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Philadelphia Flyers

A professional hockey team in the Eastern Conference of the NHL.

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Flying High Again

  • Mar 21, 2013
Yeah, we all know those famous stories revolving around Philadelphia fandom. Aren't these the fans that booed Santa Claus some 40-odd years ago? The guys who cheered when Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin was carried off their turf on a stretcher?

Perhaps the story of the Philadelphia Flyers, Philadelphia's NHL team, can provide a little bit of insight on the kind of mentality Philly sports fans have. On the one hand, most fans would love to be able to adopt the Flyers and call them their own team. They were created in the 1967 expansion, which effectively makes them one of the NHL's senior teams now. And since their creation, they've given one of the very best possible names to expansion teams in general - they were immediately successful, and have since managed to compile a lifetime winning percentage of .579, which is second overall in the history of the league. Out of the other expansion teams - and by that, I mean both the Class of 1967 and every other team brought into the NHL afterward - the Flyers have appeared in the Conference Finals more than any other team, and in overall playoff appearances for the expansion teams, only the St. Louis Blues have as many as they do. And, oh yeah, they also won the Stanley Cup twice.

On the flipside, the Flyers made a habit of breaking hearts. They haven't actually come through for Philadelphia since their second Cup, which they won back in 1975. They've fielded numerous teams which have shown great promise, beat up on the NHL during the regular season, and done a load of damage during the playoffs only to tank at the last minute, in the worst way. One could build an argument that the Flyers are the NHL version of the Boston Red Sox.

The story of the Philadelphia Flyers begins in 1964, when Philadelphia Eagles president Ed Snider was in Boston watching a basketball game. During the game, he spotted a bunch of Boston Bruins fans lining up to buy tickets. This was a pretty big deal, seeing as how the Bruins were not only stirring in a long Stanley Cup drought in a league stacked against them, but they were mired in dead last at the time. So when Snider heard the NHL was starting to make plans to expand, he made a proposal to the league, which chose Philadelphia as an ideal market to expand into. In 1966, the team held a name the team contest, and the name Flyers was chosen.

Since they were an expansion team, the Flyers had trouble finding talent in the expansion draft. You think the Original Six were ever going to stupidly leave their cream of crop on the market for the n00bs? Of course not! But they did find a player of real talent in the expansion draft with goaltender Bernie Parent, who became the team's very talented staple in goal for the better part of a 15-year career. They also bought the minor league Quebec Aces. Between the expansion draft and the Aces, the Flyers were able to grab Ed Van Impe, who went on to become their fearless Captain; and Andre Lacroix, who would lead the Flyers in goals. It took them a week to win their first game, but since the NHL sort of brushed all the expansion teams into the same conference, the Flyers were able to take first with a losing record. In the playoffs, success wasn't fast; they lost to St. Louis in the first round. In their second season, the Flyers finished 15 games under .500. But since this is the NHL and a playoff appearance in the NHL is the league either rewarding a team for a great season or apologizing to a team for a terrible season. So the Flyers went to the playoffs! They were destroyed by the Blues again, in the first round again.

The second year left Snider royally pissed off, so he went to his GM, Bill Poile, and gave him a simple directive: Go bigger, go TOUGHER. Apparently an idea of tough was a 19-year-old diabetic from Flin Flon, Manitoba, named Bobby Clarke. And to let Snider know his mandate was heard after all, they also drafted Dave Schultz, who would soon establish himself as one of the nastiest enforcers hockey would ever fear. Although the Flyers missed the playoffs the next year, Clarke emerged as the best player on the team. Although the first couple of years in the 70's were rocky for the Flyers, the mandate resulted in the short-order building of a team that was as scary talented as it was just plain scary.

It was 1973 when the Philadelphia Flyers were no longer JUST the Philadelphia Flyers, a write-off expansion team there for the Original Six to fatten their winning percentages. It was the year the Flyers became the famous, dominating Broad Street Bullies. Rick MacLeish became the first player on the team to score 50 goals. The team recorded its first winning season, ever. Clarke became the youngest person in league history at the time to be named Captain, a nice honor which went well with his Hart Trophy. The Flyers returned to the playoffs, beat the Minnesota North Stars in six games, and lost the conference finals to the Montreal Canadiens. The following year, they sent a message to the NHL that the Original Six weren't going to be receiving any cookies from the expansionists just because the expansionists were new. They were going to fight the Original Six and sock with them blow for blow, and they did. That year, they went back to the playoffs and, upon beating the New York Rangers in the conference finals, became the first expansion team to beat an Original Six squad in the playoffs. Those conference finals are among the legendary NHL series, and the Rangers did draw it out to a seventh game which was notable mainly for a fight between Dave Schultz and Ranger Dale Rolfe. Well, not so much a fight as a one-sided beating as career enforcer Schultz pummeled Rolfe while Rolfe's teammates just hung back and watched it happen. In the Finals, the Flyers faced a Bruins team which was now just as talented and tough as they were. It was the Broad Street Bullies against the Big Bad Bruins, and the Bullies prevailed in six. The REAL shocker came the following season, when the Flyers returned to the Finals only to learn there wouldn't be yet another arrogant Original Six team for them to beat up. Their opponent now was another expansion team which was actually younger than they were - the speedy, high-tempo Buffalo Sabres and their famous scoring line, known as The French Connection. It was the first Stanley Cup Final between expansion teams. The third game was a classic which was played in the fog of an unusually warm Buffalo spring day. Players couldn't see the puck or each other and, during the game, one player killed a wayward bat. The Sabres won it in overtime, but the Flyers had won the first two in the series by then. Their coaching and goaltending were superior, so they took the Stanley Cup again in six games.

The LCB Line - named for Reggie Leach, Bobby Clarke, and Bill Barber - continued to make the Flyers a potent force through the decade. In 1976, hockey brought the Super Series to North America. Two Soviet Union teams - the Soviet Wings and the Red Army - went on an exhibition tour, playing against NHL teams. The Flyers were the only team that beat the Red Army, out-muscling them and even sending them to their locker room in the middle of the first period in protest of a hit on one of their players. They only returned when their salary for the entire series was threatened, and Philly won quite handily. (The Soviet Wings also only lost one game in their tour, to Buffalo.) The Flyers also went back to the Finals in 1976, but lost to Montreal, which was emerging as arguably the greatest dynasty in hockey history. Afterward, the Broad Street Bullies days started to decline a little bit - Schultz was traded to the Los Angeles Kings. After the 1978 season, the Flyers were stunned when their coach, Fred Shero, walked away because he wanted to general manage and coach the Rangers. In 1979, Bernie Parent suffered a nasty eye injury which ended his career. They did have one more Conference Championship in them, in 1980. In the Finals, they faced the New York Islanders. The end of that Final was hit with controversy in the last game. The Isles, see, won that game 5-4 in overtime. But on the play that resulted in their second goal, they happened to be offside, but no one made the call. The linesman admitted blowing the call after the game.

After a few down years (read: first round playoff exits), the Flyers hired coach Mike Keenan in 1984. He brought the team back to respectability right off. In the 1985 season, the Flyers won 53 games, best in the league, behind Captain Dave Poulin and goalie Pelle Lindbergh. They hammered through the playoffs, beating the Rangers, Islanders, and Quebec Nordiques to return to the Finals. The ride ended there, because Philadelphia's Finals opponents were the juggernaut Edmonton Oilers. Needless to say, the Oilers pounded the Flyers in five games. A month into the following season, Lindbergh was fatally injured in a car accident. While his specter loomed on the season, the Flyers persevered instead of using his death as an excuse to phone in the year. They won 53 games again, best in the Wales Conference. Tim Kerr scored 58 goals, defensemen Mark Howe and Brad McCrimmon led the league in plus/minus with whopping numbers of plus 85 and plus 83 respectively, and Lindbergh's replacement, Bob Froese, did his job beautifully, being named a Second Team All-Star and sharing the William M. Jennings Trophy with teammate Darren Jenson.

1986 saw the rise of a new netminder, Ron Hextall. The Flyers continued to play powerful hockey through the 80's, despite a nasty playoff collapse in 1988 against the Washington Capitals which resulted in Keenan getting fired. The 90's started off on low notes, and the Flyers missed the playoffs due to a few factors: Hextall missing games due to injury, suspension, and holdout; Poulin being traded to Boston; and the replacement of the GM. While they made a trade for Rod Brind'Amour in the 1992 season, they continued to play like shit, which resulted in another playoff miss and coaching change. That year, the Flyers made a watershed trade. There was a highly projected pick in the draft named Eric Lindros whom the Flyers wanted. How badly did they want him? Well, this tells the story: The Quebec Nordiques owned his draft rights. To get him, Philadelphia gave up Steve Duchesne, Peter Forsberg, Ron Hextall, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, Chris Simon, and two draft picks - one of which was magically turned into Jocelyn Thibault. They also parted with a cool $15 million. ALL for this ONE GUY. Philadelphia thought Lindros was going to take everyone to the top of the league. And that's exactly what he did! He took the Nords - who became the Colorado Avalanche soon after - to two Stanley Cups through the simple method of not playing for them! To be fair, he did put up some impressive statistics in Philly and become a preeminent star, but the accepted fact of the matter is that Philly got Phleeced.

When a team gives up talent like the Flyers did for Lindros, he better be able to fucking carry the team. Yes, Lindros played extremely well. He was placed on a line with John LeClair and Mikael Renberg which was given the coolest line name ever: The Legion of Doom. His contributions got the Flyers back to the playoffs, and he won a Hart Trophy. Hell, he even got the Flyers to the Finals in 1997, where they played against the underdog Detroit Red Wings. Unfortunately, he didn't show any leadership, and he didn't make any dents in Detroit's defense, either. He scored one goal in the entire series. It was in the fourth game of a Detroit sweep. There were 15 seconds left on the clock in the third, which meant that, since Detroit had TWO goals on the board by the time Lindros found the net, the game was already over. More to the point, Lindros also spent a ton of time on injured reserve and suffered a series of concussions. He was also fighting with GM Bobby Clarke, and whining about trainers who failed to detect one of his concussions. After a big fight about contractual restrictions, he wound up sitting out the entire 2001 season, after which Clarke traded him to the Rangers, presumably saying to them "He's your problem now."

After a 2001 first round playoff loss to the Sabres, the Flyers were in dire need of a spark. And who would bring more spark than Jeremy Roenick? JR was signed to what became one of his signature gigs while Lindros was traded. They also got Adam Oates at the trade deadline to help a terrible power play. The Flyers did rejuvenate, winning their division in 2002, but they still lost in the first playoff round, this time to the Ottawa Senators. In 2003, they made it to the second round with the help of the newly-signed Tony Amonte, but lost to Ottawa again. The Flyers started going deep into the playoffs again and with Keith Primeau and Simon Gagne, started playing more like the Flyer teams of the olden days. That all started changing after the lockout. While they started the 2006 season with high expectations and Peter Forsberg, they had problems with injuries, and were booted from the playoffs in the first round by the Buffalo Sabres, who were the template team for the New Rules NHL. In 2007, the Flyers took a nosedive. It was their 40th Anniversary season, and also their worst in history. Primeau retired, Forsberg was lost to chronic injury, and the Flyers started the season with a 1-6-1 record. At that point, Clarke resigned as GM and coach Ken Hitchcock was fired. At one point, the Flyers lost ten straight games. At another they lost 13 straight home games. They finished 22-48-12, the worst in the league and with the most losses in franchise history. And to top it off, they didn't win the draft lottery.

When it became clear the Flyers weren't going to salvage the 2007 season, the team set its sights on rebuilding. They started trading immediately, letting go of Forsberg and Alexei Zhitnik. In the offseason, they signed former Sabres Captain Daniel Briere. In 2008, a year after being the worst team in the league, the Flyers were back in the conference finals, where they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flyers kept upgrading, bringing in Claude Giroux and Chris Pronger. Peter Laviolette was hired to coach, and in 2010, the Flyers were Eastern Conference Champions. Their road through the playoffs saw them pull off a first round upset against the Devils. Then they fell into a 3-0 series hole against the Bruins in the second round, but they forced a seventh game. In that game, they fell behind 3-0 but came back and won 4-3. In the conference finals, they beat Montreal in five games, with goalie Michael Leighton recording three shutouts. There was no question that Philadelphia was hot going into the Finals, but their opponents, the Chicago Blackhawks, were just BETTER. In a series defined somewhat by a pair of average goalies, Chicago's Antti Niemi was just a little bit better than Leighton when it counted, and Chicago took the Stanley Cup in a six-game series. To have a chance against the considerably more talented Blackhawks, the Flyers needed to win the first two games in order to dispirit them, but they didn't. They managed to take games three and four, and to have a shot at redemption, they needed game five to grab control. They lost that too, in convincing fashion. When they tied game six with a late goal, they had a chance in overtime, but Patrick Kane scored Chicago's Cup clincher after four minutes.

The Flyers since have been largely a flashback to the Broad Street Bullies days, but this season, things just aren't going right for some reason. They're threatening to miss the playoffs again.

Five numbers have been retired in Philadelphia: Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, Barry Ashbee, Mark Howe, and Bernie Parent. Pelle Lindbergh's number was removed from circulation after his death. Other great Flyers have included Mark Recchi, Paul Coffey, Adam Oates, Dale Hawerchuk, and Darryl Sittler. Bobby Clarke is very clearly the defining face of the Flyers. He led them on the ice, and then built them off the ice. His work helped them to the Finals in 1997, even if he did get fleeced by the Nordiques/Avalanche. He was actually the general manager for 22 years, longer than he was a player. Right now, Claude Giroux is the face of the on-ice team.

The Philadelphia Flyers have rivalries with, well, everyone, since they're a Philadelphia team. Actually the big one is with the cross-state Pittsburgh Penguins. While the Flyers have won more overall games than the Pens, the Pens have won the Stanley Cup three times, last in 2009, as opposed to two Stanley Cups in Philadelphia. They're not very fond of the New York Rangers either, or the Islanders for that matter. Outside the division, they have an intense rivalry with the Buffalo Sabres which is especially nasty if the two of them meet in the playoffs. The Flyers hold a definite edge over the Sabres in the playoffs. It was the Sabres, after all, that the Flyers beat to win the Stanley Cup in 1975.

The Flyers are one of the marquee teams in the NHL. Those who watch NBC Sports regularly know the Flyers get a huge bulk of attention, no matter how they're doing. For everything the Flyers have gone through, their most defining moment might be the Dave Schultz/Dale Rolfe fight back in the 1974 playoffs. It established the Philadelphia Flyers brand, permanently giving fans the perception of the Flyers of a team of brutes who don't take anyone else's shit. The Flyers are routinely among the toughest teams in the league, and they've built their identity around big hits, fights, and general intimidation. The Broad Street Bullies teams had great talent, but are better known for beatings. This is actually one of the things I respect about them - they play for playoffs, not necessarily for the regular season. Once playoffs start, the regular season is meaningless, and the playoffs are a gauntlet of strength and stamina as well as skill. The Flyers, despite not having won the Stanley Cup in awhile, are always built to tackle the part of the hockey season that really counts.

The Flyers are also among the most easily identifiable teams in the NHL. Their orange jerseys are distinctive, and their logo curves around into the shape of the letter P, of course for the city of Philadelphia. (And also a very clever take on a former logo of the Philadelphia Phillies, their baseball team.) But to me, it looks more like a wheel with a wing sprouting out of it, a nod to the speed and grace of hockey. The Flyers sing "God Bless America" instead of the national anthem before every game, and are one of two teams to have tried wearing hockey pants instead of regular shorts for a short time.

Yes, the Philadelphia Flyers are probably going to end up breaking your hearts should you adopt them. Yes, as a Sabres fan, I'm obligated to hate their guts. But part of the reason they've been so successful, despite not winning the Stanley Cup since 1975, is because I just haven't seen a whole lot of quit in these guys. That's the important thing. Even if this season goes totally down the tubes, they'll still get up to fight another day.

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Nicholas Croston ()
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Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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