August 26, 2010
(Ed. Note: Welcome to Puck Daddy's August series,"Mount Puckmore" which will feature fans, bloggers and various media personalities of all 30 teams choosing the four defining faces of their franchise. These four people are who you remember most when you think of these teams -- whether they be players, coaches or executives. We'll be running these daily for the rest of the month. Today, representing the Philadelphia Flyers, Matt P. from The 700 Level.)
By Matt P.
Most of the NHL teams represented so far in Puck Daddy's Mount Puckmore series have featured a tough decision or two, with several players comparably worthy of digital-rock-hewn immortality. For the Flyers, who joined the league in 1967, the biggest challenge was to create a Mount Puckmore that included more than just players from the Broad Street Bullies era.
Nearly 40 years after the Bullies started their reign of terror (and success) in 1972, the franchise still bears its mark, from the suits in the suites to the players on the ice. For every hockey fan outside of Philly and some people here in town, this isn't exactly a positive thing.
Since the Bullies won two Cups in the mid-70s, the franchise has yet to win another; plenty of critics and fans attribute this to an unwillingness to leave their past behind and move ahead of the modern game's curve. Still, many long-time fans wouldn't have it any other way. Love them or hate them, the Bullies are still the face of this franchise, and two of their most recognizable faces adorn our Puckmore.
We had to draw the line there and move on though, with the other two...
Bobby Clarke, C
Pretty sure you all knew Bobby Clarke would top this list. He is the franchise's all-time leader in points, assists, and games played, just to name a few statistical achievements.
But he wasn't just a scorer. It's hard to think a skinny, baby-faced kid would be the natural and anointed leader of this team, but at just 23 years of age, Clarke became the youngest ever captain of an NHL team, and that team was arguably the toughest the NHL has ever seen. He embodied the degree to which they were more than just brutes on skates though.
In addition to his gaudy scoring stats, Clarke is also fourth on the team's all-time list for PIMs. His trophy case is well stocked, including three Hart Memorials, a Pearson/Lindsay, and even a late Selke nod as his career wound down. The Flyers' own Most Valuable Player Trophy is named after him. But no one in Philly talks much about any of those trophies. All we care about are the two Stanley Cups to which he led the Flyers (and how there haven't been any since, but that's a different topic for a different post).
Serving two tenures as Flyers GM totaling nearly two decadesin the role, Clarke put together some amazing and entertaining teams. But in ultimately being unable to put together a Cup-winning team as an executive, Clarke's legacy in Philadelphia suffered a bit and in recent years came to embody the team's aforementioned inability to move on from its past glories to create new ones.
The vast majority of Flyers fans reading this blog have seen only photos and grainy video of the Orange & Black skating with a Cup, but most can vividly recall at least half of that tenure as GM. A perceived inability to keep up with the types of talent needed to win in a faster NHL. Repeated swings and misses in acquiring a goalie that was good enough to win a Cup. Very public battles with Eric Lindros -- Clarke's presumed heir as Best Flyer EVER -- only made a frustrating situation worse. Philadelphia, however, largely sided with the team legend over the young superstar.
But many of the teams assembled by Clarke performed at a near-elite level, which is a big reason why the Flyers' home building has perennially been among the most consistently full in the league. Despite not getting back to the Promised Land after his playing days were over, Clarke's place on Mount Puckmore is unquestionable. He was an amazingly talented, multifaceted player, and the successes of the teams he led allowed an expansion team, in an alien sport, find a permanent and passionate home in Philadelphia.
Bernie Parent, G
When you walk into the Flyers' home arena, it's not uncommon to encounter a few well-known Bullies greeting fans in the concourse area. The franchise's greatest-ever goalie, Bernie Parent, is frequently among them.
Bernie is one of many former Flyers who has made Philadelphia his permanent home, and why not. He probably hasn't had to buy many drinks in the past 30 years.
Parent, an original Flyer after being selected in the expansion draft, is of course the goalie who backstopped both Stanley Cup-winning Flyers teams, taking 1.5 Vezina's and two Conn Smythe's in dominant fashion. That alone could garner him a spot on Puckmore, as his own play was certainly deserving. However, it is the play of nearly every Flyers goalie since Bernie that solidifies his place on the monument.
To this day, Parent is the in-house standard by which Flyers goalies are judged, and Michael Leighton's(notes) shutout run this past postseason proved that statistical achievements alone cannot match a legend.
Even if Leighton or a future Flyers starter were to merely win back-to-back Cups, he would still not be seen as Bernie's equal unless he somehow managed to do it with the dominance Bernie showed in those two seasons. In this town, it's still common to hear "Only God Saves More Than Bernie." Tough act to follow...
Ron Hextall, G
If any goalie could make a name for himself in Bernie's shadow, it was Ron Hextall. Maybe Pelle Lindbergh would have done it eventually, but after his death in a car accident at just 26 years old in 1985, we'll never know. With Hextall, we have a long, colorful-event-filled history, and before you get to the point in the comments where you [Gretzky'n] skewer me for my last two choices on this list, Hextall was Flyers hockey.
I remember the fallout from the seemingly superhuman feat that put Hextall into the NHL record books-when in 1987 he curled a wrister from one end of the ice to the other and scored on an empty Bruins net. His already caricatured presence in town went to a whole new level. Two years later, Hexy would become the first NHL goalie to score in the playoffs, a stage upon which he was well versed in making headlines.
But Hextall was clearly best known for his mean streak and the penalties and suspensions left in its wake. The image I remember most in Hexy's career isn't that first goal or his trademark sticktaps on his posts (which every suburban Philly street hockey goalie did). It's his blocker flying in the general direction of Montreal Canadiens defenseman Chris Chelios in the final game of the 1989 Wales Conference Finals series.
Chelios had put a dangerous and dirty hit on Brian Propp, causing the Flyers' star to fall and hit his head on the ice. Propp missed a game due to a concussion, and Hextall bided his time waiting for revenge on Chelios. With less than two minutes to play and his team about to be eliminated, Hextall charged at Chelios like an animal that had broken out of its cage.
More than his goals, and even his several outstanding seasons as a Flyer among some forgettable ones, Hextall's intensity and all that came with it are what stands out the most for me. He didn't just gladly fight other goalies, forwards, and defensemen -- he maniacally sprinted at the opportunity. Hell, he reached the 100 PIM mark multiple times. His Philadelphia legend was born early in his career, and it kept the Bully spirit alive and well over the course of his two-part Flyers career. Hexy would of course be dealt as part of the omnibus deal that brought Eric Lindros to Philadelphia, further cementing him into the team's history for better or for worse.
Don't think Hextall earned his way onto this list? Ask Wayne Gretzky, who once called him the greatest goaltender he'd ever played against.
Eric Lindros, C
Which brings us to Lindros.
Never has a Flyer's career begun with more fanfare and ended with more animosity. Why would I pick a player as currently unpopular in Philly as Lindros to adorn our Puckmore? Because I think there's no question he's one of the most recognizable "faces of the franchise," and before injuries and controversy curtailed his career with the Flyers, he was the most dominant player the team had ever seen.
When he was healthy.
Gifted with size, toughness, and scoring talent, Lindros was anointed the next great one while only a man-child. The Flyers traded away players (including Hextall and Peter Forsberg), picks, and millions of dollars for the rights to Big E, who was having no part of playing with the Quebec Nordiques after they originally drafted him. Always with a chip on our shoulder, Philadelphians were proud that Lindros wanted to play here, and we all overlooked the strong indications that this player had some prima donna to him, and that his parents would be more involved in his career than we were used to seeing in our professional athletes.
From the beginning, Lindros was a superstar in his own right in Philly. He was tailor-made for the NHL at the time, a huge power forward with soft hands when his gloves were on and sledgehammers when they were off. Lindros joined a Flyers team at perhaps the all-time nadir of the franchise and was immediately touted as our salvation. The team had missed the playoffs inconsecutive seasons for the first time ever, golfing early in each of the three years before he first put on the sweater. The playoffs eluded them again in Lindros' rookie and sophomore seasons, but the future was clearly bright with No. 88 at center. In his first two seasons, playing 61 and 65 games respectively, Lindros topped the 40-goal mark both times.
It was a trend that would continue in his eight seasons with the Flyers -- an amazingly high points-per-game average, with not nearly enough games played. Lindros is the tragic hero of the Flyers, cursed with both a tragic flaw (arguably, allowing his family's over-involvement) and an Achilles heel (his susceptibility to concussions). The promise of a return to glory for Flyers fans was replaced by a crushing disappointment from which we've yet to fully emerge.
A collapsed lung was said to have nearly killed Lindros, and multiple serious concussions cut his Flyers and hockey career sadly short. The collapsed lung led to an ugly feud between his family and Bobby Clarke and the team's training staff, as well as the most interesting chapter in Keith Jones' autobiography. The concussions, especially the one resulting from the famous Scott Stevens check in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals, became Lindros' lasting legacy. His unprecedented hype and promise, and sadly, his truly remarkable career while on the ice for the Orange & Black, were forever tarnished.
Many fans believed the team was better without him after watching them mount an amazing comeback in the standings with Lindros injured and Eric Desjardins serving as captain. In his last season "with" the Flyers, Lindros didn't play a single game while waiting to be traded.
This unceremonious end may seem reason enough to leave him off of Puckmore; but as I understand it, this isn't merely a popularity contest.
Plus, watch this:
The bull-rush faceoffs, stand-up checks, and mismatched grace with the puck.
Fans my age and a little younger have lived in the overlapping Hextall and Lindros eras, which were unfortunately characterized in large part by the team coming up just short. We're still living that reality. If Mount Puckmore were all about the glory, we could've just filled it with Bullies. But that's not the story of this franchise as we know it. We're proud of the team's storied past, but our generation's Flyers identity is as much Lindros curled up on the ice as it is Clarkie and his missing fronts hoisting the Cup before we were born.
And now the snubs... Some of these guys were really tough to leave off the monument. Others warrant a mention.
Ed Snider: Mr. Snider raised and borrowed money to stake Philadelphia's claim to an NHL franchise, and he has been the club's owner/chairman ever since. Snider has unquestionable passion for the Flyers and short patience for losing; he's not a sports owner who can be characterized as cheap or solely self-interested. Snider was just shy of Puckmore because despite all these things, he's never made himself the public face of the franchise that any of players named above were.
Bill Barber: A member of the famed LCB line with Clarke and Reggie Leach, Barber still holds the club record for total goals (420). His No. 7 hangs from the rafters alongside Clarke's 16, Parent's 1, and Barry Ashbee's 4, and like so many Flyers, his role with the team spanned more than his playing career. As head coach in 2001, he won the Jack Adams Award. In 2002, he was fired from the position.
Fred Shero: The man behind the bench for both Flyers' Stanley Cup wins. Had to be some sort of psychological genius to get championship-caliber play out of such a bunch of absolute nuts.
Dave Schultz: The Bully. And that's a high compliment.
Tim Kerr: Amazingly talented winger and a god on the power play. Scored 50 goals in four straight seasons, and was a Flyer for 11 years despite a slew of serious injuries and ailments.
Brian Propp: His first sub-20 goal season came in his 11th and final campaign withthe Flyers. Prior to that, he'd scored less than 30 only twice.
Mark Howe: All-time Flyers points leader among defensemen. Once scored 24 goals and 58 points and an astonishing plus-85.
John LeClair: One huge third of Lindros' Legion of Doom line, which also included young gun Mikael Renberg. LeClair was an immovable object in front of the net, and there was simply no answer to this line's ability to hit and score.
Mike Richards: If the Flyers had beaten the Blackhawks in June, we probably would have carved Richie's mug into Lindros' place on mountain. It may just take a parade to move him into that realm of visibility and permanence.
Main Mt. Puckmore photo created by B.D. Gallof of Hockey Independent