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Textbook relaunch

Holmgren's Flyers are the NHL's most improved team

Posted: Tuesday July 31, 2007 4:36PM; Updated: Tuesday July 31, 2007 5:23PM
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Martin Biron will give the Flyers an athletic upgrade in net and a dose of confidence.
Martin Biron will give the Flyers an athletic upgrade in net and a dose of confidence.
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Hockey writers sometimes find themselves handed some odd assignments in the offseason. Me, I was in Durham, N.C., last Saturday night working a Team USA baseball game at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park when I was introduced to a guy who wanted to talk hockey.

"So, what do you think about the Flyers?" he asked, leading into a 10-minute conversation about the rapidly-improving state of the game in Philadelphia.

Not so unusual, I suppose, except it turns out the guy was Paul Seiler, the Executive Director of USA Baseball. With his club moments away from taking on the Netherlands in what may be the finest minor league park in the land, Seiler was excited to find someone willing to talk about his hometown team.

Who can blame him? After suffering through a miserable season unlike any other in franchise history, Seiler and every other Flyers fan have reason to regard the upcoming campaign with unbridled optimism. After all, the Flyers are the NHL's most improved team heading into 2007-08.

A bold call? Hardly.

When you've hit rock bottom, there's nowhere to go but up. But even compared to the eventful summers that are being enjoyed by fans of the Rangers, Panthers and Kings, the Flyers emerge as the best-positioned for a quick reversal of fortune.

The beauty of GM Paul Holmgren's approach is that it was executed in what soon will be regarded as textbook fashion, seeming to encompass both a quick fix and a long-term solution. It has the team poised not only to return to the playoffs next season, but to challenge for the Stanley Cup in short order.

Holmgren, who replaced former GM Bobby Clarke a month into last season, took some time to assess his options before righting course. But over the last four months, he has moved out the ineffective, mistake-prone dinosaurs that symbolized the old-school Clarkian Flyers, and airlifted in a massive infusion of young, promising talent with a series of bold trades and free-agent signings that made the most of the team's cap space.

Among the faces that weren't with the team at this time last year:

Goaltender Martin Biron: Acquired for a second-rounder from Buffalo, Biron offers a more athletic and technically-sound presence than last season's uneven combo of Robert Esche and Antero Niittymaki. He'll be a confidence-builder on his own, but should benefit from a significantly more skilled blueline than his predecessors enjoyed.

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