clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Pennsylvania's most violent NHL team is not from Philadelphia

The Flyers have a reputation that's lasted decades, but Pennsylvania's most violent hockey team doesn't play on the eastern side of the state.

Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

We've said our piece about what Zac Rinaldo did last night -- and really, it's more of an indictment of his career than it is on that one specific hit he put on Kris Letang. Rinaldo hurts the Flyers and is an embarrassment to the team, and it's a shame that he's still in orange and black. Maybe he won't be after his suspension, which should be lengthy.

Rinaldo bothers me as a Flyers fan for a lot of reasons, but the most frustrating thing about him is that what he does on the ice allows people to call this team the "same old Flyers" who "haven't learned how to win without violence in 40 years" or whatever the hell they want to say. It vindicates things like this, from Pittsburgh columnist Dejan Kovacevic:

... all this mayhem wrought by the Flyers, the most repugnant franchise in professional sports with all due apologies to Bill Belichick's Patriots, was essentially orchestrated. ... All too often in this bitter rivalry, the Penguins have been brought down to the Flyers' subterranean level.

The Flyers are the "repugnant" ones. The Flyers are the "subterranean" ones, the ones who "wrought the mayhem." This idea that the Flyers are the ones who do this to the Penguins; that it's Philadelphia's fault any time Pittsburgh shows ugly colors.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are actually the goons

No. This is wrong. And over the last five or so years of this rivalry, one thing has become more and more clear: The Pittsburgh Penguins are actually the goons. It's not the Flyers, clinging to their Broad Street Bullies glory years, punching their way to relevancy. It's the Penguins who have turned into one of the goonier, dirtier, more violent franchises in the sport.

You can use the 2012 playoff series between the teams as a perfect example. There was Evgeni Malkin's dirty hit on Sean CouturierArron Asham's attack on Brayden Schenn, James Neal's head-hunting trip toward Couturiercoach Dan Bylsma being fined $10,000, and Craig Adams being suspended a game for instigating. The Penguins were the reason that series devolved into complete and total mayhem, and their players were given six games worth of suspension as a result. (Frankly, they deserved more.)

Tuesday night in Philadelphia was an even more stark example though, at least in my eyes. Consider that the Penguins are a playoff-caliber team trying to win a Stanley Cup this year. The Flyers are not going to the playoffs. Yet while the Flyers had one "goon" type player in their lineup, the Penguins had three.

First there's Zach Sill, who has 60 penalty minutes in 51 career NHL games, 315 PIM in 277 AHL games, and 173 PIM in 124 QMJHL games. Real finesse, skill guy. Early in the second period, Sill stepped in to defend teammate Robert Bortuzzo, who had just cross-checked Michael Raffl after the whistle. Raffl has 50 career PIM (nearly all minors) and had been in just one other fight in his career before Sill picked him as a target for his goonery.

Then there's Steve Downie. We all know how Pittsburgh felt about Downie when he was a Flyer, but they're all oddly quiet about that since the Penguins acquired him this past offseason.

Downie is a serviceable hockey player with some good tools but there's no doubt he has another more infamous side, racking up 918 penalty minutes in just 376 career games. (Impressive, actually.) He leads the NHL in penalty minutes this season -- with 152 PIM in 40 games, he's sporting 57 more PIM than the second guy on the list.

Downie was given a slashing minor and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after he mucked it up with Luke Schenn. Schenn can handle his own and has been in 27 career fights, but even still he only has 325 PIM in 474 games.

Schenn wrecked Downie in the fight though, by the way.

Finally, there's Bobby Farnham. Called up just for this game, the 26-year-old is the definition of useless goon. He has an eye-popping 563 penalty minutes in just 162 AHL games ... and just 29 points.

The guy was looking for it all night and found a dance partner in Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare!

He's played 47 hockey games on this continent in his entire life, and in those games he has 13 penalty minutes. 13! And five of those were last night as a result of this fight with Farnham. Bellemare said after the game that he never fought when playing over in Sweden -- that it was "more of a wrestling game" and that "the gloves never came off."

Yet this is the guy that Farnham decided to pick off the pile and go up against.

Boy, did he ever make the wrong decision.

You have two career goons and one guy who's leading the league in penalty minutes all going after players who rarely fight -- and in two instances, guys who have truly almost never fought in their lives. Then elsewhere in the game you have the NHL's leading scorer, Jakub Voracek, also fighting to defend himself from a low-bridge hit. (Note: clean, no doubt, but Voracek doesn't need a goon to do his bidding for him.)

And yet the Flyers "all the mayhem was wrought by the Flyers" and it's merely the Penguins being brought down to the Flyers level. It's still all Philadelphia's fault.

If it's all Philadelphia's fault, why do the Flyers have a total of 143 fewer penalty minutes than Pittsburgh this year? Why is Pittsburgh among the league leaders in fights and major penalties? Why do they have almost four PIM per game more than the Flyers do?

Team Games Minors Majors Fights PIM PIM per G
30 Penguins 45 206 25 24 655 14.6
29 Jets 47 228 22 20 668 14.2
28 Sabres 47 177 25 25 581 12.4
27 Blue Jackets 44 185 24 23 532 12.1
26 Senators 45 181 18 18 530 11.8
25 Ducks 46 170 24 22 538 11.7
24 Blues 46 184 18 17 506 11
23 Bruins 47 167 20 19 518 11
22 Flyers 48 178 22 21 512 10.7

If it's all Philadelphia's fault, why do the Flyers only have two players in the NHL's top 40 in total fights, while the Penguins have four guys?

Rk Player Team Away Home Total
1 Jared Boll Blue Jackets 4 5 9
2 Derek Dorsett Canucks 5 4 9
3 Cody McLeod Avalanche 6 3 9
4 Brandon Prust Canadiens 5 4 9
5 Matt Martin Islanders 5 2 7
6 Jordin Tootoo Devils 2 5 7
7 Tom Wilson Capitals 5 2 7
8 Mark Borowiecki Senators 4 2 6
9 B.J. Crombeen Lightning 4 2 6
10 Steve Downie Penguins 4 2 6
11 Matt Hendricks Oilers 4 2 6
12 Tim Jackman Ducks 3 3 6
13 Antoine Roussel Stars 4 2 6
14 Kyle Chipchura Coyotes 3 2 5
15 Kyle Clifford Kings 0 5 5
16 Andrew Desjardins Sharks 2 3 5
17 Deryk Engelland Flames 3 2 5
18 Tanner Glass Rangers 3 2 5
19 Michael Latta Captials 3 2 5
20 Chris Neil Senators 3 2 5
21 Ryan Reaves Blues 3 2 5
22 Chris Stewart Sabres 1 4 5
23 Clayton Stoner Ducks 2 3 5
24 Chris Thorburn Jets 5 0 5
25 Keith Aulie Oilers 1 3 4
26 Robert Bortuzzo Penguins 3 1 4
27 Gregory Campbell Bruins 3 1 4
28 Nicolas Deslauriers Sabres 1 3 4
29 Simon Despres Penguins 3 1 4
30 Bobby Farnham Penguins 3 1 4
31 Mark Fraser Devils 1 3 4
32 Paul Gaustad Predators 3 1 4
33 Erik Gudbranson Panthers 2 2 4
34 Brad Malone Hurricanes 2 2 4
35 Patrick Maroon Ducks 1 3 4
36 Dion Phaneuf Maple Leafs 1 3 4
37 Steve Pinizzotto Oilers 2 2 4
38 Zac Rinaldo Flyers 2 2 4
39 Wayne Simmonds Flyers 2 2 4
40 Jamie Benn Stars 3 0 3

Pittsburgh Penguins fans can talk all they want about the evil Flyers, how they're the worst franchise in sports (!) and how they degrade the game, lowering their opponents down to a lowly step with 'em.

But only one team in Pennsylvania is currently carrying three goons / pests on their roster. Only one team in Pennsylvania spent Tuesday night sending their fighters after two guys who have never fought before. Only one team in Pennsylvania is leading the league in penalty minutes per game.

Meanwhile, the Flyers have scratched their pest for long stretches this season, opting instead for a more-skilled fourth line (something we hope they do more of). It's possible that after last night he never gets back into the lineup again. In training camp they sent their two enforcers down to the AHL, where they've remained all season. Their coach, himself a former enforcer, has said the days of those types of players over.

That's not to say the Flyers are perfect by any means -- they take a ton of penalties too, although I'd imagine most of them are because they're a bad team, not a violent one -- but it's pretty clear which team in Pennsylvania is the more violent one here.

It's about time Pittsburgh got off its high horse about the Flyers' violent history and started thinking about the team they're rooting for right now.