Were The "Broad Street Bullies" Really Bad For The NHL?

Biff RobertsContributor IMay 13, 2010

I recently watched the HBO documentary on the "Broad Street Bullies" and they touched on something that that got me thinking. Were the Broad Street Bullies really "bad" for hockey?

Before I get to my point, let me say that I have been a Flyers and hockey fan since I was a kid.

I was born in 1971 and although I was alive at the time, I unfortunately do not  remember the "Broad Street Bullies" when they were terrorizing the league and winning Stanley Cups.My memories of Clarke, Barber and co. where at the tail end of their career and long after their reign of supremacy over the league was over.

That said, I certainly know the history of this team. I have read numerous books on the subject and watched as many games as I could find on tape and now DVD.

I am not sure that is the same as being there but maybe the fact that they weren't my "heroes" growing up or on the flip side, they were not beating up on my " heroes" makes me a bit more impartial than someone who was there and does have deep rooted bias or feelings based on witnessing first hand what this Flyer team had done. 

As I was watching this documentary, the point was brought up that TV ratings would be up when the Flyers were televised. Attendance would be sold out  in arenas across the league than on any other night would be half empty.

This got me to thinking, were the Broad Street Bullies really "bad" for the NHL? Most hockey fans and certainly those in Philadelphia know the Flyer's history and how they took fighting and intimidation to a new level.

They were really the first ones to use it strategically. They did this so effectively that they not only won back to back championships but also went to a third straight Stanley Cup Final as well as beating the Russians in 1976. 

I am sure anyone who lived through it and watched this team dismantle the league punch by punch would say they "ruined the game" and they "gave the NHL a black eye".  I can understand their reaction. After all everyone else in the league was on the receiving end of this brutality while the Flyers became champions and the face of the league. 

What one must remember is that fighting was a part of the NHL long before this team was ever assembled. The only reason this particular team had the likes of Schultz, Dupont, Kelly, etc. was because they were the ones getting beaten up as a young expansion team. Should they be faulted for simply fighting back and defending themselves? 

My question is this, was what they did and what they became truly a bad thing for the league?

After all, when they came to town, arenas were sold out. Sure it was filled with people who wanted to heckle them, throw things at them and basically get their pound of flesh but they were there. They bought their tickets and showed up.

This is a positive effect of something considered negative. Who knows? Some of these people may have been there for the first time just to see what all the controversy was about and could still be fans today. 

In movies or any good story, there are heroes and their are villains. In Philly these guys were heroes and everywhere else they were villains. The fact that they were SO hated only makes the passion of the fans and the rivalry that much greater. Is this a bad thing to hate the opponent? Not in my opinion.

It makes any sport that much more interesting when you are emotionally immersed in what is happening. The Flyers not only caused this passion and hatred but embraced it.

The controversy they caused and the bloodshed they spilled on NHL arenas across north America was the subject of national attention. They were on the covers of newspapers and magazines such as Sports Illustrated and Time. They were talked about and cursed everywhere from local establishments to national news. They created a story and something for the media to sink it's teeth into when they would not have cared about hockey otherwise… at least in the U.S.

People say that the Flyers "gave the league a black eye", but don't you look every time you see someone with a black eye? It is hard not to notice which is what the NHL needed. People to notice their game.

It is never a bad thing to have people talking about your sport and it getting national attention. Even if the story is negative, it puts your game and league in the spotlight and will cause people to want to watch. I guarantee if you took the Flyers out of the equation, there would have been far less exposure and coverage for the league in a time which they sorely needed it. Again, is this a bad thing?

If you ask me the long term negative effect that teams like the New Jersey Devils had on the NHL in the mid-late 90's was far more damaging than anything the Broad Street Bullies ever did. 

Let me explain, the Devils who perfected the "trap" and did it with such precision and had so much success with it caused the rest of the league to follow suit.

As any hockey fan knows, this slowed the game down the a crawl. Goal scoring dried up dropping more than a goal a game on average from the mid - late 80's. The game became boring. People stopped caring and few talked about it. The fans simply left and the ratings dropped.

This had such a damaging effect on the game that the league was suffering financially and in order to resolve both the financial and game play issues, everyone had to suffer through the lockout and loss of a season. 

These are all very negative effects that the league is still trying to recover from and in my opinion the damage caused by teams like the Devils is far worse than anything the Flyers had done in the 70's.

Just like the Flyers did not invent fighting in the league, the Devils did not invent the trap. They simply perfected it and used the way the league was allowing the hooking, holding and obstruction to their advantage.

This is much the same as the Broad Street Bullies used what the league was allowing in fighting to their advantage. In the end, both teams caused the league to reevaluate itself and change the rule book to better the game. 

Difference is that the Broad Street Bullies put a spotlight on the NHL, they brought people to the arenas, had fans watching on TV and talking about the game. Positive or negative, they became passionate about it.

What teams like the Devils had done in the 90's through the "trap" had the complete opposite effect.

People stopped watching, the media stopped caring, ratings dropped and they lost TV coverage on channels like ESPN. fans stopped talking about the game and stopped caring because the game was boring. 

So I ask again, with so many positive effects coming from the negative things they were doing on the ice, were the Broad Street Bullies truly "bad" for hockey?