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Once-proud Flyers suffered through worst season in 40 years

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) -Simon Gagne has been around Philadelphia long enough to understand how much Flyers fans love and appreciate their favorite teams.

He still hears stories about the 1974 and 1975 Stanley Cup teams, tales told as if the Flyers had won the Cup recently, not three decades ago.

This, however, is a season best forgotten.

"It's not fun when your name is part of this season," Gagne said. "It's a disappointing year for everybody."

Disappointing barely scratches the ice. This year's Flyers have a more offending label: the worst team in their 40-year history.

Never have the Flyers had a season like this one. They were the worst team in the NHL (22-48-12), missed the playoffs for the first time since 1994 and set team records for most losses and fewest points (56).

They hastily fired coach Ken Hitchcock in October and replaced him with rookie John Stevens. General manager Bobby Clarke resigned before later returning in a different position. And team captain Peter Forsberg never overcame his injuries and was traded in February.

"It was a crappy year, and we've got some work to do to make sure it doesn't happen again next year," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said Monday.

It's hard to be worse:

- The Flyers won only 10 games at the Wachovia Center, wasting one of the most intimidating home-ice advantages.

- They had only five wins against Atlantic Division opponents.

- There was a whopping 45-point drop from last season, when they earned 101 points and made the playoffs.

- Once they were down, they were out: A 2-38-5 record when trailing after two periods.

But because of a young nucleus and salary cap flexibility, the Flyers say this was just a one-year blip.

The Flyers have a bit more than $20 million in salary cap space that they'll use to pursue a No. 1 center, some top defensemen and a strong veteran presence to offset the 15 rookies who played this season as part of a team-record 49 players used overall. The Flyers also could win the No. 1 draft pick in Tuesday's lottery.

"There's work to be done here, and there's holes to be plugged," Holmgren said. "I think with the young prospects that we have, and the draft picks we have and the salary cap room we have, I think we're well armed for what can transpire this summer."

Holmgren started the overhaul around the trade deadline, adding some needed grit, skill, speed and youth. The addition of players such as defenseman Braydon Coburn and forward Scottie Upshall showed the Flyers were serious about becoming faster and more mobile.

Another deadline deal gave them Martin Biron, their latest goalie of the future, who they signed to a two-year extension. That means Robert Esche is done, and restricted free agent Antero Niittymaki, their former starter, must accept a backup role if he returns next season.

Stevens also said the Flyers will name a team captain for next season after playing the final two months without an official locker room leader. Forsberg replaced Keith Primeau, but Forsberg's injury woes kept him off the ice and out of the locker room.

Holmgren and Stevens, both given two-year extensions this season, met individually with players Monday to make sure they focus on contending next season, not stewing about missed opportunities.

"This year has definitely been a big bump for us," center Mike Richards said. "Hopefully the guys that are going through this right now can build off it and come back next year with a lot more enthusiasm."

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