PHILADELPHIA – Bobby Clarke had one final assist before he quit the Philadelphia Flyers in 2006.
He told ownership it was time to promote Paul Holmgren.
“He’s ready, he’s good,” Clarke said. “He’s a Flyer.”
Holmgren was ready to take over for Clarke as general manager and used a string of stellar acquisitions—Chris Pronger, Danny Briere, Kimmo Timonen—to make the Flyers contenders for the Stanley Cup. With Holmgren calling the shots, Philadelphia reached the Eastern Conference final in 2008, the Stanley Cup final in 2010 and they lead the East this season with 63 points entering Tuesday’s action.
Holmgren, whose deal was set to expire at the end of next season, was rewarded Tuesday with a three-year contract extension. He’s in his 32nd year with the organization, also serving as player, coach, scout, and assistant GM.
He said his style toward keeping the Flyers among the NHL’s elite has never wavered even as the job description changed.
“Part of being a Flyer is bringing your lunch pail,” Holmgren said. “That’s part of our culture, part of our tradition.”
Holmgren was promoted from assistant general manager to interim GM in October of 2006 after Clarke quit and coach Ken Hitchcock was fired on the same day. Holmgren had a plan to rebuild the Flyers during their worst season in franchise history and so impressed owner Ed Snider and Comcast-Spectacor COO Peter Luukko, he was stripped of the interim title a month later.
Holmgren dumped veteran forward Peter Forsberg, and brought in defencemen Braydon Coburn and Timonen, as well as forwards Scottie Upshall and Scott Hartnell. He also signed Briere as a free agent.
His batting average kept rising with a trade that brought in Pronger, and he also engineered a steal of a deal last season for playoff hero Ville Leino.
Holmgren’s boldest move was firing close friend John Stevens early last season, replacing him with Peter Laviolette. And it worked. Laviolette led the Flyers all the way to a Game 6 loss in the Stanley Cup final and their fast start made him co-coach in this year’s all-star game.
“Paul had to do what was best for the team and what was best for us long term,” Luukko said. “Those are difficult decisions to make, but he made the decision and certainly you learn a lot about someone in the toughest of times.”
The Flyers (Stanley Cup final), Phillies (World Series championship in 2008) and Eagles (NFC title game two seasons ago) have all given the city’s sports fans a dose of success the last few years. Holmgren said watching other city teams go for a championship in the same era makes it more fun—with a dose of added pressure—for him.
“I think it pushes the players,” he said, “and that’s what’s exciting.”