Sami Kapanen has seen the hockey world from just about every possible vantage point with the exception of being a referee or linesman. He enjoyed an enviable playing career both in the National Hockey League and internationally. He's been a pro team owner and general manager in his native Finland. He's been a head coach. He's been a successful national broadcaster. He's also tried his hand at being a player agent, and found that he really enjoyed the one-on-one interactions.
In fact, it was the experience of being an agent that stoked the internal fire that led Kapanen to the path that recently brought him back to the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers as a European-based development coach and pro-level scout.
"I really enjoyed being an agent, and working with players from the business standpoint. But I also felt like I had something more I could give in terms of working with players, especially the young guys, from a hockey standpoint. So I reached out to some NHL teams [about a developmental coaching role], and the Flyers showed a lot of interest right away. Coming back to work with the Flyers was an easy decision for me," Kapanen said to Flyers Daily.
"I loved my years playing for the Flyers. The organization was great to me, and so were the fans. Lots of good memories. This is a different role now, and I am excited for it. I'm happy to be back."
As a player, for whatever Kapanen lacked in size, he more than made up for in courage. The lion-hearted little Finn was utterly fearless on the ice and an elite skater with seemingly boundless energy. He also had outstanding hockey sense; so much so that when the Flyers were riddled with blueline injuries during the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs, the career winger volunteered to move back to defense and handled the task remarkably well.
Kapanen was a fan favorite both in Finland - where he played for KalPa Kuopio and HIFK Helsinki - and in North America. Kapanen also became a highly respected figure in the locker room among teammates.
During his time with the Whalers and Carolina Hurricanes following Hartford's relation to Raleigh, Kapanen became a two-time NHL All-Star. He won the Fastest Skater event at the All-Star Skills Competition at both the 2000 and 2002 All-Star weekends.
The Flyers acquired Kapanen and defenseman Ryan Bast on February 7, 2003, in exchange for forward Pavel Brendl and defenseman Bruno St. Jacques. Kapanen spent the remainder of his NHL career in Philadelphia.
Although Kapanen did not provide quite as much scoring punch as the Flyers initially hoped he would, he became a valuable and versatile player who could play various roles across virtually every possible game situation. During his time with the Flyers, he played on all four lines at different junctures and was equally comfortable and adept on either left wing or right wing.
One of the most famous moments of Kapanen's career came in overtime of Game Six of the 2004 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Kapanen was rocked by a crushing hit by Toronto's Darcy Tucker. Stumbling repeatedly, a woozy but determined Kapanen finally struggled back to the bench to get a line change. Shortly thereafter, Jeremy Roenick scored the series-winning goal.
As Kapanen's time with the Flyers wound down, he increasingly played a fourth-line checking and penalty killing role. Although the proud player was not happy with the reduced role, he performed the tasks well and remained a galvanizing figure in the locker room.
After the 2006-07 season, a 34-year-old Kapanen decided to end his NHL career, announcing his retirement with one season and more than $1 million remaining on his contract with Philadelphia. He did this in order to focus of his majority ownership of the KalPa Kuopio team in Finland's Liiga (formerly called SM-Liiga).
For the Flyers portion of his NHL career, Kapanen played in 311 regular season games (44 goals, 66 assists, 110 points) and 53 playoff matches (nine goals, 10 assists, 19 points). Overall, he played 831 regular season NHL games (189 goals, 269 assists, 458 points) and 87 playoff games (13 goals, 22 assists, 41 points).
Kapanen's son, Kasperi, was born in Kuopio but raised in the Delaware Valley during his father's five years with the Flyers. Now 25, Kasperi is a veteran of 321 NHL regular season games with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins. plus 38 playoff games. Sami's younger son, Konsta, plays for KalPa and is eligible for the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.
At the time Sami Kapanen assumed majority ownership in 2003, KalPa was on the brink of collapse -- in grave peril of going out of business entirely. Former Flyers teammates Kimmo Timonen (also a KalPa product and Kuopio native) and Scott Hartnell were minority owners of the KalPa team.
With Sami Kapanen suiting up for KalPa as a player during the 2004-05 NHL lockout to boost the team's on-ice fortunates,KalPa was able to work its way back up from relegation to a restored spot in Liiga. Thereafter, the team steadily regained both financial solvency and on-ice competitiveness.
After his retirement from playing in the NHL, Kapanen devoted himself 24/7/365 to the KalPa franchise as CEO, a still-active player (often as the team captain or alternate captain) and general manager.
The Kapanen brothers, Sami and younger sibling Kimmo (a former goaltender and goalie coach who later served in upper management), rebuilt the Liiga team back into a contender for a number of years although a loss in the 2016-17 playoff finals was the closest KalPa got to winning the championship. Sami Kapanen retired for good as a player after the 2013-14 season.
Sami also took an interest in coaching. He had stints as a KalPa assistant coach and head coach of their J20 squad. He also tried his hand as a head coach in Switzerland with the HC Lugano club.
In 2020, Kapanen pursued an opportunity to become a player agent. This meant that he had to sell his ownership stake in KalPa so as to avoid conflicts of interest. In the meantime. for a number of years, he's been a national commentator on Finnish hockey broadcasts.
Kapanen, who makes his residence near Kuopio, has long since cemented iconic status in Finnish hockey. As a young player, he was part of the 1994 Olympic silver medalist squad and the 1995 gold medalist World Championship team (a squad that holds similar historic stature in Finland to how the "Miracle on Ice" 1980 Team USA squad is regarded in the United States). He's seen Finnish hockey grow from scrappy underdog status to a frequent medal contender, and has strong opinions on what has driven the growth and why the talent keeps on flowing to the professional level.
One of the first orders of business that Kapanen has already started to undertake since being hired by the Flyers is to work one-on-one with 19-year-old right winger Samu Tuomaala. Drafted by Philadelphia in the second round (46th overall) of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, Tuomaala is a pure speedster with outstanding puck skills and a natural finishing touch.
However, Tuomaala has a long way to go in his development path. He struggled mightily this past season in a short AHL stint with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and also struggled when he returned to Finland to play in Liiga. Tuomaala scarcely received any significant ice time in 13 games with the Sport Vaasa club. He finished the season with eight games for Jukurit Mikkeli, where former NHL player Olli Jokinen is the head coach.
"Some mistakes were made with where Samu played this season, but ultimately it's about where the player feels most comfortable," Kapanen said.
"This is going to be a very important offseason for Samu. He knows that he has he to get stronger physically. That's a big part of it. There are things he needs to improve in his game, and we've discussed that. I think Jukurit is going to be a good fit for Samu. Olli Jokinen communicates well with young players, He has confidence in playing the young guys who show they're ready for it, like Aatu Räty (2021 Islanders second round pick) or Patrik Puistola (2019 Carolina Hurricanes third-round pick). Samu understands that he'll have to put in the work but he's a talented young player."
Kapanen sees development coaching as his primary role with the Flyers but he'll also scout European pro leagues and major tournaments on behalf of the Philadelphia franchise. His own love of the game has never waned nor has his tireless work ethic. He has a wealth of accumulated hockey knowledge and is eager to pass it along to the next generation of pro players.