The rivalry between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins has become one of the better known NHL rivalries as of late. It is a rivalry that seems to escalate every year. With each game, each playoff series, and every blogger adding his or her two cents, fuel gets added to the fire.
Many fans constantly debate which team is "better." The term "better" is arbitrary. If you look at the 2008-09 season, you could say that Pittsburgh was the better team. If you want to look at the amount of Stanley Cup wins both teams have, again, you could say that Pittsburgh is the better team.
This isn't a strong start to an article about why the Flyers are better than the Penguins but it brings up an important point that needs to be made—when making a comparison, apples can't be compared to oranges. A few winning seasons and a Stanley Cup do not suddenly make you the benchmark for NHL success. Nor do a few future hall-of-famers suddenly make you a dynasty.
Many Pittsburgh Penguins fans are still drunk off their most recent Stanley Cup, and they have every right to be. However, it would behoove many a Penguins fan to heed the words of Ernest Hemingway.
"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."
The Penguins will have their hands full again this year, especially with their Atlantic division rivals the Philadelphia Flyers. In their drunken stooper, many Penguins fans are predicting a return to the finals and even another Cup win. Amidst their predictions they make it a point to note the Penguins' recent success over the Flyers. Many fans have even become so intoxicated with success that they are claiming that the Penguins are far greater than the Flyers and always have been.
I have tried to reason with many to no avail. As a result, I felt it was my duty as a Philadelphia Flyers fan to do some investigating to really figure out who the better franchise is. After some extensive and somewhat tedious research, I have come to two conclusions: 1.) the Philadelphia Flyers are in fact the better franchise; and 2.) the Pittsburgh Penguins have had a tremendous amount of talent in their organization over the years.
First, let's define the term "better." The better team would most likely have the following:
- Overall team success (history of wins, losses, goals for, goals against, etc.);
- Overall vs. team success (the results of every match-up between both clubs); and
- Overall team accomplishments (Stanley Cups, conference championships, etc.).
To decide the better team, a comparison of both clubs will be drawn in all of these areas and an advantage point will be given to the team that comes out on top. Once the analysis is complete, some conclusions can be drawn as to who the better team is.
Let's begin, shall we?
All-time regular season statistics—a look at all-time wins, losses, etc. for both clubs.
Flyers: 1621 wins; 1118 losses; 458 ties; 64 OT losses; 3764 points; 0.577 win%; 11024 goals for; 9590 goals against.
Penguins: 1360 wins; 1452 losses; 383 ties; 65 OT losses; 3168 points; 0.486 win%; 10946 goals for; goals against N/A.
Advantage = Flyers 1 - Penguins 0
Flyers all-time record vs. Penguins—how the Flyers have performed against the Penguins during regular season play throughout the history of both clubs.
132 wins (89 home, 43 away) vs. 75 losses (22 home, 53 away)
30 ties (eight home, 22 away); 5 OT losses (two home; three away)
891 goals for (505 home, 386 away) vs. 739 goals against (312 home, 427 away)
Advantage = Flyers 2 - Penguins 0
Stanley Cup Championships—what it's all about.
Flyers: two (1973-74; 1974-75) vs. Penguins: three (1990-91; 1991-92; 2008-09)
Advantage = Flyers 2 - Penguins 1
Conference Championships—number of conference championships both teams have won (consists of two different trophies due to the Flyers moving to the Eastern Conference prior to the 1981-82 season).
Campbell Bowl (Western Conference)—1967-68; 1973-74; 1974-75; 1975-76; 1976-77; 1979-80
Prince of Whales Trophy (Eastern Conference)—1984-85; 1986-87; 1996-97
Prince of Whales Trophy (Eastern Conference)—1990-91; 1991-92; 2007-08; 2008-09
Advantage = Flyers 3 - Penguins 1
Presidents Trophy—awarded to the team that amounts the most points during the regular season.
Flyers: 0 vs. Penguins: 1 (1992-93)
Advantage = Flyers 3 - Penguins 2
The Flyers are ahead of the Penguins with one advantage point. Due to the importance of Stanley Cup victories it might be feasible to award the Penguins with an extra advantage point in this category. However, the Flyers hold the advantage over the Penguins in playoff series matchups (of five matchups the Flyers have beaten the Penguins three times). In addition, The Flyers have made it to the Cup finals seven times compared to the Penguins' four appearances. Furthermore, the Flyers have made 33 playoff appearances to date while the Penguins have made it to the post season 24 times.
No matter how you want to look at it, the Flyers have (historically speaking) been more successful than the Penguins in almost every category except Stanley Cup wins. If the Flyers boasted this success without any Cup wins, the Penguins would be much more inclined to hold the overall advantage over the Flyers. But, they have not, and the Flyers have been the more dominant team despite being a Cup shy of the Penguins.
In light of this analysis, some may call into question the caliber of player each team has possessed in the past. While both teams have employed some of the NHL's greatest, individual player accomplishments do not always result in team success. For argument's sake, let's take a look at some of the feats accomplished by players of both teams.
Art Ross Trophy—awarded to the player who leads the league in points.
Penguins: 13 (wow) - Mario Lemieux X6; Jaromir Jagr x5; Sidney Crosby; Evgeni Malkin
Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy—awarded to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to the game of hockey.
Flyers: two - Bobby Clarke; Tim Kerr
Penguins: two - Lowell MacDonald; Mario Lemieux
Calder Memorial Trophy—the NHL's rookie of the year award.
Penguins: two - Mario Lemieux; Evgeni Malkin
Conn Smythe Trophy—the NHL's playoff MVP award.
Flyers: four - Bernie Parent x2; Reggie Leach; Ron Hextall
Penguins: three - Mario Lemieux x2; Evgeni Malkin
William M. Jennings Trophy—basically a trophy awarded to the goaltender(s) of the team with the fewest goals against in the regular season.
Flyers: two - Bob Froese & Darren Jansen; Roman Cechmanek & Robert Esche
Frank J. Selke Trophy—awarded to the forward who demonstrated the most skill in the defensive aspect of the game.
Flyers: two - Bobby Clarke; Dave Poulin
Penguins: one - Ron Francis
Hart Memorial Trophy—the NHL's regular season MVP.
Flyers: four - Bobby Clarke x3; Eric Lindros
Penguins: five - Mario Lemieux x3; Jaromir Jagr; Sidney Crosby
Norris Trophy—the NHL's best defenseman
Penguins: one - Randy Carlyle
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy—awarded to the "player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct with a high standard of playing ability."
Penguins: three - Rick Kehoe; Ron Francis x2
Lester B. Pearson Award—awarded to the most outstanding player in the regular season as judged by the NHLPA.
Flyers: two - Bobby Clarke; Eric Lindros
Penguins: seven - Mario Lemieux x4; Jaromir Jagr x2; Sidney Crosby
NHL +/- Award—awarded to the player with the best +/- rating during the regular season.
Flyers: two - Mark Howe; John LeClair
Penguins: two - Mario Lemieux; Ron Francis
Jack Adams Award—the best NHL coach.
Flyers: four - Fred Shero; Pat Quinn; Mike Keenen; Bill Barber
After looking at the number of NHL awards awarded to players from both teams, it is clear that the Penguins have simply dominated in the personal awards category, due much in part to Mario Lemieux.
In fact, Lemieux has been the recipient of 18 NHL awards. Of the 38 awards listed above that have been given to Penguins players, Mario has received approximately 48 percent of them. In addition, Jaromir Jagr has received a respectable eight personal awards. Combined, they are responsible for 68.5 percent of the Penguins' player awards. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin make up another 16 percent. Combined, these four players are responsible for more than 85 percent (more than four out of five) of the NHL awards that have been given to Penguins players.
The Flyers on the other hand have only seen 22 individual awards awarded to Philadelphia personnel (18 player awards, four coaching awards). Similar to Lemieux, Bobby Clarke has been awarded the most (six) for his team. Eric Lindros and Bernie Parent are tied for second place with two a piece. A total of 11 players have received the 18 player awards awarded to Philadelphia (not including the four Jack Adams awards for four separate coaches).
Bobby Clarke only makes up 33.3 percent of the awards given to Players from the Flyers. Clarke, Lindros, and Parent combined make up just a little over half of the player awards for the Flyers (55.5 percent).
With these numbers in mind, it is clear that much of Pittsburgh's success has come as a result of only a handful of players.
Numbers aside, it's easy to see how Pittsburgh fans may have delusions of grandeur. Coming off of a disappointing trip to finals in 2007-'08 surely left a bitter-sweet taste of Lord Stanley's magnificence on the tongues of any Pittsburgher. A finals repeat and eventual win over Detroit in 2008-'09 must have been the sweetest brands of revenge and victory. With two consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup finals and a parade in downtown Pittsburgh this past summer, any casual fan would start bleeding black and gold.
Despite Pittsburgh's recent success, you can't compare them to any team (the Flyers included) without checking egos at the door. The fact still remains that Pittsburgh had downright dismal years up until the emergence of Mario Lemieux in the late 80's. With a few mediocre seasons in the '90s, it took poor performance after poor performance to position themselves to draft up-and-coming rookie sensations. Finally, after 5 straight seasons of top five picks in the first round ('02 = fifth pick; '03 = first pick; '04 = second pick; '05 = first pick; '06= second pick) The Penguins finally left the kiddy table to feast with the grown-ups in the NHL playoffs. Ironic that their seat at the table has come so close to the Flyers.
In spite of the efforts of Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby, the Penguins will continue their tenure in the NHL as a lackluster franchise. They will be remembered for thier great players, not because of their great team. Good management decisions, drafting well in late rounds and developing players from within a team's own minor league system is a recipe for continued success. This is one of the reasons the Flyers have been successful over the years and continue to remain competitive.
The motto of the Flyers has always been hard work, grit, determination, and above all, Pride. The Flyers have too great a sense of pride to go through a loosing season for the sake of draft picks. The Flyers are a franchise with character where the team has always come first. They have won Stanley Cups and conference championships as a team, and no one or two players were solely responsible for their victories.
As the Penguins finish out their drunken joyride this summer, October will roll around right in time for the hangover that will be Pittsburgh's realization of their own mediocrity in the highly talented NHL of today. On the other hand, the Flyers (the team that coined the nickname the Broad Street Bullies, the team that made goaltender scraps a norm, the team that made hard-nosed play a standard, the only team to have dominated both the Western and Eastern Conferences, and the team who sent the Red Army packing in 1976) have paid their dues.
Philadelphia is ready to rise again. As perhaps one of the toughest, defensively sound and offensively potent teams in the NHL, the Flyers will be the team to beat in 2009-'10. Philly has won it before, and knows how to handle the success. It has been a while, but no other team is hungrier right now.
The Penguins (and their fans) will soon realize what it truly means to be a great franchise, as they sit at home in June and watch one of the greatest and most respected franchises go to work—battling to reign supreme in the NHL once again.
So Sidney, in the mean time, be careful with the Cup will ya? It has a date with Mike Richards, on Broad Street, in June.