Shortly after Game 7, I remember one of the writers on this site saying that if the Flyers made it to the Finals this would rank up there as one of the great seasons ever. Well, they did, and it does. But what I started thinking was, where does this rank in the glorious history of the Flyers?
Despite only having two Cups, the Flyers are still one of the great NHL franchises. Second all time in winning percentage, and loaded with great personalities, we have had a lot of amazing seasons. Now, obviously, the two Cup seasons are 1-2 on that list (of course, which is #1 is a fascinating debate itself). But which one is #3?
Below I wrote quick recaps of the seven seasons that I think can all argue for the third best season. I’ve tried to list the teams accomplishments, the positives of that season, and the negatives. I’m hoping that if enough people vote in the poll, we can get a pretty good feel of what the third best season was. And if you feel like I left something out, well, that’s why the nice people who run this place let us use the comments!
Accomplishments: 51-13-16, 118 pts, Campbell Conference Champions, Patrick Division Champions.
Positives: It was the last year of the Broad Street Bullies. Reggie Leach brought home the Conn Smythe Trophy while Bobby Clarke won another Hart Trophy and the entire LCB line made the post-season All Star Team (Clarkie and Bill Barber first team, Leach second). That last fact is unsurprising because the LCB line also set the NHL record for most goals by a single line. Dave Schultz racked up 307 penalty minutes (like I said, this was still the Bullies). A whopping seven Flyers made the mid-season All Star team (Barber, Andre Dupont, Leach, Rick MacLeish, Wayne Stephenson, Jim Watson and Fred Shero). Oh, and did I mention that those 118 points is the all time Flyers record?
Of course, this season was also host to the definitive game for the Philadelphia Flyers: Flyers vs. The Red Army. Who hasn’t heard about that game? Not only did the Flyers beat one of the greatest teams ever assembled (scoring four goals on Vladislav Tretiak?!) but they dominated them physically to the point the Red Army walked off the ice. What game sums up the Flyers more than that?
Negatives: Obviously, not only did we lose the Cup, but we lost it to the hated Canadiens. In a sweep. Bernie Parent’s early season injury (limiting him to just 11 games) can’t be measured in its significance either. Parent was, at the time, the greatest goaltender in the world (or at least, other than Tretiak) and even without him this team won 51 games. With him, the Flyers could have had a legitimate shot of going down as the greatest single team ever. That has to hurt.
Accomplishments: 48-12-20, 116 pts, Campbell Conference Champions, Patrick Division Champions, President’s Trophy Winners.
Positives: 25-0-10. That was the Flyers’ record during the legendary 35 game undefeated streak. Now that hockey has eliminated the tie, this record will almost certainly never be broken, and unless the MLS rises to major status, it will never be broken in major North American professional sports. Seven Flyers made the All Star team (Barber, Leach, MacLeish, Brian Propp, Jimmy Watson, Pete Peeters and someone named Norm Barnes). And coach Pat Quinn won the Jack Adams Trophy (complete aside: the Flyers actually subsidized Quinn’s law school tuition, and he earned his JD while coaching in the NHL).
Negatives: Leon bleeping Stickle. Even though history has elevated the blown off-sides call in Game 6 to a deciding level, it wasn’t. The Flyers still could have won that game and still would have needed to win a Game 7. But to lose in the Cup Finals, creating the Islanders Dynasty, and to do so thanks largely to a blown off-sides call has largely tainted this season.
Accomplishments: 53-20-7, 113 pts, Wales Conference Champions, Patrick Division Champions, President’s Trophy Winners.
Positives: Technically, this was the best of those great 80s Flyers teams. The first post-Clarke season saw such Flyers legends as Tim Kerr, Brian Propp, Dave Poulin, Rich Tocchet, Brad "The Beast" McCrimmon, Ron Sutter and Mark Howe. Amazingly, Kerr (who scored 54 goals that year) was the only Flyer skater to even go to the All-Star game. So much credit goes to a 35-year-old head coach in his first season by the name of Mike Keenan (who won the Jack Adams Award for his effort) and a 25-year-old goalie out of Stockholm named Pelle Lindbergh. Lindbergh’s amazing, Vezina written season has been written about elsewhere far better (including in a book by Bill Meltzer, buy it!). Talent wise, this is easily one of the great Flyers teams.
Negatives: Losing the Cup to Edmonton. Not only that, but losing it when we had home ice advantage and won Game 1. Much like the Islanders began their dynasty on the Flyers backs 5 years earlier, the Oilers cemented theirs in Philadelphia. And of course, this season can’t be remembered without the knowledge that Pelle Lindbergh would only play eight more games of hockey in his life.
Accomplishments: 40-26-8, 100 pts, Wales Conference Champions, Patrick Division Champions.
Positives: A lot of ink has been (metaphorically) spilled on this team lately, so I don’t feel the need to go in depth on them or the Finals that season. Instead, I can point you over to this amazing article from earlier in the year. But essentially it was the same core from 1985, except the late, great Pelle Lindbergh was replaced by the greatest goaltender in the history of the NHL, Ron Hextall. Winning the Vezina & Smythe as a rookie (but not the Calder, that idiotically went to Luc Robitaille) is such a ridiculous feat that it tops not just anything any hockey player has ever done, but really only those who walked on the moon are fit to swap stories with Hexy.
Along with Hextall, Poulin, Howe and Kerr (who lit the lamp 58 times during the regular season alone) all went to the All Star game.
And there was something that happened in Montreal…
Negatives: The way it ended. Between the Copper & Blue article and the J.J. Daigneault video from Wednesday, there’s been plenty said about this series. And, even those of us who barely remember it or don’t remember it at all understand it was an amazing, amazing series. Really, the only dark clouds I could find were that the Flyers lost and this was the last hurrah for a long, long time.
Accomplishments: 45-24-13, 103 pts, Eastern Conference Champions.
Positives: Most of us remember this team well enough that we don’t need to go through too much here. The Legion of Doom, Coffey and Hawerchuk’s last stands, The Minnesota Line, The Dan Line, The Great Hextall… this team had a lot of memorable characters. Plus, the post-season was a sort of dragon slaying ride to greatness. The first round was a trouncing of the (then not so-)hated Penguins, with Lemieux pacing the torch to Eric Lindros. The second round was a trouncing of the pesky Sabres. And the third round was a trouncing of the hated Rangers, with Gretzky and Messier both pacing their torches to Lindros. Really, it was shaping up as the beginning of a dynasty and the launching of Lindros’ career from Hart Trophy level to Hall of Fame level. Watching it unfold was something special.
Negatives: Did any of you watch those finals? To be swept, outscored 16-6 no less, when you had home ice? Well, that’s a pretty big negative. Also, as you’ll notice, this is the biggest gap on the list in terms of time. From the end of the 1980s to the development of Richie and Carter, and there were really only two bright spots for this franchise. This, and…
Accomplishments: 40-21-15-6, 101 pts, Atlantic Division Champions.
Positives: The only team on the list not to play for Lord Stanley’s Cup. But in the darkness that was the pre-lockout period, this qualified as a great season for this team. I don’t need to say too much about them, but that playoff run was something to remember.
Negatives: Not only did we not win the Cup, we didn’t even play for it. Tampa did. Yep, TAMPA!
Accomplishments: 41-35-6, 88 pts, Eastern Conference Champions, won the hearts of the entire world.
Positives: Really? How did you end up reading this article if you don’t know this?
Negatives: Still too painful to think about.