It was on January 3, 1973 that Jack Chevalier and Pete Cafone of the Philadelphia Bulletin first coined the term “Broad Street Bullies,” in reference to a six-year-old expansion team known as the Philadelphia Flyers. Over 25 years have passed since the days of hard-hitting Dave Shultz and the glory days of Bobby Clarke, and the franchise has seen many changes.
The Flyers now call the Wachovia Center home. Bobby Clarke has since hung up his skates for a pair of dress shoes. And to the discontent of some, the grit and blood of the late seventies has become finesse and skill. The question is whether the newest style of play the Flyers have adopted in response to a faster, unobstructed NHL will win the same adoration of the Flyers’ following.
Personally, there is nothing more exciting than watching a sharp glove-save or a top-shelf overtime goal, but most Flyers’ tradition is built on the glory years of the “Broad Street Bullies.” These players were crude, harsh, and intimidating and, perhaps not coincidentally, the only to find their way to Lord Stanley’s Cup thus far. And many are left to wonder whether the Delaware Valley will still bleed orange and black when there isn’t any blood on the ice.
After four years of left hooks and uppercuts, the summer of 2006 saw Donald Brashear depart for the nation’s capital. In recent weeks, Todd Fedoruk signed with the Dallas Stars. It is no secret the days of hard-hitting enforcers who don’t hesitate to “make their point” are over.
Riley Cote, the pride of many Philadelphia Phantoms fans, is the only one left who resembles the ideals of the 1973-75 Flyers. Unfortunately for fans of this winger, Cote has yet to make a name for himself in the NHL, with only eight games and 11 penalty minutes. Lord knows Mr. Briere won’t drop the gloves, and after seeing one incident in particular versus Baby Pens alum Andy Chiodo, we all hope Antero Niittymaki never does either.
This off-season, the Flyers have taken the franchise and its followers on a roller coaster ride through trades and free agency. It began without hesitation as the Flyers acquired rights to Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell from the Nashville Predators in exchange for the Flyer’s 23rd overall pick in the 2007 draft on June 18th. Earlier in the month, the Flyers sent prospect Matt Ellison to Nashville for “future considerations,” and I don’t think anyone could have imagined those considerations would include a star defenseman and leader, and a solid winger.
Timonen is the definition of a two-way defenseman. He is a very skilled, powerful skater and with 55 points (13 goals, 42 assists) in regular season games; he proves he doesn’t hesitate to move the puck. Most of all, he brings leadership to a relatively young crop of defensemen. Two weeks later, a cheer could be heard up and down Broad Street when Daniel Briere was signed, partially because he was the most publicized free agent on the market this summer.
Briere is the epitome of a player who has excelled in a faster, cleaner style of play. One attribute that will definitely help the Philadelphia franchise is Briere’s ability to distribute the puck. He can get the puck deep and to the net and truly plays the role of an effective center. He had 63 assists in 81 regular season games, and 12 in the 2007 playoffs. Now factor that in with Gagne’s 68 points (41 goals, 27 assists) considering this past season’s struggles, and you have a recipe for a line to strike fear in the hearts of any goaltender.
Later in the day, fans watched as Joni Pitkänen and Geoff Sanderson were sent packing for Edmonton in exchange for Joffrey Lupul and Jason Smith. The loss of Pitkänen and acquisition of Smith, among others, shows the Flyers are searching for the right mix of maturity and leadership to steer such a young, talented team. Pitkänen has shown the city of Philadelphia what he is capable of, but he has shown recent inconsistencies and has been too injury-prone for such a young athlete. After a season that revolved around the most famous ankles in the NHL, the franchise – understandably – does not want to take the risk on Pitkänen.
The irony is both Lupul and Smith had very strong seasons in 2005-06 but lacked star power and consistency in 2006-07, much like Pitkänen. Smith found himself with a plus/minus rating of -13 and only 11 points after leading his team to the Stanley Cup finals in the previous season. Lupul, a valuable component in the infamous Pronger trade, barely mustered 28 points in 2006-07 after being traded to his hometown team. On the upside, both players bring impressive playoff experience, a trait that everyone in the Delaware Valley hopes will come in handy next spring. Smith is a good leader and Lupul, who was the first player in Anaheim history to score a hat trick in the playoffs, has the ability to perform under pressure.
To sum it up, the Flyers have added leadership to balance a young core of players; it is no secret that the franchise has picked up three former captains in the past three months. Defensively, the team lost Pitkänen, a two-way defenseman with uncertain aptitude in the future, but was prepared to match his strength on both sides of the blue line with Kimmo Timonen (not to mention Timonen’s maturity).
Lupul and Smith remain to be determined, but both seem to harbor the same resentment as the Flyers for the past season’s performance. Finally, Scott Hartnell has an aggressive presence in front of the net that will fit in well with the young, eager depth of the team. The Flyers have proven this summer they are dedicated to excellence in both present and future. As their newest slogan puts it, the team is “back with a vengeance.”
To answer that burning question, it is impossible for any Flyers’ fan to not be excited? While there may be a lack of bloody noses, there will be a surplus of skill and finesse. Philadelphia may have its blue collared roots and a tradition of intimidation, but the city seems to be more accepting of a new style of play on Broad Street. This season, fans can look forward to something far more exciting than two sets of gloves hitting the ice: Wins.