Flyers Fighting for New Winning Identity

Prior to their championship game, the Charlestown Chiefs’ gritty player-coach and captain Reggie Dunlop’s pep talk to his team emphasized that violence is killing this sport, dragging it through the mud. He wanted to play it straight, old-time hockey.

This classic scene from the hockey movie Slap Shot epitomizes Philadelphia Flyers’ hockey. From their inaugural season (1967-68) in the NHL, the black and orange intimidated their opponents. Spreading fear and havoc throughout the league, teams were beaten before they laced up their skates.

Broad Street Bullies

The Broad Street Bullies, as they were coined for their physical play, took home two Stanley Cups in the mid-70s. They became the first expansion team in the post-Original Six era to win the most prestigious trophy in sports.

Philadelphia Flyers, Broad Street Bullies

BOSTON, MA. – 1970’s: Coach Fred Shero of the Philadelphia Flyers along with players (l-r) Jimmy Watson #20, Dave Hoyda #8, Bobby Clarke #16, Bob Kelly #20, Bill Barber #7 and Reggie Leach #27 watch action from bench in game against the Boston Bruins at Boston Garden. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

It’s been 44 years since the Flyers hoisted the Cup. They have reached the Stanley Cup Final only six times during that span. Their last occurrence was almost a decade ago.

Philly hasn’t made it past the first round of the playoffs since the 2011-12 season. They have failed to qualify for the playoffs four of the last seven seasons. Last season they finished a dismal sixth place in the Metropolitan Division.

Like the fictional Chiefs, the Flyers need a makeover. They need to adapt to their style of play to today’s much faster-paced game. The game began to skate by the once fierce and feared Flyers. They have to move away from their muck and grind philosophy of their early days to the speed of the open ice, finesse type, European hockey.

Transforming from the days of the Bullies to a legitimate threat in the NHL again hasn’t proven easy for the orange and black. The organization has had 19 different head coaches since their last championship. Only one, Mike Keenan, held the helm for over 300 games.

Those who can recall Bobby Clarke, Reggie Leach and Bill Barber, the LCB line, teams are nearing retirement. A whole new generation of hockey fans flock to the Wells Fargo Center to cheer on their team, waiting for, wishing for, the success their parents and grandparents witnessed.

Poor Performances Led to Coaching Change

Scoring just 241 goals, 18th in the league, and allowing the third-most goals, 280 last season, will not win you many hockey games. Changes had to be made. A new direction and philosophy became dire. In steps, new head coach Alain Vigneault who has the daunting task of revitalizing a Flyers team that has been surviving off its once-proud history far too long.

Alain Vigneault Philadelphia Flyers
Alain Vigneault, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

A defensive-minded coach and player, Vigneault has youth to work with on the blue line. Last season, both Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov took steps backwards. The organization brought in Matt Niskanen to help the young defensemen make the jump from one-year wonders to consistent, solid players at the NHL level.

Transitioning from defense to offense on the fly became a major concern. The issue for this team was their inability to get the puck out of their own zone. Poor puckhandling by the defensemen led to a litany of turnovers in front of the net exposing the team’s weak goaltending.

Offensively, gone are the players that would park themselves in front of the net and hope to light the lamp with a rebound. The dump-and-chase is dead. The Flyers need to find players who can skate with speed down the ice.

The team is anchored by captain Claude Giroux, the first Flyer to score over 100 points in a season (2017-18) since Eric Lindros did it for the orange and black two decades ago. Philly has seen a possible rebirth, a glimpse for what could be a bright future for a once rough and tumble team into a quick, explosive style offensive.

Claude Giroux Henrik Lundqvist

Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux scores a hat trick on New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist during the final game of the Flyers 2017-18 season, Apr. 7, 2018. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In an effort to bolster over-all team speed on offense, Vigneault moved Giroux back to centering the top line. This move allows Sean Couturier to play alongside Oskar Lindblom and Travis Konecny.

Known for their skating ability and stickhandling, this gives the Flyers a more formidable second line. That’s something this team has been missing for several years.

The Broad Street Bullies have dropped their gloves, not to fight, but to play it straight in hopes to lift the Stanley Cup once again above their heads. With the moves made over the offseason, the Flyers may be a few steps closer to doing just that.