Outside of the Original Six, the Flyers are arguably the most storied franchise in NHL history. From the Broad Street Bullies, who won two Cups and defeated the Soviets in the ‘70s, to Tim Kerr and Ron Hextall to the Legion of Doom all the way to the miraculous playoff run of 2010, the men in Orange and Black have been contributing to hockey’s greatest stories since the NHL’s first expansion in 1967.
However, for every inspiring, iconic moment in Flyers history, there has also been frustration, regret, and failure. Hindsight, of course, is 20/20, but looking back at Flyers history there are 12 major mistakes made by management, coaches and players that changed the course of hockey history.
Here’s a look at the 12 most agonizing pieces of Flyers history that could have been prevented.
Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: for Flyers fans, 2006-07 was a complete and utter mistake.
The Flyers began the season 1-6-1, a dismal start that led to the firings of head coach Ken Hitchcock and general manager Bobby Clarke. The agonizing season would include a 10 game losing streak and exactly zero wins at home in the month of December. And the month of January.
The Flyers would set an NHL record for drop-off in points, going from 101 in 2005-06 to 56 the following season. They finished last in the NHL in the standings, and while they would rebound the following season, the embarrassment has been difficult to shake.
Many factors contributed to the failures of that year, and given the grim results, it’s best to just consider the whole season an absolute mistake.
In 1993-94, the Flyers offense was completely stacked: Mark Recchi finished with 107 points, while Eric Lindros and Rod Brind’Amour each had 97.
All three of these players today are considered some of the most influential leaders on teams throughout the years, but during the ‘93-’94 season, the captaincy went to… Kevin Dineen.
Dineen, whose father had been fired as head coach the year before, was given the responsibility of taking the team and turning it back into a playoff contender. He was even Eric Lindros' personal mentor while Lindros adjusted to life in Philadelphia, but his personal relationship with Lindros did not translate to leadership for the whole team or success on the ice.
His production was virtually nil: 42 points for the year, compared to Recchi, Lindros, Brind’Amour and Mikael Renberg, who put up 82 points as a rookie. The Flyers finished 23rd in the league in goals against, so Dineen obviously didn’t make up for his lack of production by being a defensive icon.
The team failed to make the playoffs and Dineen would soon be stripped of his captaincy. It’s possible that he was merely a temporary captain while Lindros was being groomed, but regardless of the reasoning, making Dineen the voice of the team had detrimental effects.
Dave “The Hammer” Schultz was one of the most popular cogs in the wheel that was the Broad Street Bullies in the 1970s.
After the Flyers lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the 1976 Stanley Cup, the glory days of the Bullies began to come to an unexpected end. The trade of Schultz merely sped up the process.
This was the group of players that played so rough that they caused the Soviets to nearly quit mid-game the year before. They had made a tough sport twice as tough and they showed that winning ugly was still winning.
When The Hammer moved to Los Angeles, the Flyers simply became another team. While the Orange and Black has never become soft, the days of dominating with wrist-shots and fist-shots has never been recaptured in the NHL.
Photo courtesy of sportsillustrated.cnn.com
At the beginning of the 1989-90 season, Ron Hextall was being paid $325,000 despite being the team’s starting goaltender.
Hextall had won nearly 100 games in the previous three seasons and felt he deserved a more lucrative deal from the front office. The Flyers refused to negotiate, and Hextall held out during training camp and the beginning of the season. By the time the two sides finally settled, Hextall was apparently behind on his conditioning enough that he suffered injuries in his first two games.
At season’s end, the franchise goaltender had played only eight games and the team had flirted with the seriously risky situation of possible chronic injuries, and Hextall dealt with recurring groin issues for the next two years.
The stubbornness of the front office had a direct impact on Hextall’s health during a time when it was very obvious that he deserved a raise. The Flyers hubris nearly cost them the last franchise goaltender Flyers fans can remember.
In the 1999-2000 season, Eric Lindros’s legendary fight with concussions came to a climax, as he suffered two head injuries in March that sidelined him through most of the playoffs.
The Flyers were leading the Devils 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals when Lindros returned for Game 6, where he scored the team’s only goal and nearly netted a second (he scored just after the period ended) in a 2-1 loss that forced a Game 7.
In that game, Lindros famously stick-handled the puck across the Devils’ blue line. In a split second, he lost control of the puck and failed to recognize Scott Stevens coming across from the right.
With Lindros’s attention focused on the puck and his head vulnerable, Scott Stevens delivered one of the most vicious, albeit clean, hits in hockey history, and in that moment Lindros’s tenure with the Flyers came to an abrupt end.
If Lindros had been able to play the entirety of that game, it’s possible that the Flyers would have won and advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Dallas Stars.
In the 1971-72 season, the still-young Flyers were looking to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in their history.
At season’s end, the final playoff spot was within Philadelphia’s grasp, with only the Pittsburgh Penguins capable of stealing the spot.
The team appeared to have its fate in its hands, when they played Pittsburgh in the second-to-last game of the season and held a 4-3 lead with under a minute to go. However, Pittsburgh scored on Flyers goalie Doug Favell, forcing a tie and giving the Pens life.
Against the Sabres, the Flyers only needed a tie to clinch the playoff spot, and they appeared to do just enough to earn it. But with four seconds left, former Flyer Gerry Meehan (shown here battling Flyer Don Saleski) took a long desperation shot from the point that found its way behind Favell.
The Flyers missed the playoffs thanks to two games blown in the final minute.
For most teams, getting to the Stanley Cup Finals means your coach is doing something right; however, after the 1997 Championship Series, the Flyers fired the head coach that got them there.
Terry Murray coached the Flyers to impressive and identical 45-24-13 records in the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons, and in the 1997 playoffs the Flyers lost only three games in the first three rounds of the playoffs.
They were favorites to defeat the Red Wings, but were swept in embarrassing fashion when Murray started his backup goalie in Game 2, only to return to the starter Ron Hextall in Game 3. Murray looked indecisive and nervous, and he commented after Game 3 that his team was in a “choking situation.”
Lore in Philadelphia states that these words got him fired.
Regardless of the actual reasoning, the Flyers axed a coach that had great success in two full season with the team and appeared to be finding his stride in the playoffs. Murray’s successor, Wayne Cashman, would be demoted before the end of the following season, leaving fans to wonder whether or not Murray and the Flyers were destined for a dynasty were it not for his premature firing.
The end of the NHL lockout came with more than a few new rules, and the style of game changed entirely. At least, it changed for most teams in the league.
Somehow, the Flyers failed to get the memo.
In a league that had changed to heavily favor speedy offensive players, the Flyers put their focus on Broad Street Bully types, seeming to ignore the fact that they could no longer clutch, grab or push around.
Before the 2005-06 season, the Flyers would sign Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje, defensemen who were among the most intimidating but who were undesirable under the rule changes. The team would also acquire Denis Gauthier later in the season.
Rathje specifically was a major mistake; after playing in 2005-06, he would play only 18 more NHL games despite a contract that stuck around for four more years.
As for the Flyers, it took years for the team to succeed in the new NHL. From taking penalties to losing shootouts, the team simply did not understand what it took to be successful under the new rules.
The current Flyers-Penguins rivalry saw its recent revitalization in 2007-08, when the Pens ended Philly’s miraculous playoff year in five games during the Conference Finals. The next year, the two teams would meet in the first round, with Pittsburgh taking a 3-1 series lead.
The Flyers won in Pittsburgh and Game 6 was played in Philly. The Flyers went up 3-0 in the game and seemed to be well on their way to forcing Game 7.
For good measure, Dan Carcillo picked a fight with Max Talbot, beating Talbot handily and presumably adding insult to injury. Except, the fight, even though Talbot lost, seemed to energize the Penguins.
Perhaps it was because they were already thinking ahead to Game 7, but the Flyers would allow five unanswered goals as Pittsburgh embarrassed Philadelphia en route to a 4-2 series win.
The loss was one of the most difficult to swallow for fans, and the Penguins would go on to win the Stanley Cup. If Carcillo kept his gloves on, who knows what would have happened in Game 7?
Goaltender Roman Cechmanek burst onto the scene in 2000-01, stealing the starting job from Brian Boucher and very nearly winning the Vezina Trophy. Cechmanek looked like the Chosen One for three years, but prior to 2003-04, he was traded to Los Angeles and Robert Esche became Philly’s goalie.
Why was such a promising goalie traded away so quickly?
Fans looked at his playoff performance in 2003 and saw inconsistency. Despite two shutouts against the Senators and a GAA barely over 2.00, Cechmanek had given up ten goals in the final two games of the Ottawa series, enough to convince management that he couldn’t handle the role come playoff time.
By the same token, the year prior, Cechmanek allowed only seven goals in four games and the team only failed to beat Ottawa because of its grotesque offensive showing (Philadelphia scored two goals all series).
The Flyers have consistently gotten fed up with goalies who don’t perform in the playoffs right away, but Cechmanek’s exit was likely premature. He did not go on to do anything special with LA, but the Flyers made the Eastern Conference Finals the following season in front of Robert Esche, and it’s quite possible that a goalie of Cechmanek’s caliber would have been all they needed to get to the Stanley Cup.
In the first round of the 1988 playoffs, the Flyers jumped out to a 3-1 series lead against the Washington Capitals, and the second round seemed like a foregone conclusion.
However, the Capitals would fight back in the series, winning the next two to force a Game 7. The Flyers would go up 3-0 in the game, but Washington again clawed back, forcing the game to go to overtime at 4-4.
In overtime, the Flyers defense would fail to keep an eye on the Caps’ Dale Hunter behind the play, and Hunter beat Ron Hextall through the five-hole on a breakaway, finishing the dramatic comeback for Washington.
The repercussions of that series was as impactful as the series itself; Mike Keenan, a former Jack Adams Award winner and one of the best coaches in Flyers history, was fired as a result of the loss. Keenan would go on to coach the New York Rangers, bringing them their first Stanley Cup since 1940 in his only season with the team.
If the Flyers had kept their composure against Washington, then maybe—just maybe—the Rangers don’t ever get that title.
After being selected by the Quebec Nordiques, Eric Lindros refused to play and demanded a trade, and nearly all NHL teams drooled over the possibility of acquiring the 245 pound center with an undeniable scoring touch.
Ultimately, the Flyers would win the Lindros sweepstakes amid controversy, and the team would play many successful season with Lindros as its captain.
But in retrospect, for all of Lindros’s successes, the Flyers were on the losing end of that trade.
In order to acquire Lindros, the Flyers gave up: $15 million, two first-round draft picks, and six players, including Kerry Huffman, Steve Duchesne, Chris Simon and Mike Ricci.
The Flyers also gave up franchise goaltender Ron Hextall, who would spend two years away from the team before returning in 1994. Mediocre years under Dominic Roussel and Tommy Soderstrom made it clear that the team needed a big name in net in order to win.
The most painful piece of that trade is the final piece: Peter Forsberg. For all of Lindros’s talent, for all his toughness and the speculation about what would have happened without the injuries, Peter Forsberg simply developed to be the bigger star in the end.
Forsberg would win two Stanley Cups with the Colorado Avalanche (the Nordiques moved to Denver soon after the Lindros trade) and sits tenth all-time in points per game.
Somehow when Lindros refused to play for the team that drafted him, the Flyers failed to get the impression that he was a bit of a diva, but that became clear soon enough. Lindros and GM Bobby Clarke were infamously at odds toward the end of his tenure with the Flyers, and Lindros sat out the entire 2000-01 season waiting for a trade.
The Lindros experiment was not a complete failure. He had a lot of success with the team. But the trade was one of the most dramatic in history, and the fact of the matter is Eric Lindros was not worth trading Peter Forsberg ALONE, much less as part of the gigantic trade package the Flyers put together.