In professional sports, there are many ways to build an organization. Free agency, trades and drafting are the big three items, of course, for player acquisition. There are, of course, other key positions in the team leadership structure that are vital to an organization’s success or failure. If a team hired the right or wrong general manager, player personnel decision maker or coach, it could either set a team up to have a dynastic run for years of great success, or it could mire an organization into the depths of mediocrity for years and years. In other words, it is absolutely imperative to make the right calls.
As important as it is to make these right calls, sometimes you do make them, and sometimes you don’t. At times, you as a general manager are hand-cuffed, either by way of poor scouting reports, or a money issue (like, you have a really expensive player you need or want to get rid of). What does it all mean? It means that sometimes, you make a move that makes the team demonstrably better, and makes you look like a genius. But, then there are always those moves that you make that has an adverse impact on the team, and you get treated as a goat-the bad kind, not the good kind.
The comforting factor here? Every team, every general manager, has made good moves and bad moves. They can almost be called a right of passage. Even the most successful general managers ever have made deals that they did not come out ahead on-sometimes it’s just the cards you are dealt, and sometimes loyalty blinds you and leads you to make moves that, in hindsight, you would not have made (like extending an aging star, or trading for an over-the-hill fan favorite).
Now, it’s time for us to look at those moves, the good and the bad, made over the course of the fifty years of existence of the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team. Some were excellent. Some were maddening. It’s time to look at the seven worst, and eight best.
15 BEST: Acquiring Bernie Parent
He is arguably the best goalie the Flyers have had (thus far). I put an asterisk on this one, however, by saying I do not think he was the most talented-and that's something even Bernie Parent would probably agree with, because he mentored the player I'd consider to be the most talented and gifted in Flyers history-the late Pelle Lindbergh. But, Lindbergh did not play long enough to stake a claim on best goalie, and Parent did. And how great was he as a Flyer? He only managed to help the team to back to back Stanley Cup wins-the only two Cups the franchise has one thus far. In fairness, the Flyers actually had to re-acquire Parent, as he was initially sent to Toronto. That wasn't a bad thing though, as Parent became a better goalie, and part of the trading that got him to Toronto, helped the Flyers get Rick MacLeish. But in short order, Parent wanted out of Toronto, and the Flyers swapped goalies and sent a draft pick to the Maple Leafs to re-acquire the franchise's netminder. No one tends to remember the trades that sent Bernie out of town and then back. But we all remember the two Cups.
14 WORST: Trading for Adam Oates
Yes, the Flyers had Adam Oates. Very briefly, and very regrettably. Why is this bad? I mean, Adam Oates was a talented hockey player, right? The team picked him up from Washington at the deadline, and it was a foolish move that just about anyone could see from a mile away. Oates didn’t do badly, mind you, but he wasn’t around long-he was, after all, the quintessential short term, deadline deal rental player. He did not help the Flyers much, as they were bounced out of the playoffs after the first round. So, right there the deal stings. But the cost? That’s where the pain really kicks in. In order to get Oates, someone thought it was a great idea to send a young goalie to the Capitals, but that was not enough. Nope, in addition to Maxime Ouellet, they added 1st, 2nd and 3rd round draft picks. I’m sorry folks. I know I am not a GM, but you don’t give up that much for a rental.
13 BEST: Acquiring Rod Brind’Amour
Before there was number 88, we had number 17. Acquiring Brind’Amour cost the Flyers a fan favorite, gritty center in the form of Ron Sutter. But, as much as fans liked Sutter, they would absolutely come to love and adore Rod Brind’Amour. He spent over eight seasons in the City of Brotherly Love, and scored nearly a point a game. He was, without a doubt, one of the most popular Flyers. Unfortunately for him (and Flyers fans) there was no Stanley Cup raised during his tenure in the organization, but they did trade him to Carolina as part of the deal to bring the Flyers Keith Primeau. That trade worked out decently for both parties, but fans will forever remember Rod’s great years in orange and black.
12 WORST: Receiving Steve Eminger In Return For A Draft Pick That Would Become John Carlson
The Flyers have long craved stud defensemen. Most NHL teams do. As a lifelong fan, I can tell you that until recently, the Flyers were largely terrible at drafting and developing defensemen. Most of the best defensemen in Flyers history were either free agents or acquired by way of a trade. So, I need to preface this by saying there is a chance that, had the Flyers kept the draft pick, they would not have picked Carlson, who has enjoyed a successful career thus far. But, the Capitals did pick him, so that’s what we use as comparison. As for Eminger? It was kind of a “blink and you missed it” tenure in Philadelphia. He wasn’t here long, and when he was here, he did nothing of note. It’s the definition of a horrible trade.
11 BEST: Mark Recchi For Rick Tocchet
The trade itself was bigger than that, involving also Kjell Samuelsson and Ken Wregget, but the big pieces were Tocchet and Recchi. Fans at the time weren’t enamored with the steep price for the young Recchi, as guys like Tocchet and Samuelsson had both been fan favorites and long time Flyers. But in Recchi, the team got younger, quicker and more offensively talented. And, in the grand scheme, Recchi had a much bigger role to fulfill in Flyers history, as he is part of another massive Philadephia trade that was critical to the team’s success. Both for his time as a Philadelphia Flyer, and for his value in that yet-to-come trade, fans would easily warm up to number eight, as before he left town, he would be one component on the “crazy eights” line, alongside Eric Lindros and Brent Fedyk.
10 WORST: Trading Away Sergei Bobrovsky
As much as the Flyers have had issues acquiring defensemen who were worth their weight, they have had issues between the pipes too. Don’t get me wrong, they have had some excellent netminders during the franchise’s history, but more often than not, things have been inconsistent. And what’s worse than inconsistency? Impatience, and the Flyers have had it in spades-with all sorts of positions, to be fair, but it seems they’ve made some harsh decisions with goalies more than any. Sergei Bobrovsky is a prime example of the impatience. He showed flashes of brilliance at times during his run with Philadelphia, but he was maddeningly inconsistent at times too. So the Flyers flipped him to Columbus for draft picks. What did Bob do in Columbus? Oh, not much. He just won the Vezina Trophy the following season. That is typical Flyers. Now, on the possibly bright side, the Flyers did turn one of those draft picks into Anthony Stolarz, a promising goalie prospect. So I suppose the jury is still slightly out on this one - but assuming Stolarz never wins a Vezina (or a Conn Smythe, or a Stanley Cup), then Columbus wins the trade.
9 BEST: Acquiring Kimmo Timonen And Scott Hartnell
This was an interesting deal, the second big trade the Flyers made with the Nashville Predators in a couple months. Before the trade deadline, the Flyers shipped Peter Forsberg for Scottie Upshall and a first round pick. When then season was over, the Flyers sent that very same first round pick back to the Predators for two pending free agents in Hartnell and Timonen. Both players promptly signed fairly sizable deals with the Philadelphia Flyers and became franchise mainstays for a good long while. Kimmo was the Flyers' best defender for a long stretch, and Hartnell was the kind of gritty, heart and soul grinder that was a hallmark of Flyers hockey. It was a move that vaulted the team back into the winning ways they longed for.
8 WORST: JVR For Luke Schenn
I almost can’t bear to write this one up. Yes, it’s recent and all, but this is an entirely frustrating and at times depressing transaction to remember. James Van Riemsdyk was, at the time of the trade, a developing young power forward, the perfect kind of winger you’d want on your team in the new NHL. He fit the league’s style of play, and the Flyers particular mentality, exceptionally well. But, he was a slow bloomer, so to speak, and (stop me if you’ve heard this one before), the team grew a bit impatient with his development. So, for reasons that simply defy logic, they sent JVR to Toronto for first round bust Luke Schenn. Now, Schenn had two things working for him. First, he was a defenseman, and the Flyers always seemed to need those. And second, his brother Brayden was a Flyers forward. Beyond that, this deal was a complete and utter disaster. Luke Schenn has since departed Philadelphia, and there aren’t many Flyers fans who don’t wish that JVR wasn’t back in orange and black.
7 BEST: Mark Howe Comes To Philly
The Flyers acquired Mark Howe (yes, of the famous Howe hockey family) in 1982. They did give up Ken Linesman to get him, but it was not all that big a price, all things considered. Howe became a franchise cornerstone for the better part of the next decade, playing strong two-way hockey — steady at the defensive end and contributing in the offensive zone too. He was a big part of the trips to the 1985 and 1987 Stanley Cup finals, too. And while he is often overlooked as one of the best blue liners to ever play, he really does deserve to be in that conversation. He gets overlooked because, during his era, there were also stars like Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey, and so the steady Mark Howe is often under appreciated - just never by Flyers fans.
6 WORST: Trading Away Bernie Parent
This one could have been worst of all, had things not worked out the way they did. But, there are many Flyers fans who are eternally grateful that it did, in fact, turn out as it did. So what happened? Well, the Flyers, for reasons that just don’t make any sense, shipped their eventual legend and Hall of Famer to Toronto, for several draft picks. The picks the Flyers got? They amounted to absolutely nothing. Now, things actually did take a fortuitous turn (or two) for the Flyers. First, while in Toronto, Parent honed his skills under legendary Jacques Plante. And then, when Parent’s contract expired, he found his way back to the Spectrum and between the Flyers pipes. And the rest, as they say, is history. Parent backstopped the team to consecutive Stanley Cup wins, and won his way into the hearts and minds of the entire Philadelphia Flyers fanbase. So much so that many often forget, or don’t even realize, that their beloved goalie almost was not there for those lone Stanley Cup wins.
5 BEST: Trading For Eric Lindros
This one right here is an absolutely polarizing trade, and for plenty of reasons. Now, you will find some that list this one as an absolutely bad trade, or at least a sort of bad trade, because of just how much the Flyers traded to secure the next big thing in hockey. But it was one of those trades that, if you had the chance to make it, you make it. Lindros came into the league with a ton of hype and did actually deliver on a lot of it, in terms of his offensive prowess and physical play. He revitalized the franchise and did take them back to the Cup finals (although the Flyers got swept). His time with the team ended on horrible terms, too. And, oh yeah, one of the key pieces that went to the Quebec Nordiques (turned Colorado Avalanche) was Peter Forsberg. He lifted Cups. So, in that respect, the Flyers lost the trade. But Lindros was still a huge pickup.
4 WORST: Trading Away Patrick Sharp And Justin Williams
Honestly, I could not choose between these two, because they are both equal parts painful. Justin Williams and Patrick Sharp were both players who, while not superstars, were the kinds of players a championship caliber team needs. Reliable, clutch, talented and versatile players who have a knack for doing the right things at the right times, and who also happen to show up in big ways once the NHL schedule flips to “playoffs”. And both of them fell victim to that legendary Flyers impatience. Williams and Sharp have each gone on to win multiple Stanley Cups, with Williams even winning the Conn Smythe as the playoffs MVP. As for what the Flyers got back in return? A bag of pucks would have been a better return than what they got, in all honesty.
3 BEST: Getting Eric Desjardins And John LeClair For Mark Recchi
Here’s the trouble with a mega-trade like the one the Flyers made to acquire Eric Lindros: they gave up so much to get him that, relatively speaking, the cupboard was bare. I mean, there was some talent, but it wasn’t much. The early Lindros years, it was Eric and some decent talent, but a big, bold move was required. To that, the Flyers took Mark Recchi and traded him to Montreal for John LeClair and Eric Desjardins, and just like that, Lindros had some better talent around him. LeClair, along with young Swede Mikael Renberg, would help form the formidable Legion of Doom line with Lindros. And Desjardins? He would only go on to become one of the best defensemen in franchise history, arguably the second best behind only Mark Howe.
2 WORST: Trading For And Signing Ilya Bryzgalov
Here’s the biggie. You could argue that some others might land up here, but for me, this is the most egregious transaction they’ve made. Haunted by the ghosts of goalie ineffectiveness, the Flyers traded for Bryzgalov’s rights ahead of free agency and then proceeded to sign him to a fat new contract. And, while he had shown signs of high level goalie play, both before and after signing the Flyers contract, he also showed a tendency to be rather enigmatic, mercurial even. Putting him in a hockey loving town, and under intense media scrutiny like he was now in with Philadelphia? It was a recipe for disaster. When the NHL allowed buyouts, the Flyers made use of one to rid themselves of this bad contract. Which means that, while Bryzgalov is no longer in Philadelphia, he is still being paid by them. Yikes!
1 BEST: Drafting Bobby Clarke
I really doubt I have to explain why Bobby Clarke lands here, but I will anyways. Quite simply, until someone else comes along and knocks him off this spot, he is absolutely the biggest winner in Flyers history, and he is the quintessential Flyer. He was a diabetic, and teams passed on him due to medical concerns in spite of an impressive career in Canadian junior hockey. The Flyers looked past the medical issues and grabbed his immense talents and leadership abilities, and it was his feisty, gritty play that defined the Broad Street Bullies and brought two Stanley Cup Championships to the team. Even in spite of his front office career, he is still a beloved figure in Flyers history, and always will be.