After 40 Years, Flyers Still Goons?

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LW S. Hartnell visited by his former, team the Predators, in 2009. (Image Credits: dtm5025)

In 2007-08 the Flyers intended whole heartedly to come back into the NHL with a sense of vengeance. It wasn’t necessarily a plan to beat up physically and mentality anyone who stepped on the ice with them, but bitter after the worst season in franchise history, the Flyers had an impressive parade of five total Flyers that watched some games instead of skating on the ice due to suspensions. Steve Downie and Jesse Boulerice were the first to fall to the trend, Boulerice with 25 games for a clearly dirty cross-check to the face of Ryan Kesler (video) and Downie with 20 games for a black and white call for leaving his feet when he lunged into a check on Dean McAmmond even though the result was far worse than the intention (video). While those were clear cut with their intentions to punish a certain player on the ice, two other suspensions to Randy Jones (video) and Scott Hartnell (video) didn’t show any true intent to injure. Both were hits when the player was in a vulnerable position and nobody wants to see that in the NHL of course. Still it’s clear that league cracked down more on the result because these are just penalty worthy offenses in an ordinary game when no one is hurt. The Flyers in fact have taken quite a few of these in the past two season and bounced right back up to not even a powerplay. It’s a shame that the league works this way, but there’s not much that can be done about it. The last of the Flyers to see time on the suspension list was Riley Cote with three games on a hit from behind on Dallas Star blueliner Matt Niskanen.

In 2008-09 there was a complete turnaround within the organization. The Flyers would obviously still get in the face of other opponents, but found themselves on the other side of the dirty hit coin for the most part. The team did not have a single suspension until a blatant punch to Penguins forward Max Talbot off a faceoff during the playoffs by Dan Carcillo (video). That of course is something you don’t like to see in the NHL either, but it happens. In fact it happens to every team Flyers included. That doesn’t excuse action like that, but there is an obvious taboo associated with wearing a jersey for the orange and black.

Instead of earning their own suspensions during the 2008-09 season the Flyers ended up on the back end of a bunch of suspension worthy hits that would not be deemed so by the league. In fact it got so bad that Simon Gagne went to the press about players like Kovalev taking liberties at his head after he had sat a season due to concussion problems (video). The league did not step in on any occasion on behalf of the Flyers’ star winger, but did finally consider a hit suspension worthy against the Flyers when Corey Perry elbowed rookie sensation Claude Giroux in the head.

To add to the fire when viewing many of the missed suspensions on the Flyers many fans of other teams brushed it off as the Flyers finally getting what they deserved for years of torment. What they are talking about are famous incidents of the Broad Street Bullies muscling their way into the heads of opponents, perhaps the most famous of which being a hit that caused the Russian national team to walk off the ice in the 1976 super series (video). Whatever the case may be, the current Flyers are hardly as dirty as their distant relatives wearing the orange and black, but yet they still get the worst of it from the fans as if they were right there with Dave Schultz, Bill Barber, and Bobby Clarke. Even the league seems to think the Broad Street Bullies are alive and well in Philadelphia.

The Flyers this year were penalized the second most in the NHL with 393 penalty killing opportunities. In powerplay chances they were 26th in the NHL with 316 for a net difference of minus 77 which was far and away the league’s worst plus-minus ratio. It’s not to say that the Flyers didn’t add to it with some dumb penalties of their own, and many Flyers’ fans claim that the did team earn quite a few of them. The biggest issue going through the season is how many teams failed to go to the box against them. A minus 77 is absolutely horrendous for a league calling games both ways. There are teams that are in fact quicker to run into penalty trouble than others, but the league wide average shows that teams coming into Philadelphia would take less penalties than they would against other competition.

So where do the Flyers stand going into next season? There have been campaigns to get more disciplined, but as defensive as the Flyers can get about taking penalties the league seems to be in no position to help them out as far as powerplay opportunities are concerned. The players may claim that they don’t even think about it and just go to work every time they need to, but somewhere they must feel that they are getting the short end of the deal. Who wouldn’t when the numbers are skewed that much?

On top of all of that a recent poll by Sports Illustrated came up with the top five dirtiest players in the NHL according to the players. Scott Hartnell ranked fifth on the list with 5% behind Pronger (13%), Ott (13%), J. Ruutu (12%), and Avery (10%). It’s hard to argue with the players themselves, but more than that some of these players seem to be on there for chatting it up with opposition more than throwing elbows. Not too long ago being the dirtiest player in the NHL meant jabbing other players in the side with the butt of the stick or slashing at the legs when other players turned to skate in the other direction. Currently Dan Carcillo is easily the dirtiest player on the Flyers roster going by the standard definition, but is clearly not as vocal or well-known as a guy like Scott Hartnell.

The Flyers are even looking into acquiring the services of problem child netminder Ray Emery as a cheap back up option for whoever they put in net next season. It’s been a long time since Hextall was between the pipes for the Flyers, and some of the things he did were about as dirty as they come. That was a different day and age though. The hockey was different, the rules were different, and the Flyers were different. Emery, should he join the Flyers with that laundry list of a “do not apply” warning based on past incidents off the ice, there’s no question that the view of the orange and black could get even worse.

No matter what the outcome the Flyers are still not a dirty team. The dirtiest players they have had in the last decade are gone. A different one was brought in as an enforcer of course, but every team has one of those. In fact there are some unspeakable acts that have been done by other teams this past season that should be looked into even though they’re supposed to be a “clean” new-NHL brand team. Someone should go have a look at the Pittsburgh Penguins for instance, but that would never happen.

Scott Hartnell though with his fiery Samson-esque locks will forever be hated. Somewhere I’m sure he’s okay with that. All he has to do is suit up to play hockey, and the hate flocks to him like vultures to the thirsty man wandering the desert. He is loved for wearing the orange and black in Philadelphia and part of wearing that jersey is dealing with those that will immediately change their view of you when the colors and logo change.

The Flyers will continue on as always despite what everyone thinks of them. Unfortunately in the quest for the Stanley Cup they don’t always have the luxury to care that people have misjudged them.