This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1990s. The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players. Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1990-91 and 1999-00) during the regular season.
Team: Philadelphia Flyers (1990-91 to 1999-00)
378-294-114, .556 WIN PCT, 2,533 GF vs. 2,298 GA, +235 Diff, 6/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
Full disclosure: I LOATHE the Philadelphia Flyers. As someone who bled Maple Leafs’ Blue & White most of my life, I can safely say I would cheer for Montreal and maybe even for Ottawa over Philly. That being said, it doesn’t stop me from respecting some of the incredibly talented players to suit up in Flyers’ orange.
The Philadelphia Flyers morphed over the course of the decade from a young, rebuilding team into a league powerhouse. They struggled in the early 90s: adding phenom Eric Lindros boosted their scoring, but their defense also worsened, and they remained a sub-.500 team. But that all changed during the lockout-shortened ’94-95 season when they traded Mark Recchi to the Montreal Canadiens for John LeClair, Eric Desjardins and Gilbert Dionne. The Flyers went on a year, posting a win percentage of 62.5% or better four times in six years. During that span they went to the Stanley Cup Finals (losing to Detroit in 1997) and the Eastern Conference finals on two other occasions. They won eight playoff series during that six-year run.
Overall, the Flyers’ win percentage of 55.6% ranked them 5th out of 26 teams that played at least four seasons during the 1990s. They were an offensive juggernaut, scoring 3.22 goals for per game, ranking 4th. But their defense allowed 2.92 goals against per game, which ranked 10th. Ultimately their differential of +235 ranked 5th, in line with their win percentage ranking. Love them or hate them (and there are very few fans who fall in the middle), there is no denying the impact the Flyers had during the late 1990s. They played a physical game, but were very talented offensively. Eric Lindros was one of the most popular players in the league, which raised the profile and popularity of the team. It is unfortunate that they didn’t receive consistent, quality goaltending, as they might have been able to make even more noise (and possibly win a cup). And that remains a truth for the organization almost 20 years after their loss in the 1997 finals.
Left Wing: John LeClair (441 GP, 260-237-497, +160, 240 PIM, 45 GWG)
John LeClair was THE power winger in the NHL in the mid-to-late 1990s, picking up the mantel from Kevin Stevens and running with it through to the end of the decade. Upon being acquired from Montreal in the infamous Mark Recchi deal, LeClair erupted for 25 goals and 49 points in just 37 games; a 55-goal pace over a full season. He then scored 50-51 goals in each of the next three seasons, followed by a pair in the 40-43 range. He had four seasons in the 87-97 points range, including twice hitting 97 points. His +/- was always strong: he was +21 or better five times, including a high of +44 in ’96-97. He was a monster on the powerplay, posting 10+ PPG five times, with a high of 19 in ’95-96. And he was clutch, scoring 5+ game-winning goals in each season, and an impressive 17% of his 260 goals for Philadelphia in the decade were game-winners. His playmaking was also undersold: in addition to his shooting prowess (five straight seasons of 246+ SOG, two over 300), he chipped in 46-47 assists three times, and never less than 36 in a full season. He played a physical but clean game: he recorded just 98 PIM COMBINED between ’97-98 and ’99-00. He gave Lindros the elite-calibre running mate that helped elevate both of their games, and briefly formed the Legion of Doom line with Mikael Renberg.
Centre: Eric Lindros (486 GP, 290-369-659, +188, 946 PIM, 37 GWG)
For better or for worse, Eric Lindros was the face of the Flyers in the 1990s. He was one of the brightest talents early in his career, before concussions derailed his career. It is a genuine shame that Lindros didn’t debut 10 years later, when concussions were better understood; it would have avoided him being labeled soft and injury prone. It also would have likely extended his career, as he would have been given the proper amount of time to recuperate and rid himself of concussion symptoms. That being said, Lindros had an incredible decade for the Flyers. Despite playing more than 65 games just twice in seven full seasons (and playing 46 of 48 games in ’94-95), Lindros hit the 40-goal mark four times, and twice more had 30+ goals. He also scored 29 goals and 70 points in the shortened ’94-95 season, a 50-goal/120-point pace over a full season. His best year was a 47-goal, 115-point season in ’95-96, and he cleared 90 points on two other occasions. Despite joining the Flyers when they were struggling mightily, his +/- was always positive, and five times finished in the +26 to +35 range. He scored at least 7 PPG every season, with five years of 10+ goals on the powerplay. He also chipped in 6 shorthanded markers, and a healthy 13% of his goals in the 90s (37) were game-winners. He had a hell of a mean streak, posting 100+ PIM six times (and would have made it eight straight had he played more games in ’94-95 and ’99-00).
Lindros entered the league as the next great one, and while he may not have lived up to that hype over his full career, his presence transformed the Flyers into a perennial contender during the 1990s. He was a true superstar both for Philadelphia and for the NHL.
Right Wing: Mark Recchi (292 GP, 137-222-359, +5, 227 PIM, 19 GWG)
Mark Recchi played in Philadelphia for parts of six seasons, but three of those were merely partial seasons due to trades. In those three partial seasons, he scored 38 points in 42 games. And in his other three seasons, he was one of the premier wingers in the NHL. In his first full seasons in Philadelphia, ’92-93, he played with Eric Lindros and Brent Fedyk on (if memory serves) the Crazy 8’s line (Recchi was #8, Lindros was #88 and Fedyk was #18). The line clearly agreed with Recchi, as he posted 53 goals and 123 points. He followed that up with a 40-goal, 107-point performance in ’93-94 before being traded in ’94-95 to Montreal in the deal that brought LeClair to Philadelphia. Recchi returned from Montreal late in ’98-99, and in ’99-00 he scored 28 goals and 91 points. In his three full seasons he scored 10+ PPG twice, and managed 200+ shots on goal three times. He was also strong in the clutch, with 19 of his 137 goals counting as game-winners (14% of his total). He also managed to keep his +/- close to the even mark (although slightly negative) despite playing on some defensively-weak Flyers’ teams. He was an All-Star and a class act while in Philadelphia.
Defense: Eric Desjardins (422 GP, 59-196-255, +103, 213 PIM, 10 GWG)
I believe Eric Desjardins was underrated; it is my opinion that he was one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL during the 1990s, and is one of the all-time greats to patrol the Philadelphia blueline. He arrived in Philadelphia from Montreal in the first Recchi trade, and promptly scored 23 points in 23 games along with a +10 rating. He then dominated the Flyers’ blueline for the next five seasons: he never scored fewer than 33 points, and four times finished in the 46-55 points range. He also posted double-digit goal totals three times, had 5+ powerplay goals four times, and fired 150+ shots on goal each season. He was responsible defensively, played a clean game (he never recorded more than 50 PIM in a season from ’95-96 to ’99-00), and he even chipped in 10 game-winning goals (a remarkable 17% of his total). He represented Philadelphia at the All-Star game in 1996 and 2000, and was on the NHL Second All-Star Team in 1999 and 2000. Far and away the best Flyers’ defenseman of the 1990s.
Defense: Chris Therien (433 GP, 21-89-110, +83, 385 PIM, 3 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Garry Galley
Honourable mention to Garry Galley; the slick offensive defenseman posted 62 points in ’92-93 along with a +18 rating, and 70 points in ’93-94 (although his +/- fell to -11). He also had two partial seasons in Philadelphia that saw him score 40 points in 72 games combined over ’91-92 and ’94-95. But his game was not as well-rounded, and he unfortunately played for some of the weaker Philadelphia teams during the early 1990s. Meanwhile, Chris Therien’s rookie season of ’94-95 coincided with the arrival of LeClair/Desjardins, the return of Ron Hextall, and the emergence of Eric Lindros as a true phenom. Therien played six seasons for the Flyers in the 1990s, and never missed more than 11 games in a season. His +/- was never negative, and was +11 or better four times (with a high of +27 in ’96-97). He didn’t score much (his high was 6 goals in ’95-96), but he chipped in some offensive here and there: he averaged 21 points per season from ’95-96 to ’98-99. He played a physical but disciplined game, never posting more than 89 PIM in a full season. He was a rock on their blueline, and a key part of their success in the late 1990s.
Goalie: Ron Hextall (289 GP, 139-99-38, 17 SO, 2.66 GAA, 0.898 PCT)
Ron Hextall was born to be a Flyer. He played two rather sub-par seasons with Philly to open the 1990s before being sent to Quebec in the Eric Lindros trade. He spent a season with the Nordiques followed by a season with the Islanders before being repatriated following the failed experiment that was Tommy Soderstrom and Dominic Roussel. Hextall then spent the next four seasons as the team’s #1 goalie, before being replaced by John Vanbiesbrouck in ’98-99. He retired after playing 23 games that season. Hextall from ’90-91 to ’91-92 was so-so: 29-37-11, 3.28 GAA, .887 PCT. But after returning, granted in the Dead Puck Era and for a team that now had a much better blueline, his stats improved significantly: 110-62-27, 2.42 GAA, .902 PCT. His finest season without a doubt was ’95-96, where he posted a 2.17 GAA and a .913 PCT. He twice won 31 games, and had three other seasons in the 16-21 win range. He chipped in a respectable number of shutouts, including 13 over a three-year stretch from ’95-96 to ’97-98. While his prime playing here were inarguably in the 1980s, Hextall was still the best Flyers goalie of the 1990s. This will sound like a slight, but the team would have been much better off had that not been true: Hextall was good, but not great during the 1990s. However, the rest of the options (Roussel, Soderstrom and Garth Snow) weren’t exactly top-tier goaltenders. That being said, Hextall did play well on some of the best regular seasons teams of the decade, and remains a fan favourite to this day.