huge offseason is ahead for Fletcher and the direction of the club. And it all starts with finding a new head coach.

What were the keys to the 2006-07 club going from worst to the final two standing in the East the next season?

"It was a while ago, it's tough to remember all the details," Kapanen said last Friday with a small smile. "But I think mainly, obviously the team needs to learn its lesson from what went wrong in that previous season once you come to training camp, everybody needs to be in better shape. But you know, in hockey, everybody needs to be healthy. I think the health of the team is the main thing.

"In 2007, I thought the management did a tremendous a job on the free-agent market, signing some key players, some new players that came in. They were leading the team in a lot of different ways in the 2007-08 season."

Paul Holmgren was the Flyers' general manager the offseason heading into 2007-08. He made a huge free-agent signing by inking Danny Briere, who went on to lead the team in goals (31) and become one of the organization's better all-time playoff performers.

A couple of weeks before the signing of Briere, Holmgren traded for top-pair defenseman Kimmo Timonen and goal-scoring winger Scott Hartnell in a deal with the Predators.

On the same day they inked Briere, the Flyers acquired Joffrey Lupul and Jason Smith in a trade with the Oilers. Lupul went on to score 20 goals in 56 games and Smith was captain of the club.

"There were some really promising young prospects that already played in the tough season of 2006-07," Kapanen said. "In that way, they were a little more experienced. They had a good willingness and readiness, an understanding of the league the next season. That way, a Mike Richards and a Jeff Carter and those guys, they were major contributors in the better season."

Richards and Carter, both first-round picks of the Flyers in the 2003 draft, took massive jumps that season. Richards led the Flyers in scoring (75 points) and Carter was tied for second in goals (29). Both were 23 years old and younger that year. Braydon Coburn, the same age, blossomed on defense after being acquired in February of the 2006-07 season.

Currently, the Flyers have young pieces with potential to take difference-making strides next season: Cam York is only 21, Joel Farabee 22 and Carter Hart, Owen Tippett, Morgan Frost (soon to be) and Noah Cates 23, just to name a few who could be in the opening night lineup. But very much like 2007-08, the Flyers have to supplement the youth in this make-or-break type of offseason for Fletcher and company.

Fletcher was active last offseason in retooling his roster by bringing in seven new faces. Ryan Ellis, his biggest acquisition, was limited to four games this season because of a complex lower-body injury. Ellis and the Flyers are hopeful for next season.

But, in his fourth offseason running the Flyers, Fletcher has his hardest work yet.

"We're extremely disappointed with our season and appreciate our fans sticking with us. It was a very tough season to stick with us," Fletcher said last Tuesday. "We understand, I understand, that the season was beyond unacceptable. It was a devastating season.

"But we do have good pieces. In terms of patience, I don't think we're asking anybody to give us five, seven, 10 years here. I do believe we have the ability to be much more competitive very quickly. The moves we make this summer will determine how quickly.

"We'll have another top pick this year, a pretty good influx of young talent coming in, some of whom played pretty well down the stretch. So I think there are reasons to be optimistic and yet there are certainly challenges we still face."

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