I think, if anything, the times that we live in, with a global pandemic forcing us indoors, has reminded us that time is nothing but a construct, only designed by us humans so we can process the crazy journey that is life.
So with that in mind...theoretically, all of “The Flyers” ™️ exist at once, so what better exercise is there to do with this information then to ask myself, “if every single Flyer played at the same time, what would be the forward lines you’d like most to see?” Well, me, that’s a very good question.
For note, I’m not grading these lines or the players featured based on any sort of statistical analysis. Plenty of others have done that. This is just my personal preference of who I would, in a bubble, love to see play together. Speaking of that, I’m going off of only when these guys played as Flyers, and taking into account mainly the best years for each player. Also, I’m not labelling each line as the “first line” or so on, as this isn’t supposed to be a lineup.
This first line, especially with the first two players at their peak, would play ridiculously fun hockey.
I can guarantee you, not that it takes much convincing, that Claude Giroux - Eric Lindros - Jaromir Jagr would bring you out of your seat and would easily rival the best lines in NHL history (including the Penguins’ Sky Line of Jagr, Lemieux, and Kevin Stevens). For starters, you’re getting the guy who will likely be second all time in franchise points by the time his career is over. Regardless of that, though, Claude Giroux is easily one of the top five playmakers of the 2010’s, not that you need to be reminded of that. I’d like to imagine that we’d be getting either the 2011-12 version of Giroux, where he blossomed into a legitimate superstar with a 93 point campaign as a 24 year old, or the 2017-18 version of him, where a switch to wing at age 30 saw him top 100 point for the first and, for now, the only time in his career. Perhaps for the sake of argument, we’ll say that the version of Giroux we’ll get is from 2017-18, since he really did it all for that team offensively (all the while Sean Couturier at center worked out didn’t it). Giroux at wing also makes the most sense since, though he is often the primary hook at playmaker, he can take on some more duties as a goalscorer and let Eric Lindros provide the passes at center.
Speaking of which...oh hey, Eric Lindros! Everybody’s favorite 90’s Flyer as voted by you, the BSH fans (only trailing in overall popularity to Claude Giroux). Perhaps no Flyer was ever more dominant during his best years than Eric Lindros, especially during the lockout shortened 1994-95 season, where he led the league in points with 70 (in 46 games), winning the Hart and Pearson trophies. He was big, intimidating, determined, skillful, and as Mark Messier learned in 1997, cannot be stopped when he imposed his will on you. Just imagine Giroux and Lindros coming down at you, two on one. Either player was such a skilled passer, and could dazzle with dekes and moves around the net, that it wouldn’t matter who the defender would eliminate because the puck would be in the back of the net regardless. Then, take all that and throw Jaromir Jagr into the mix.
Almost certainly the most legendary player on this list, Jagr can be remembered for both his dominant prime in the NHL throughout the 1990’s and early/mid 2000’s (to the Flyers’ dismay), and for his longevity to continue playing in the NHL all the way through to the 2017-18 season. Heck, he scored 66 points as a 43 year old in 2015-16, and just played the 2019-20 season in the Czech Extraliga (29 points in 38 games).
It’s interesting to have Jagr on this line since he has separately played with both Lindros (2003-04 with the Rangers) and Giroux (2011-12 with the Flyers), and certainly for the latter, his presence on that team was crucially important. At a base level, the 39 year old helped younger players like Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek as a mentor, and it is well noted how dedicated he was and continues to be to hockey. However, we will be getting Jagr at 39...yet at that age, still an effective 1st line player with all of the hockey smarts in the world to make up for the lost mobility that comes naturally with age.
I know that a line like Giroux-Lindros-Jagr would dominate, especially since their careers have roughly overlapped in time. However, I can’t say the same for this next combination. We’ll be reaching back all the way to the 70’s to start, but end up quite close to home. In honesty, I have no idea if a trio of Danny Briere - Bob Clarke - Keith Primeau would mesh well together, but they would certainly infuriate opponents. We’re dealing here with three players who were very well known for being thorns in opponents’ sides, after all.
Mr. Playoffs himself, Danny Briere. He may not have been the most consistent player, but when you put up 30 points in a playoff campaign (2009-10), you forget about all that. A neat little statistic to go along with that is that as a Flyer, Briere is above a point per game in the playoffs (72 points in 68 games), which is pretty incredible. He was a smaller forward who made his living on being able to be quick and make good decisions offensively, which in the biggest of stages, he did.
Because of his legendary performance in that year’s playoffs, I’d be wrong not to pick the 2009-10 Briere. He was 32 at the time, and put up 53 points in 75 games, which isn’t bad for a top six forward, but not elite by any stretch. As I’ve repeated now, Briere’s postseason erases all of that, and when you needed a goal back then, you were sure Briere was gonna be the guy to get it.
He’ll be centered by two time Stanley Cup champion and franchise leader in points, Bobby Clarke. The single most iconic player of the franchise, Clarke was an incredibly skilled playmaker, twice leading the NHL in assists and thrice winning the Hart trophy, though perhaps his best quality was the leadership he brought to the newly formed franchise. He may not have been the first captain of the Flyers, but he’s certainly the captain.
Clarke’s best seasons undoubtedly would be the three in which he won the Hart trophy, but for the sake of being decisive, I’ll pick Clarke’s 1974-75 season, where the then 25 year old led the Flyers to their second straight Stanley Cup. He famously centered the LCB line, though instead of Reggie Leach, the Riverton Riffle, on his left (funny enough as I’m writing this, its his birthday, so happy 70th!), it’ll be another offensively minded forward in Briere. I like to imagine that Clarke can feed probing passes to Briere as he crosses the blue line all game long, yet also provide the toughness and edge that he did on the Broad Street Bullies teams. Therefore, if Briere serves as the primary goalscorer, and Clarke the playmaker, Keith Primeau (if this were an NHL video game) would fulfill the role of the grinder.
Acquired in the Rod Brind’Amour trade, Primeau etched his name into Flyers folklore after his performance in the 2004 playoffs, in particular with his play in the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay. Primeau was a hard-nosed forward who was excellent with the corners, and provided the perfect compliment to former line-mates Simon Gagne and Jeremy Roenick.
Primeau may not have been the most skilled player, but unlike Jori Lehtera, he really was an all star along the boards, and when the Flyers really needed him, he put it all on the line to help force a game seven. Primeau’s best season as a Flyer was, without a doubt, 2000-01, when he scored 73 points and a career high 34 goals. Just the season before, he had ended the longest playoff game in NHL history against the Penguins, and really came into his own that next season.
This next trio came to mind, for me, thinking about a couple of “what if” scenarios, and therefore this line is a little more on the realistic side of things. As we know, the 2006-07 Flyers were the worst team in the league, and they decided to rework the team during and after that season. One of the pieces moved was the mercurial Peter Forsberg, and I only wonder what would’ve been had they kept him. That being said, Forsberg had struggled massively with injuries at this point in his career, but seriously, a line of Scott Hartnell - Peter Forsberg - Jeff Carter would’ve been pretty awesome in the late 2000’s.
In a similar set up to the previous line, each particular player seems to be associated with a particular role. For Hartnell, he serves as the prototypical power forward. Funny enough, Hartnell was acquired by the Flyers in exchange for the first round pick the Flyers received from trading Peter Forsberg, but well in this reality, that doesn’t matter.
For seven seasons, Hartnell was a fan favorite in Philadelphia, and over the years, he added a scoring touch to his game, capping 37 goals in 2011-12 at age 29. I remember Hartnell playing well with Giroux as his playmaking center that year, so that’s the Hartnell I want. He was never afraid of going to the net, and that’s how he scored most of his goals, including some very important ones.
I can only imagine then how well then Hartnell would’ve performed with a center like Forsberg with him.
That sentiment wasn’t meant to be a knock on Claude Giroux at all. It is only to say that Forsberg was just that good.
His time in Philadelphia ultimately didn’t last very long, but having a guy you originally drafted come back and be amazing for your club after doing so for so long was quite cathartic back then. Playing alongside Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble in the “Deuces Wild” line, Forsberg scored 75 points in 60 games in his debut season with the Flyers as they ultimately would lose in the first round to those pesky Buffalo Sabres. However, regardless, fans were wowed by Forsberg’s skill and ability to do insane moves.
Even at 32 years old, Forsberg’s presence on this line is what makes it. He could beat you with his playmaking skills, ability to deke, and sheer physicality. That’s what made him a hero of the dead puck era after all.
Lastly then on this line comes the guy whom Forsberg will primarily be dishing the puck to: Jeff Carter.
Carter wasn’t just a goalscoring winger, he was truly a sniper, which made him a hot commodity back in the day. He is primarily associated with the likes of Mike Richards, since the pair played an awful lot together and were traded at the same time, but what if it was Forsberg with him instead? I think that famous 46 goal season he had in 2008-09 turns to 50+.
With Forsberg feeding him and Hartnell crashing the net, all Carter has to do is hit the net. In the best case scenario, he scores, and if not, rebounds can be put in by both Hartnell waiting there and Forsberg crashing the net. They’d score a lot of “garbage goals” but they count all the same!
So far then we’ve got three lines that I’m sure would play well at the very least. Then, the question becomes who oh who to make up the final line. Well this is what I like to call the “defense line”, and it consists of Rod Brind’Amour - Sean Couturier - Dave Schultz.
Though he currently coaches the Carolina Hurricanes, at one point Brind’Amour was one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL, having won the Selke trophy twice upon its creation. In nine seasons with the Flyers, he also put up 601 points, including 97 of them in 1993-94 at the age of 23, which is the version of him we’ll be getting here.
Brind’Amour first earned the reputation as a shutdown center (though he’s playing wing here) during his time as a Flyer, and this carried throughout his career. He was physical, skated hard throughout the entire game, and was an excellent stick checker.
It’s interesting, because I could ultimately use the same descriptors for our center here, Sean Couturier.
Though he has always been known as an elite defensive player, Couturier’s offense blossomed in 2017-18, when the then 25 year old set a career high with 76 points, finishing runner-up for the Selke trophy. If that’s the Couturier we’re getting, excited we shall be.
I wrote a piece in May of 2019 about what we should expect from Sean Couturier in 2019-20, and I think this serves as an accurate descriptor:
As I mentioned earlier, the most poignant observation from Couturier’s stat line is the massive jump in points from 2016-17 to 2017-18. Prior to the breakout year, the main question Flyers fans had regarding Couturier was would ever score 20+ goals and break 40+ points? Heck, 50 points would’ve even been massive for Couturier! I don’t think anybody was expecting Couturier to dominate as he did in 2017-18. He didn’t just take a jump, he LEAPT across into 1C territory, joining the likes of Patrice Bergeron for Selke contention and establishing himself as an elite ‘defensive’ forward.
That certainly continued into 2019-20, and imagining Brind’Amour and Couturier on the same line must serve as nightmare fuel for NHL goal scorers. They wouldn’t just shut you down, but would take the puck the length of the ice and score on you.
This then leads to the final member of that line, The Hammer himself.
Now, yes, I know Dave Schultz is far from a defensive mastermind. The only statistic he ever led the league in was penalty minutes. However, for an already bruising line defensively, Schultz adds even more of a fear factor. Plus, I just think it would be super interesting to see how many points he could grab playing with Brind’Amour and Coots.
Schultz would essentially be the Tom Wilson to play with Ovechkin and Backstrom, and therefore, it may just be crazy enough to work.
And with that, I wrap things up.
If anything, for me, this little exercise has showed me just how deep the Flyers have been in their history, and how blessed we’ve been to be able to watch these talented players perform in our city. There may be only two cups at the moment to show for it, but in the end, with all the new talent that keeps invigorating the club, I’m certain sooner rather than later, that will be remedied.