I’ll be chronicling my top five list of the greatest European Flyers of all time — talking about their time with the Flyers, career legacy, and what might have been. It was tough to narrow it down to five, and there are plenty of (very) honorable mentions.
#2 Kimmo Timonen
In Flyers history, there have been only two European born defensemen to play over 500 games. The first is the bruising Swede Kjell Samuelsson, who can very much be considered a “2B” in this list — he certainly makes a top 10 list among Europeans. However, the other player, who will be the focus of this article, is none other than a man whom I interviewed earlier this season: Kimmo Timonen.
I understand that I may ruffle a few feathers by selecting Timonen over Samuelsson, however, in my eyes Kimmo possessed more skill and together with Chris Pronger made up one of the best defense pairings in hockey. They were perhaps only rivaled by the Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, and in the end both pairings faced each other in the Stanley Cup Final.
Born in Kuopio, Finland, Timonen played for local club Kalevan Pallo (KalPa) and later Turun Palloseura (TPS) and was drafted in the 10th round (250 overall) in 1993 by the LA Kings. However, he continued to play in Finland after he was drafted and did not play in the NHL until the 1998-99 season. His play in his home country merited a place on the Finnish Olympic roster and he took a bronze medal home from Nagano in 1998. These performances would merit his introduction to the NHL, though not with the team that drafted him. After the Olympics, the Kings traded Timonen (along with teammate Jan Vopat) to Nashville in an agreement to protect Garry Galley in the expansion draft, as Nashville was entering their first season as an NHL franchise.
Timonen split time between the NHL in Nashville and Milwaukee of the IHL (minor league) in his first season. For the next eight seasons (excluding the 2004-05 lockout) Timonen was a three time all star as a Predators defenseman and improved his offensive output every year, with a career high of 55 points in 2006-07, the season he was named captain.
After the 2006-07 season, Timonen was traded to the Flyers and immediately signed a six year contract extension worth $37.8 million, which made him the highest paid Finnish player in the NHL. Along with new signing Danny Briere, Timonen was placed on the first power play unit which finished the season at 21.82%, second highest in the NHL as the Flyers finished with the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. Timonen was a key factor in the Flyers’ run to the Eastern Conference Final.
Together with the previously mentioned Chris Pronger, Timonen helped drive the Flyers to the 2009-10 Stanley Cup Final. If Pronger was the engine which drove the Flyers, Timonen was the spark which ignited it, providing a burst of offensive skill from the blue line to compliment Pronger’s strength and defensive prowess. Timonen’s strong play would continue for the Flyers, as he would be named an all star two more times and would win the Barry Ashbee trophy five times, providing many amazing moments like this in 2013:
Timonen was traded to the Blackhawks in 2014-15 toward the trade deadline as Chicago looked to bolster their roster for a playoff run. While he unfortunately never saw ultimate victory with the Flyers many, including myself, were pleased to see Timonen finally get his Stanley Cup. Timonen stands among Mark Howe and Eric Desjardins in the great Flyers offensive defensemen category, and in big games, Timonen was ever present. Recently, Timonen’s number 44 was retired by Finland’s national hockey team, quite the honor for a former 10th round draft pick.