Philadelphia Flyers: Fan Favorites Who Wound Up with Hated Rivals
As the 2011-12 Flyers season is set to start, there are many fresh faces here, and many other faces gone. No doubt this past offseason was one of the most turbulent/controversial in franchise history and it did more to change the direction and makeup of the team than any other.
The trading of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in particular, two players who the team banked on to be the dual faces of the franchise for the next decade and a half when they were drafted, only goes to illustrate how rare it is for a player—especially in this day and age of free agency and salary caps—to spend his entire career with one team.
The Flyers have had their share of fan favorites depart and some went to hated rivals and others made themselves hated in town. Here is a list of eight such players.
8. Dave Schultz: Los Angeles Kings; Pittsburgh Penguins; Buffalo Sabres
After being dethroned as NHL champs by the Montreal Canadiens in 1976, not by speed and skill but by physical play, Flyers GM Keith Allen determined a better, more willing enforcer was needed for the club. Allen is quoted as saying that "after Terry O'Reilly beat him up in the playoffs, I think fighting had become distasteful [for Schultz]."
The Flyers had tough guys like Jack McIlhargey, Mel Bridgman and Paul Holmgren ready to take over in the fighting department and Schultz became expendable.
Figuring a showman like Schultz (the singer of the rock classic "The Penalty Box" no less) would thrive in Hollywood, he was dealt to Los Angeles. While Schultz's contributions were clearly replaceable on the ice, the man was not replaceable in the eyes and hearts of the fanbase.
During a 1976 preseason game against Montreal, the fans in the Spectrum chanted, "We Want Schultz." They got him the third game of that season. He received a pre-game standing ovation and then started his nonsense once the puck was dropped. He took cheap shots at Mel Bridgman and Rick MacLeish and his love affair with the city quickly turned sour.
After Gary Dornhoefer destroyed Schultz with a clean hit, he slashed Andre Dupont and then taunted the Flyers bench. Eventually, the Flyers would have enough of The Hammer's antics and Dupont would lead a charge off the bench. During the bench-clearing brawl, Schultz challenged his heir apparent, Paul Holmgren (who was at the time wearing a visor to protect a near-fatal eye injury he suffered the previous spring), to a fight.
Holmgren obliged, later saying, "I had a feeling I'd be the guy he'd go after. I was the one he hadn't played with." Emotional and sentimental ties thus cut, Schultz became a hated man in Philadelphia until he retired and a wave of nostalgia would begin to wash over the franchise in the 1980s as the old players from the Cup teams one by one would leave the game.
Over 30 years later, Schultz is still beloved by the Flyers fans and is still regarded as one of the franchise's toughest enforcers. And it's still odd to see footage or pictures of him wearing the colors of the Kings, Penguins or Sabres and to think back on the brief period when he was the enemy.
7. Dave Poulin: Washington Capitals
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Dave Poulin was one of the all-time greatest Flyers and arguably the best captain in Flyers history not named Bobby Clarke. He led those mid-80s team both on and off the ice, on offense and defense, many times through agonizing injuries to great success.
In 1989-90, as the team was floundering, then coach Paul Holmgren decided to change the leadership of the team and removed Poulin as captain, giving it to Ron Sutter—who himself thought the move was unjustified. Shortly thereafter, GM Bob Clarke traded him to the Boston Bruins for Ken Linseman, a move Holmgren did not like from the outset.
Poulin played four seasons with the Bruins, making it to the finals his first year there in the spring of 1990. He was eventually dealt to the Washington Capitals.
During Poulin's time in Philadelphia, the Capitals were a hated rival.
There was a constant dogfight for the regular season Patrick division crown, most famously in the 1985-86 season when the two teams faced each other tied in points for first place —creating a de facto one-game playoff for the division crown that the Flyers won on home ice.
They also faced each other three times in the playoffs with the Capitals sweeping the Flyers in 1984, overcoming a three-games-to-one deficit to eliminate the Flyers in 1988 and then a classic six-game series in 1989 when the Flyers defeated the Capitals en route to a conference finals appearance.
To see Poulin, a veteran of those Philadelphia-Washington battles in the 1980s wearing the red, white and blue of the Capitals for two seasons was almost too much to bear.
6. Rick Tocchet: Pittsburgh Penguins
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Rick Tocchet was another key member of those great 80s Flyers teams. He, Peter Zezel and Derrick Smith were three young rookies who made an immediate and major impact on the club in the 1984-85 season. Zezel was traded in 1988 for Mike Bullard; Smith wound up on the Minnesota North Stars in 1991. Tocchet stayed but those weren't the only changes around him. By 1991-92, the nucleus of those great 80s teams were gone save for Ron Hextall, Mark Howe and himself.
Tocchet was also the new captain, but that didn't prevent him from demanding a trade. In February of 1992, the team gave Tocchet his wish and traded him within the division to the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins—a team that was rapidly becoming one of the most despised in Philadelphia. A team that included Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr. Tocchet even started wearing those ridiculous Moon-Man looking Jofa Helmets that Lemieux, Jagr, Bob Errey et al. in Pittsburgh wore.
Tocchet won a Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 1992. He would spend his career bouncing around the league after that spending time in Los Angeles and Phoenix. He eventually returned home to Philadelphia during the the 1999-2000 season and was part of that team's run to the Eastern conference finals.
Tocchet will always be remembered as one of the great Flyers to play during one of the greatest Flyers eras, but it was the manner in which he left in 1992 and the team he went to that still has some fans sour on him.
5. Tim Kerr: New York Rangers
Tim Kerr was a physically dominating, scoring machine for the Philadelphia Flyers. He was an undrafted, free agent signee in 1979. He scored 50-plus goals four straight seasons for the club (1983-84 through 1986-87)—a franchise record.
As an unmovable presence in the opposition's crease, Kerr set power-play records and made the Flyers lethal with a man advantage. He scored an NHL record three power play goals in one period in the deciding game of the 1985 Patrick Division semifinals against the New York Rangers.
It wasn't just his scoring prowess that made him a fan favorite. He stood up for his teammates and would not hesitate to drop the gloves if needed, which was rare—even then—for a scorer.
He also was one of the most determined human beings to ever walk the earth. He was hampered by a series of injuries that would've ended other players' careers and he always bounced back. He had bad knees. He had an infection that settled into his brain lining. He had five shoulder surgeries in a 14-month span from which he battled back. The injuries took their toll on him and assuredly robbed him of the opportunity to put up stats that would've been amongst the best of all time.
All of those injuries, all of those cross checks, slashes, elbows and gloves to face he endured in front of the other team's net were all made infinitely trivial when his wife, Kathy, died just 10 days after giving birth to their daughter. But Kerr, in life and on the ice, kept bouncing back, serving as a role model and a source of inspiration for a city, a community and a fanbase.
In the 1991 offseason, the Flyers left the aging Kerr unprotected in the expansion draft. The San Jose Sharks claimed him and the same day traded him to the New York Rangers. The Rangers and Flyers had long had a fierce blood feud. To see Tim Kerr, who, if ever there was an embodiment of Flyers hockey, it was him, in a Rangers uniform just felt wrong. He only played 32 games with the Rangers, scoring just seven goals and 11 assists. He played 22 games in the 1992-93 season for the Hartford Whalers and failed to score a single goal.
He retired a Whaler, but he always remained a Flyer.
4. Dave Brown: Edmonton Oilers
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It may be hard for Flyers fans of this generation to wrap their minds around it, but at one time, one of the Flyers' biggest—if not the biggest—rivals was the Edmonton Oilers.
Since the grotesquely unnecessary expansion of the NHL the Flyers play Western Conference teams once a year, if that. So, the notion of the Philadelphia Flyers having a bitter, heated rivalry with a team from Alberta, Canada is a bit foreign in this day and age. But between the fall of 1984 and spring of 1988, the Flyers and the Oilers played each other 24 times—plenty of games for bad blood to begin to flow.
The Flyers and Oilers met twice in the Stanley Cup finals during that time span, with the Oilers emerging victorious both times. The finals showdowns made every regular season game between the two teams in the latter half of the 80s can't-miss games.
Dave Brown was the policeman of that Flyers team. Or to put it more bluntly, he was their goon. He and Darryl Stanley made up the "Bruise Brothers" and the team even marketed them as such on t-shirts. He was arguably the greatest fighter ever to play for the Flyers and he was as much a part of the 1985 finals team as Pelle Lindbergh and the 1987 Finals team as Ron Hextall.
Most people forget it was Dave Brown's playmaking skills that got the momentum to start turning in the Flyers' favor during that legendary Game 6 of the 1987 Finals. Down 2-0 in the second period, Brown forechecked into the Oilers' zone. He got the puck in the offensive left wing corner and threaded the needle with a pass to Flyers winger Lindsay Carson, who rammed the puck home to put the Flyers on the board.
That Brown, a pugilist whose penalty minutes also totally dwarfed his point totals and Carson, a third-line winger whose heart and grit made up for his talent shortcomings, connect on that first Flyers goal of the game speaks volumes for how deep and full of heart those teams were in the 80s.
In 1989, the Flyers traded Brown to the Oilers for speedy center Keith Acton. Just two days later, the Oilers came to Philadelphia to play the Flyers. It was a game Brown readily admitted he had no desire to play. He did, of course, play—if uneventfully.
Brown played two and a half seasons with the Oilers—he even won a Stanley Cup with them in 1990. He didn't score his first Oilers goal until his third season with the club, but he more than made up for his almost non-existent offensive production with his fists. If anything, it seemed Brown was even more ferocious in his fights as an Oiler than he was as a Flyer—as if there was some pent-up anger or disgust he needed to unleash.
In the summer of 1992, the Flyers traded Brown's former teammates Scott Mellanby and Craig Berube to the Oilers for Brown and Jari Kurri. The Flyers then traded Kurri to Los Angeles for Steve Duschene, but it didn't matter. Most of the Flyers fanbase was happy to have Brownie back in the orange and black where he belonged.
3. John LeClair: Pittsburgh Penguins
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John LeClair was part of the famous Legion of Doom line for the Flyers in the mid-to-late 1990s that dominated the NHL. He had a wicked shot, great chemistry with linemates Eric Lindros and Mikael Renberg and he could physically overpower pretty much anyone in the league.
A prolific scorer, LeClair became the first ever American-born player to score three straight 50-plus goal seasons and the first Flyer to do so since Tim Kerr. He spent 10 seasons with the Flyers and his jersey was a common sight on the backs of fans at Flyers home games. He was the Flyers' alternate captain under Eric Desjardins and Keith Primeau.
When the new salary cap was put in place for the NHL, the Flyers had to let the aging forward go. Parting ways with LeClair was a tough pill to swallow, but not as tough as accepting where he would land.
On August 15, 2005, LeClair signed a two-year deal with the hated Pittsburgh Penguins, who were once again emerging into prominence with the arrival of Sidney Crosby. Seeing LeClair in the black and gold of the Penguins was heartbreaking to Flyers fans. And even more so was video footage of the young Crosby standing next to LeClair on the Penguins bench lambasting his teammates. The look on LeClair's face said he'd rather be almost anywhere else in the world at that moment. Flyers fans wished the same thing for him.
2. Ron Hextall: Quebec Nordiques
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Bernie Parent is hands down the greatest Flyers goalie ever. Pelle Lindbergh is arguably the most beloved Flyers goalie ever. But Ron Hextall is the most Flyers Flyers goalie ever.
For a franchise that prides itself on passion, sacrifice, grit, determination, heart and ferocity, Ron Hextall embodied all of those traits. A 6'3" ball of fury who would bounce around the crease, go into the corners to take out forecheckers, stickhandle and clear the puck like a third defenseman and possess a pretty decent wrist shot, Ron Hextall forever changed the way the position of goaltender was played.
In the fall of 1985, the Philadelphia Flyers had the best goalie in the world in their net. Pelle Lindbergh was a slow-to-develop Swede who finally had his breakout season in 1984-85, leading the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals and winning the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goaltender. The team that had lost in five games to the Edmonton Oilers the previous spring looked even better and they looked better than the Oilers. They were 12-2, the best team in hockey with the best goaltender. The future seemed limitless: breeze through the regular season dominating the competition, win the Patrick division yet again, have an even easier route to the finals than the previous season and, this time with a rested and healthy lineup and the best goalie in the NHL, defeat the defending champs for the Stanley Cup.
That dream came to an end on November 10, 1985.
The Flyers spent the 1985-86 season trying to put the pieces back together after Lindbergh's death. They relied on Bob Froese, who truth be told played admirably, winning the Jennings Award for lowest goals against average, won the Patrick division on the last day of the regular season and then lost a heartbreaking first-round series to the New York Rangers.
The Flyers had lost their best player, their Vezina Trophy winner. All that promise was gone.
As blasphemous and as callous as this may sound however, Hextall was the better goalie than Lindbergh. Had Lindbergh not had his accident, the Flyers would almost assuredly have had a goaltending controversey come the 1986-87 season with a disillusioned Froese as Lindbergh's backup and Hextall waiting in the wings. Froese would have been traded, as he eventually was, but Hextall and Lindbergh would've probably wound up going head to head for the No. 1 spot meaning the Flyers would have lost one of the franchise's top three goaltenders off all time via a trade anyway.
This of course is all trivial and in the big scheme of things—meaningless compared to a human life. Unfortunately, that scenario did not happen as events unfolded.
What did happen was Ron Hextall arrived at the Flyers' training camp in 1986 unfazed by the situation he was stepping into. The deceased, fan favorite, elite goalie, and his prickly and competitive successor did not seem to enter Hextall's mind.
He went 4-0 in the preseason and head coach Mike Keenan decided to start him in the season opener against the Edmonton Oilers instead of Froese. Hextall was stellar. He stoned Esa Tikkanen on a breakaway early in the game and then topped that by getting the best of Wayne Gretzky as "The Great One" skated in alone. He flew out of the net to clear loose pucks; he hacked at the legs of opponents in the slot. He was like nothing anyone else in Philadelphia ever saw in goal and the Flyers beat their nemesis from Alberta 2-1.
His rookie year, he strapped the Flyers to his back and carried them to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals against the greatest hockey team—prehaps the greatest sports team—ever assembled, the 1986-87 Edmonton Oilers. He won the Vezina Trophy his rookie year, he won the Calder Trophy and the playoff MVP despite the Flyers failing to win the Stanley Cup.
In the years that followed, he scored two goals, he made All-Star Game appearances, he made incredible saves look easy, he kept the team afloat during dicey situations, he took on all comers and he wore his orange and black heart on his sleeve every minute.
If ever there was a moment that defined the man, both his good traits and bad, it was Game 6 of the 1989 Wales conference finals against the Montreal Canadiens. During Game 1 of the series, Canadiens defenseman Chris Chelios took a run at Flyers forward Brian Propp, driving his elbow into Propp's head and smashing it against the glass. Propp was unconscious on his feet as he fell backwards. His head whipped back and smacked the ice. When Flyers defenseman Terry Carkner reached Propp, he removed his helmet and a mess of blood and gore poured forth.
Chelios was not penalized but the Flyers took notice. Rick Tocchet took a run at him, Jeff Chychurn took a run at him. Later in the series, Ron Sutter tried to decapitate Chelios. But nothing sent a much of a message to the Canadiens defenseman, or the league in general, as what Hextall did in Game 6.
During the final two minutes of Game 6, with the Canadiens leading and the Flyers' season effectively over, Chelios took the puck into the Flyers zone offside. At the last second, he saw Hextall fly at him but was unable to defend himself as the goalie cold-cocked him and then began pummeling him underneath the ensuing pileup. As chaos ensued around the pile, Hextall, heavily bearded, sweaterless and with a psychotic look in his eyes, emerged from the pile, saw Chelios who was being escorted away by a linesman, and chucked his blocker at him.
Enraged, Hextall then wanted to go after Canadiens goalie Patrick Roy, who smartly stayed at his own end of the ice. The officials and Flyers coach Paul Holmgren convinced Hextall to leave the ice. The league served Hextall up a 12-game suspension, but the goalie served his own notice to the league, "Don't mess with my friends."
"Did you see what [Chelios] did to Brian Propp?" A still furious Hextall asked afterwards. "Come on, I think we owed him something. God Almighty, he just about took his head off. I think that's good enough reason."
Being a 6'3" goaltender playing the style he did took its effect on Hextall. He was hampered with numerous groin and hamstring injuries. Eventually, when the Eric Lindros trade was offered, Flyers GM Russ Farwell shipped Hextall to Quebec.
Quebec was not a huge rival of the Flyers. Other than the 1985 Wales conference finals matchup between the two teams and the personal rivalry between Flyers center Peter Zezel and Nordiques center Dale Hunter, there was not much history between the two clubs.
The Lindros trade changed all of that.
The Flyers' first game in Quebec with Lindros on the roster can only be described as near-riotous chaos. Fans dressed as babies throwing pacifiers, eggs, baby diapers and rattles on the ice. (Get it? Lindros was a baby. Oh, that French-Canadian humor.). It had a Game 7 playoff intensity despite taking place just four games into the Flyers' season.
When the Nordiques scored early in the game, coins and batteries rained down on the ice. It was reminescent of some of those old Flyers-Rangers battles in years prior, when Ron Hextall would challenge the entire Rangers bench and mock their coach Phil Esposito saying Espo "talked too much". The only problem was Hextall was in the Nordiques uniform and he was lashing out at Flyers forwards and coming up with key saves as the crowd was whipped into a frenzy and the Flyers lost 6-3.
Hextall eventually came back to the Flyers and was part of their resurgence as an NHL powerhouse in the late 1990s, backstopping the team in the finals in 1997. He retired a Flyer, was inducted into the team's Hall of Fame and despite now working in the front office of the Los Angeles Kings, remains a Flyer at heart.
But it was extremely conflicting to see Hextall with the Nordiques that one season, where every game the Flyers faced them, everything seemed to be on the line.
1. Eric Lindros: New York Rangers
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The Big E came into town in the summer of 1992 and brought with him great expectations. He was labelled "The Next One" and for the first five seasons of his career, he looked to right on pace to becoming one of the greatest players ever to lace up his skates in the NHL.
Injuries were the major factor in why Lindros never achieved what was expected of him. When healthy though, there was no one in the league like him. He had shifts on the ice where it seemed like you'd need a Sherman Tank to stop him, and even then the smart money would be on Lindros.
It was that physical dominance which would lead many defensemen to take runs at him. This led to numerous concussions, as many times Lindros would be caught with his head down.
His play here breathed new life into a team that was floundering. For the first time ever, the team had missed the playoffs for three straight years when Lindros arrived in 1992. By his third season, the Flyers added some pieces around him and they once again became a contender. Lindros became only the second Flyer ever to win the Hart Trophy as league MVP. He won the Bobby Clarke Trophy as team MVP three times. His No. 88 was the Flyers' best seller in terms of replica jerseys sold during his prime here.
Unfortunately, injuries and a bad relationship between management and Lindros' parents/personal managers doomed Lindros' stay in Philadelphia. There was public bickering in the press between the Lindros camp and GM Bob Clarke.
Eventually, conditions got so bad that Lindros refused to sign his contract extension with the club in the summer of 2000. The team still owned his rights and Lindros sat out the entire 2000-01 season awaiting a trade. It finally came in the summer of 2001 as Bob Clarke traded Lindros to the New York Rangers, the Flyers' most detested rival of all time and the team that also had a deal for Lindros with Quebec in the works back in 1992.
A nightmarish scenario looked to be unfolding in the beginning of the 2001-02 season as Lindros looked to be a revived player and the Rangers started the season extremely hot. How awful it would've been to see Lindros and the Broadway Blue Shirts dominate the Flyers' division for years to come. Fortunately, the Rangers being the Rangers, cooled down significantly.
More injuries followed for Lindros and after three seasons with New York, his playing days with the Rangers came to an end when he signed with his boyhood team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Relationships between Lindros and the Flyers still seemed strained. In 2008, the team invited him to return for a ceremony honoring all of the players to serve as team captain. Lindros politely declined, saying he had a memorial service to attend. The Flyers' franchise did not let on that they were too
upset Lindros RSVPed in the negative.
Bob Clarke recently stated that he felt Lindros is definitely a Hall of Famer. A possible olive branch or maybe just Clarke honestly speaking his mind?
If the day comes when Lindros is elected to the Hall of Fame, hopefully the Flyers will hold a ceremony honoring the man who turned the franchise around in the mid-1990s and gave the fans something to cheer for night after night; and hopefully, this time Lindros accepts.The fans deserve the opportunity to cheer him again, and Lindros deserves the opportunity to hear those cheers one last time.