Paul Holmgren replaced Bob Clarke as the Flyers' general manager Nov. 11, 2006, after seven seasons as assistant GM with the club. In 2007-08, Holmgren's first full season, the Flyers improved 39 points from the season before, the best single-season improvement in club history. The Flyers advanced to the Eastern Conference finals in '08. In 2008-09, the Flyers lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Here is a question-and-answer session with Holmgren, who assembled the team that will play Chicago for the Stanley Cup:
Question: Can you characterize what the Flyers have accomplished since April 11, when they qualified for the playoffs by winning a shootout in the final regular season game?
Answer: First of all, the past 45 days or so have been mind-boggling, the ride to get here, the ups and downs of the playoffs. It sort of mirrored the ups and downs of our season. It seems whenever there was adversity, we won when we needed to win. When you're one shot away or one save away from not qualifying for the playoffs, it's a pretty fine line we walked. But all you've got to do is get in and anything can happen.
Q: How well did you know Peter Laviolette when you were looking for a coach to replace John Stevens?
A: I'd be remiss if I didn't say John has a hand in the success of this team because of the defensive structure that was in place when Peter took over. I got to know Peter a little bit during the Olympics in 2006, and last summer at the draft I talked to Peter for a couple hours because I was trying to get him to take over the Phantoms job. He thought about it for a day or two but wanted to keep his options open.
Q: What did you see in Chris Pronger when you traded for him, and did you swallow hard when you had to give up a good part of the future to get him?
A: Absolutely. That was a lot to give up. But we'll see after a period of years what happens to our team and how the draft picks we gave up turn out, what [promising defenseman] Luca Sbisa will become. Chris Pronger is a known commodity. He's one of the best defenseman in the league. He's 35 years old, but I think he's got a number of years left to play. There's a chapter to his career that's going to take place here in Philadelphia, and his presence has been huge for our team.
Q: Was there ever a time when you questioned Mike Richards' leadership capabilities?
A: Never. Never. Somebody told me a long time ago you should only care about the people in the room with you and not to worry about outside perceptions. People don't know what goes on in the room. People don't get to see what we see on a daily basis. I never once questioned Mike Richards. His ability as a player and his ability as a leader have never, ever been in question to people in the know. I know what's going on there, and so do his teammates.
Q: Honestly, did you have any feeling of resignation when the Flyers were down three games to none against Boston?
A: Not really, and I think it was because the three games we lost were games I thought could have gone either way. Even the game we lost 4-1, I thought we played a good game. It wasn't like they were kicking our asses or anything, so I never really felt we were out of it. We sneaked into the playoffs on a shoot-out goal and a big save by Brian Boucher. I thought we played very well against New Jersey and deserved to win that series. So, by the time we played Boston, we'd acquired some resolve as a team. We were galvanized against whatever faced us.
Q: Do you feel vindicated after coming under some criticism for not making a deal around the trade deadline for a goalie?
A: We're one of the two teams that has a chance to win the Stanley Cup, which is what we're in this business for. That's my vindication, not that I need any. Like I've said, I liked our team all year, and I felt the same way at the trade deadline.