Many fans of the Orange and Black would like to forget the 2006-2007 campaign, a season which saw the Flyers win just 22 games. After a 1-5-1 start, the firing of Coach Ken Hitchcock, and the resignation of Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke as General Manager, the team needed a new direction. Paul Holmgren was inserted as the interim GM and John Stevens took over behind the bench, where he had success for the AHL farm team, the Philadelphia Phantoms.
The goal was to get younger, more skilled, and to build for the future by maximizing the return on the trading of veteran assets. One of the deals Holmgren made came on February 24th, 2007 before the trade deadline. With the Atlanta Thrashers having one of its best seasons and looking for power play help on the backline, the Flyers traded veteran defenseman Alexi Zhitnik to Atlanta for Braydon Coburn.
Braydon was a former first round pick, selected 8th overall in the 2003 NHL Entry draft, but was unable to stick in the starting lineup for Atlanta in the '06-'07 season. Battling a few injuries, he played in just 29 games with the big club and 15 with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL. The Flyers looked at his raw skills, his 6 foot-5inch, 220 lb. frame, and better than average skating ability as the type of player that just needed some polishing and a chance to grow. Acquired a few days before his 22nd birthday, he had the potential to play a long time in Philadelphia.
As we look at the current Flyers team some seven years later, one would have to admit that this trade has been one of the best in Flyers history. Braydon has been a stalwart on the blue line since his acquisition, playing in 552 regular season games and 65 more in the playoffs. In one of those playoff games back in 2008, Flyers fans will recall Braydon taking a puck in the face vs. Pittsburgh, a nasty cut and injury that took nearly 50 stitches to close. He has always been a tough competitor and very reliable, playing in 78 or more games in a season five times. This season should be no different, as he has played in all 59 games so far and two of his four goals are game winners. As we hit the stretch run to the playoffs, he will be looked upon to keep up his steady play for coach Berube and play plenty of important minutes. Just a few days shy of his 29th birthday (2/27); he is signed through the 2015-16 season and will continue to be one of the leaders on the team.
Oh yeah… So... What about the other side of this trade? Alexi Zhitnik went on to play just 87 games in Atlanta over two seasons, contributing 5 goals and 17 assists before his contract was bought out. He left the NHL for the KHL and finished his career playing two seasons for the Moscow Dynamo.
Nice job, Paul.
Mike Watson is a contributing writer for Flyerdelphia. Follow him on twitter @Mwats_99