Hockey's Proudest Product Put On Ice, the Philadelphia Flyers

written by Michael DeNicola


Tuesday, June 11, 2013 --



As Philadelphia sports fans, frustration has sort of become Mr. Hyde to our Dr. Jekyll. It's a part of us virtually every single year, with every single hometown team of all four major sports. Season after respective season, no matter the hype that had been energetically built over the course of time, our teams finish their schedules with a heavy blow to our spirits. 


What do we have to cling to? Why do we continually return to the seats and television sets, dressed in our teams' colors and players' names?


Pride; it is encoded in our city's DNA, and like genetics, each Philadelphian inherits this pastime. We are a part of our city, its sports teams are a part of it, and thus.... our sports teams are a part of us. 


There are a number of people here who would argue that hockey's a "niche sport" in Philly, followed by only a minority network of fans. This is reflected on our local sports talk radio stations, as well as a variety of our sports-related news outlets, that's true. But to us? To diehard hockey fans? The Philadelphia Flyers are more than a niche piece of our city's history. To us, the Philadelphia Flyers paint the city streets in orange and black. Our sewers are stained with the sweat and blood that had fallen on the ice over the last forty-six years. These acclaimed colors, the sweat, the blood.... it all runs through our households. It runs through our bodies, our minds and souls. The Philadelphia Flyers takeover every feature of our emotions. 


After a season like 2012-13, it is difficult to keep a positive outlook on the unknown road ahead. But we'd be doing ourselves a service by reminding each other that the Philadelphia Flyers matter. Not just to the diehards like you and I, but to the National Hockey League. We are hockey's proudest product ever to be put on ice. 



Of all the NHL's franchises dating back to 1926, the Orange & Black are arguably the most successful. 


From a Cup perspective, our Bullies have only raised the banner two times (1973-74, 1974-75). However, the Flyers were the first team from the 1967 expansion to win the League's Holy Grail. Although they've been surpassed by the Edmonton Oilers (5 Cups), the New York Islanders (4 Cups), the New Jersey Devils (3 Cups) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (3 Cups), no one can take away the fact that we were the first to blaze the path. 


Consider the age of the NHL; in its 96-year history, Philadelphia ranks 7th of all-time in Stanley Cup Final appearances, having battled for that sacred trophy eight times. Not including the Original Six Clubs, the Flyers rank 1st in this category. 


Division Titles? The Flyers have posted sixteen Division titles, which is good enough to secure them at 4th all-time, tied with the Chicago Blackhawks, and surpassing notable franchises like the Toronto Maple Leafs (8) and the New York Rangers (7) who jointly don't even amount that number.


Milestones seem to be a habit of our hometown boys. On March 24, 1974, the Flyers became the first expansion team to reach 100-points with a win over the St. Louis Blues. Since then, Philly's banked a total of nineteen 100-point seasons in their history. Only the Boston Bruins (with twenty) have more. 


50-win seasons? On April 7, 1974, Philadelphia became the first expansion team to win 50-games in a season. That mark came at the expense of the Minnesota North Stars in the final tilt of the schedule. In all, the Flyers have six 50-win seasons, again, only the Boston Bruins (with eight) take a higher seat. 


In our entire franchise history, the Flyers have recorded 1,779 victories. That total lands us 206 victories ahead of our nearest 1967 sibling, the St. Louis Blues. (Buffalo is 189 victories behind, but even taking into account that the Sabres have played three fewer seasons that Philadelphia, Buffalo, too, are well behind the Flyers pace.)


Philadelphia's winning percentage is 0.578, which is bested by only Les Canadiens de Montréal at 0.589. In fact, if the Flyers were to go 0-82-0, and the Bruins were to go 82-0-0 next season, Philly would still have the 2nd best winning percentage in hockey. 



But enough stats. Let's talk about faces that consume the walls of Hockey's Hall of Fame. 


In 1984, Bernie Parent became the first player inducted who played his career primarily with an expansion Club. In 1987, Bobby Clarke became the first player inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame that had been drafted by a team NOT part of the Original Six. In 1990, Bill Barber joined Clarke as the second (Buffalo's Gilbert Perreault was the 3rd). 


Speaking of our franchise's most distinguished chief -- Bobby Clarke was the first NHLer from an expansion team to be named recipient of the League's Most Valuable Player Award in 1973, eventually winning it three times (and the last western Canadian to win the award that many times). 1973 also marked the year he became the first recipient of the Lester B. Pearson Award (since renamed the Ted Lindsay Award) from an expansion team. In 1983, Clarkie was the first player from the expansion family to snag the Frank Selke Award, and even more remarkable is that Bobby was the first to have averaged more than a point-per-game the same season he received the award.


Ever hear of the Jack Adams Trophy? This award is annually given to an NHL coach who "adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success." [NHL.com] Fred "The Fog" Shero was the first ever NHL coach to be the recipient of this honor. 



What about the accomplishments of our fans?


Flyers fanatics have been slated to be hockey's craziest, most supportive following. In 1975-76, our organization led the NHL in generated revenue. Philadelphia's done this an additional three more times and are still the only team outside Montreal, Toronto and New York with that distinction. Our boys have played to 98.4% capacity since joining the National Hockey League -- only the Minnesota Wild (surprisingly enough) in their short existence have had a higher average capacity for an American based expansion team. 


Television ratings? The Philadelphia Flyers  reach the tops of the chart, keeping their boots on the necks of their challengers. For almost thirty years, the Orange & Black have been among the Top 5 draws for televised games in the United States, both National and Local ratings. 


Merchandise sales? Though reports are arbitrary, a source within the NHLPA says that for the 2011-12 season, only Toronto, Chicago, Montreal and Detroit sold more merchandise than the Flyers....


....sorry, Cros'vechkin!



How about the other intangibles?


In the '70s, the Philadelphia Flyers were solely responsible for changing the way the game was played. Their "roughhouse" style saw an entire League alter its philosophy. No one... and I mean NO ONE can say the same. That philosophy spilled out across the Hockey Universe like John Tortorella spills into a post-game microphone. 


While one of the greatest games ever played happened at the Montreal Forum on December 31, 1975 between the Canadiens and the Central Red Army, it was the Soviet Union's trip to the Spectrum on January 11th that is most memorable. In 919 career regular season & Playoff games, Flyers defenseman Joe Watson scored 41-goals, none of them shorthanded. In his sole appearance against one of the giants of goaltending, Vladislav Tretiak, Watson lit a shorthanded lamp. 


The Flyers defeated HC CSKA Moscow, 4 - 1. 



Of course, just as there's been highlights, with all organizations, there have been some Flyers lowlights; Missing five consecutive post-seasons to start out the '90s is certainly a blackeye. A 56-point season in the middle of thirteen 93+ point seasons. The unfortunate Roger Nielson affair. But these "lowlights" have been few and far between. 



Our Philadelphia Flyers are a proud and important organization. They're important because they have done the little things right, and have been very successful using that strategy. We have a track record that 99% of the League would kill for. 


Like I mentioned earlier, after a season like 2012-13, it's tough to look at the immediate future with confidence unless this team makes some drastic moves in this cost-cutting environment. But our history shows that we have always harnessed the ability to claw our way back in. In our forty-five seasons, we've made thirty-six Playoff appearances -- an 80% rate surpassed only by the Montreal Canadiens (84%) and the St. Louis Blues (82%). Given a little adopted patience by the fanbase and our management, and this Club will once again be competing for the Stanley Cup. 


I'm not advising our following to "live in the past". Being proud of our team's history should never be an apologizable offense. Instead, it is an enormous representation of what this League bases its foundation on. Not just the League, but all 30 teams and its players. 


Just remember -- through good seasons and tough seasons, next time our crest is worn, fan and player alike.... we symbolize hockey's proudest product ever to be put on ice. 



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