Over my time writing for Broad Street Hockey, I’ve spent many an hour writing articles about the long and often complex history of our franchise. I consider myself a bit of a hockey historian, though more than that I simply enjoy writing on the topic. With 500+ skaters having played for the Flyers over the 50+ years of their existence, we’ve been spoiled by having some memorable, hall-of-fame calibre talent ply their trade in the city of Philadelphia, and conversely, equally as many who have been lost to time.
Obviously then, throughout those years, there have been many players that fans would have dreamed of seeing in the orange and black. I’ve only been a fan for a relatively few number of years in terms of the entire existence of the franchise, and a fully cognizant hockey fan for fewer, so I’ve pondered less on who I would’ve wanted the Flyers to sign or trade for in past years. However, today, I put an end to that, and ask myself: of the seven decades the Flyers have been in existence, name one player whom I would’ve wanted to see as a Flyer. As much as I could just name the best player from each era, I’m going to try my best to name a player that either fits an organizational need of the time, or who could have realistically been a Flyer. For the ones that are further back in time, I’ll be trying my hardest, so all you Flyers fans who remember the 1960’s please forgive me.
1960’s - Rod Gilbert
The Flyers only played three seasons in the era following their initial creation as an expansion team in 1967. They picked up players who were discarded, for lack of a better term, from their original clubs, however, some of those players would serve key roles in the franchise’s Stanley Cup titles in the 1970’s. Among those players would be Bernie Parent (though he was traded to Toronto and re-acquired), Ed Van Impe, Joe Watson and Gary Dornhoefer.
Those early Flyer teams lacked overall cohesion and experience, and what better player to help foster that early sense of team collectiveness than Gilbert. He came back from a major surgery in the 1966-67 season, scoring 46 points in 64 games for the New York Rangers, and though he would find his best form in the NHL post surgery in his 30’s, at the time nobody was certain of Gilbert’s status (though he would go on to become the Rangers’ all time leader in career goals and points).
By all accounts, Gilbert was a tough forward with a knack for scoring timely goals. He would have been an excellent mentor for an upcoming Flyers team with something to prove.
Honorable Mention - Andy Bathgate
1970’s - Brad Park
To be honest, there isn’t anybody in particular that I feel the Broad Street Bullies would have needed. In my opinion (and I’m fairly confident this opinion is shared) if the roster was made up in any other way, the Broad Street Bullies may never have had the success they had, let alone develop the lethal combination of aggression and skill they were known for.
Where my thinking led me in this choice was to the years that followed their back-to-back titles. They reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1975-76, only to be defeated by the Montreal Canadiens, and were consistently good, though they ran into some great teams (notably the dynastic Islanders in 1979-80).
In that 1976 Stanley Cup Final in particular, Reggie Leach even won the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP, a feat which hasn’t been accomplished by a skater on the losing side of the Final since. It was clear to me in researching that offense wasn’t the problem for that team, and for future teams in the decade. As much as you could be inclined to blame goaltending, Bernie Parent was coming off of a season shorted by injury, and he was still, at the time, one of the premier goaltenders in the NHL.
If I were to improve any aspect of the Flyers’ game, I would improve their defense. It’s not as if it was a glaring weakness, but by adding one more piece to their roster, they would certainly show a different look, especially if it were to be an offensively oriented defenseman. Well, look no further than Brad Park, the second highest scoring defenseman of the 1970’s other than Bobby Orr.
During the decade (his career lasted from 1968 to 1985), he played in 623 games and scored 574 points for both the Rangers and Bruins. Despite being overshadowed by Bobby Orr, Park was an elite offensive defenseman, being an excellent stickhandler, shooter, and tough as nails (which you had to be in this era). It’s entirely possible that the Flyers could’ve acquired Park as well. He was traded by the Rangers to the Bruins during the 1975-76 season, and would go on to play a key role with Boston, eventually mentoring a young Raymond Borque who entered the league in 1979-80.
Honorable Mention - Guy Lapointe
1980’s - Anton Statsny
During the 1980’s the Flyers were consistently a top five team in the NHL. It was unfortunate that they always ran into the Wayne Gretzky led Oilers, since the Flyers would have been deserved champions with some of the talent they showed.
They sported top goaltenders in Pelle Lindbergh and Ron Hextall, and with key leaders in Brad McCrimmon, Mark Howe, Dave Poulin, and Tim Kerr, they were a very balanced roster. It can be argued, however, that what they had over the Oilers in their intangible qualities (grit, determination, things of that nature) was balanced by a lack of polish. The Oilers were easily the better team offensively, and though the Flyers weren’t too shabby in that category either, scoring was the proverbial rule of law in the 1980’s, and defense...what’s that?
The Flyers actually did draft a pretty capable scorer in 1978. He was a forward from Czechoslovakia with two brothers who also played hockey, and though Peter would turn out to be the best player of the bunch (he was the second highest scoring player of the decade), Anton wasn’t too bad either. He scored 636 points in 650 games, and for eight years in a row, scored at least 25 goals. Statsny would certainly provide more depth to those 80’s Flyers teams who suffered injuries, especially in the 1987 Final. Perhaps then, Tim Kerr’s absence isn’t as impactful.
Honorable Mention - Mats Naslund
1990’s - Rob Blake
I was inclined to pick a goaltender for this decade, due to the Flyers ongoing carousel of players they threw at the position (sound familiar?). However, in the end I decided not to since Ron Hextall and Garth Snow were good enough, and were hardly those mid to late 90’s teams’ worst flaw. In this decade, goaltenders were starting to figure out how to play the position more effectively, as Dominik Hasek and Patrick Roy led the way. They were increasingly becoming a more integral part of winning teams’ success, though the disparity of both talent and technique was far broader. They were starting to figure it out and revolutionize the position, but hadn’t quite gotten all the way there yet.
Where I think the Flyers would benefit is in having a competent defenseman to pair with Eric Desjardins. Looking back at highlights, I most commonly saw Desjardins paired with Chris Therien and Karl Dykhuis. Sense a theme here? The Flyers essentially “Andrew MacDonald’ed” Desjardins in this era by pinning him to what amounts to an anchor. Both Therien and Dykhuis (though Therien was the far better player) were large physical defenseman who NHL teams loved in the age of clutch and grab hockey, yet they were slow and didn’t bring much else to the table other than being big and mean.
As much as I would’ve loved the Flyers to pair Desjardins with a more skilled player like Janne Niinimaa, it was clear from watching the playoffs that Niinimaa was a good but flawed player. We also can’t forget that the Flyers traded for Paul Coffey, but at this stage in his career, Coffey was 35 and while he was still skilled, was showing his age.
This is why I would have loved to see Rob Blake become a Flyer. As the Los Angeles Kings were a transitioning team after the departure (well, trade) or Wayne Gretzky, perhaps Blake could have been a piece moved to the Flyers for future assets. I don’t know if that would have worked, it is just a thought, but regardless, Blake would’ve been an excellent fit. He was a big, physical defenseman that was also talented offensively. Heck, he scored 23 goals in 1997-98, which may not be unheard of now, but back then, was exceptional.
Honorable Mention - Sandis Ozolinsh
2000’s - Patrick Sharp
Yes, I know Patrick Sharp was a Flyer at the start of his career. He played three games in 2002-03, and then partial seasons in 2003-04 and 2005-06 before being traded to Chicago midway through 2005-06. However, was he really a Flyer? I don’t think you can argue a case that he has any sort of lasting impact in Philadelphia other than being a part of the Blackhawks team that defeated the Flyers in 2010.
It was only when Sharp reached Chicago that he started to become the dynamic sniper that we now look back upon. There are a few players who we can have massive “what if’s” about trading them, but for me, Sharp is one of the ones that stings the most, considering they traded him for essentially nothing of value. In return, the Flyers got a player in Matt Ellison who only would appear in seven more NHL games, and a pick which they traded that eventually became Ryan White.
If the Flyers had just the smallest amount of further patience with Sharp’s development, they would’ve had a very fine player to add to the core of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Daniel Briere and company.
Honorable Mention - Any goaltender better than Michael Leighton
2010’s - Jaromir Jagr
I’m breaking my own rules again here, but I think everyone reading this would agree with me when I say that he should have been in Philadelphia for more than just one season.
My adoration for Jagr isn’t a secret. Despite being a Penguin for the majority of his career, he has always been one of my favorite NHLers of all time. Looking both back and forward, from his rise in the NHL to dominance, the longevity of his NHL career, and continuing exploits at the age of 48 in the Czech Republic, it’s hard not to like Jagr. So, in short, yes I’m biased.
After the chemistry that he formed with Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell, I was nearly positive that the organization were going to make sure he remained a Flyer for at least another season. From reading materials of the time, it appears that the club were very much interested in bringing Jagr back, however, they were too dogged in their pursuit of other free agents, and in the end lost Jagr due to their unwillingness to commit to signing him when they should have. I don’t know if keeping Jagr would have massively helped the Flyers as they began their slow but sure descent into the Hakstol era, but that top line would’ve made for a more interesting conversation and certainly would’ve made the team better. That I am sure of.
Honorable Mention - Alain Vigneault earlier so we never hired Hak
2020’s - Timo Meier
This last one is more me projecting what I hope the organization will do, but nevertheless, I think Meier would be a smart buy for the Flyers.
I think he could definitely be acquired via trade if the Flyers are willing to give up futures assets, though they would have to work around his $6.0 million cap hit. The Sharks are terrible, so I can see them being sellers, yet it would be difficult to trade for one of their best young players, but it doesn’t seem impossible.
I like Meier stylistically, most importantly, for the Flyers. He is a physically dominant winger with a knack for scoring, and if you’re putting a top line together with a playmaker in Giroux, and a two-way center in Couturier, Meier would serve as our power-forward/goalscorer to compliment them. I think Meier would also be a great candidate to take the net front spot on the power play, if you’re planning on moving on from James van Riemsdyk in that role.
Again, it may be a slight reach (since that is kind of what this whole article is about) but I can’t think of many players who would perfectly fit with organizational needs in terms of style of play.
Honorable Mention - completely different position, but Thomas Chabot would be nice if you could get him from Ottawa