A look at the Philadelphia Flyers’ All-Decade team for the 1980s
This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1980s. 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 1980-81 and 1989-90) during the regular season. A complete list is available here.
Team: Philadelphia Flyers (1980-81 to 1989-90)
428-281-91, .592 WIN PCT, 3,196 GF vs. 2,693 GA, +503 Diff, 9/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
Philadelphia was a major powerhouse in the 1980s, and they would likely have won a Stanley Cup were it not for Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers: they lost to the Oilers in the 1985 and 1987 Finals. In fact, they overcame 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to force a seventh game thanks in large part to Ron Hextall (who won the Conn Smythe as Playoff MVP). Philadelphia was incredibly strong from ’80-81 until Mike Keenan’s final seasons as coach in ’87-88. Despite an appearance in the Semi Finals in 1989, the Flyers were entering a trying period, and they missed the playoffs with their only sub-.500 season of the decade in ’89-90. But they had some fantastic seasons: two 53-win seasons, four 100+ point seasons, and two others in the 97-98 point range. They scored 300+ goals eight times, and only once allowed more than 300. Philadelphia’s win percentage of 59.2% ranked 3rd in the NHL behind only Edmonton and Montreal. Their offense was strong, averaging 4.00 goals for per game, good enough for 5th. But their defense was even stronger, averaging just 3.37 goals against per game (ranking 3rd behind Montreal and Boston). This allowed them to be one of just three teams with at least a +500 differential (+503, ranking 3rd). They were an exciting team to watch, with a great blend of skill and toughness.
Left Wing: Brian Propp (710 GP, 335-439-774, +266, 615 PIM, 52 GWG)
Brian Propp was one of the “quietest” 1,000-point scorers in NHL history (along with probably Bobby Smith and Ray Whitney). He scored 1,000 points despite never registering either a 50-goal season or a 100-point season. Propp also has the dubious distinction of appearing in five Stanley Cup Finals, yet never winning a Cup; he made it three times with Philadelphia (’80, ’85 and ’87), and then back-to-back appearances in ’90 (with Boston) and ’91 (with Minnesota). He lost three times with two different teams to the Oilers, so I sincerely hope Mark Messier isn’t haunting the poor man’s dreams.
This is not mean to undersell Propp in any way, shape or form; he was as talented and consistent left winger for one of the best offensive teams of the 1980s. He spent the entire decade in Philly. He scored 40+ goals four times, and had three others of 30+. He also had four 90+ point seasons, twice hitting the 97-point mark. He always had a positive +/- rating, including a combined +95 in the ’83-84 and ’84-85 seasons. He was always firing pucks at the net, registering 245+ shots on goal seven times in ten seasons. He was a consistent threat on the powerplay, scoring double-digit PPG’s in six seasons. He also added 20 shorthanded goals (the bulk of them coming between ’84-85 and ’86-87). And he was strong when it counted, with 52 of his goals (16% of his total) counting as game winners. A solid (and underrated) offensive talent.
Centre: Dave Poulin (467 GP, 161-233-394, +168, 303 PIM, 27 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Bobby Clarke
An honourable mention to Bobby Clarke, who was arguably the Flyers’ best forward during the 1970s. But he had slowed a step by the time the 80s came around; he was just below the point-per-game mark, with three 60-point seasons and an 85-point campaign in ’82-83. But Poulin stood out just a bit more. Although he spent much of his career as a defensive specialist, Poulin was a solid two-way forward for the Flyers. He was a point-per-game centre in his first four seasons, registering 25-31 goals and 69-76 points per season. He dropped off after that, scoring just 103 points in 165 games over his final two-and-a-half seasons with the Flyers. He was disciplined, never registering more than 47 penalty minutes in a season. And he was defensively responsible; he was never negative for +/-, and he had a combined +141 rating between ’83-84 and ’86-87. He didn’t get much powerplay time, but he definitely ran the penalty kill; he scored 3-6 SHG per season from ’83-84 to ’88-89, finishing with an incredible 27 short-handed goals (17% of his total). One of the stronger two-way centres of the decade for sure.
Right Wing: Tim Kerr (574 GP, 353-273-626, +98, 569 PIM, 46 GWG)
It is unfortunate that injuries took their toll on Tim Kerr as much as they did, because he was THE power forward of his era. He took a little while to get going in Philly, with a pair of 20+ goal, 45+ point seasons in his first two years, and then 11 goals and 19 points in a very shortened 24-game ’82-83 season (he suffered a bad knee injury). But then he absolutely exploded, scoring 54-58 goals and 84-98 points per season for a four-year stretch. He missed the bulk of the ’87-88 season, playing in just 8 games (due to shoulder surgery), but he came back to score 48 goals and 88 points in 69 games the following year. He was limited again in ’89-90, but he still managed 24 goals and 48 points in 50 games. He played just 81 games over the next three seasons the Flyers, Rangers and Whalers before he retired from the NHL. But with the Flyers, he was outstanding; he played in three All Star Games (1984 to 1986), and he was named to the Second All-Star Team in 1987. All told, he averaged 0.61 goals per game, which is outstanding (by comparison, Jari Kurri was 0.63 during the 80s). Kerr was a beast on the powerplay; he exceeded 20 PPG in a season four times, including a high of 34 powerplay goals in ’85-86 (a single-season NHL record, I believe). Unreal. If he had greater durability, he would be more widely regarded as one of the all-time greats of his era. However, I would hazard a guess that he is adored by Flyers fans much in the same way that Wendel Clark is loved by Leafs fans, and rightly so.
Defense: Mark Howe (533 GP, 131-314-445, +322, 297 PIM, 16 GWG)
Simply put, Mark Howe was one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL during the 1980s. Howe was acquired from Hartford in a steal of epic proportions: the Whalers received Ken Linseman, Greg Adams (the one who didn’t play for the Canucks), as well as first- and third-round picks that became David Jensen and Leif Karlsson. Howe was a solid offensive defenseman for Philadelphia, scoring 50+ points for six consecutive seasons (including a high of 85 points ’85-86). He scored at least 15 goals and at least 34 assists each of those six seasons. Injuries and age began taking their toll towards the end of the decade, and he was limited to 92 games in the final two seasons of the decade (although he still managed 66 points). How was also incredible at helping the Flyers control the play; he was +22 or better seven times in eight years, and was an incredible +85 in ’85-86. In fact, over a three-year span from ’84-85 to ’86-87, he was an awesome +193. He also chipped in on both special teams. He typically scored 3-5 powerplay goals per season, and he also scored an impressive 24 shorthanded goals (including 7 in ’85-86). Although he was as driving force on some powerful Flyers teams, he never did win a Stanley Cup, although he did make the finals in ’85 and ’87 with the Flyers, and one final time in 1995 with Detroit (unfortunately retiring before the Wings won in ’97 and ’98). Howe was unquestionably one of the more dominant two-way defensemen of his era.
Defense: Brad McCrimmon (367 GP, 35-152-187, +223, 355 PIM, 8 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Doug Crossman
Doug Crossman was very talented, registering five seasons in the 35-43 point range for the Flyers in the 80s. He also played on the 1987 Canada Cup team that reads like a 1980s All-Star team (Gretzky, Lemieux, Messier, Bourque, Coffey, Fuhr and more). But Crossman’s defensive game wasn’t as strong as Brad McCrimmon’s (Crossman had a negative +/- rating twice in five seasons), so Crossman gets the Honourable Mention. McCrimmon was a bruising defenseman who developed a decent two-way game towards the end of his Flyers’ tenure. He scored 24-25 points in his first two seasons, and then 39-59 in his final three. His +/- also steadily improved, and he was +180 between ’84-85 and ’86-87 (including a high of +83 in ’85-86). He was physical yet disciplined in his play, never registering more than 85 PIM (or less than 52) in a season. He and Mark Howe formed a formidable duo for the Flyers on the blueline. McCrimmon died tragically in a plane crash in 2011; he was the coach of Russian KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. He was 52 years old. McCrimmon will forever be fondly remembered by hockey fans, especially those who watched him patrol the Flyers’ blueline during the 1980s. He also won a Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989.
Goalie: Ron Hextall (200 GP, 101-73-20, 1 SO, 3.27 GAA, 0.892 PCT)
Honourable Mention to Bob Froese
Bob Froese was the #1 goalie on-and-off in Philadelphia for four years before Ron Hextall arrived. Froese had an incredible record (92-29-12 and 12 shut-outs in 144 games), and stellar solid stats for his era (2.74 GAA and a .899 PCT). But he only played 144 games in 4+ seasons. Hextall on the other hand played 62-66 games three years in a row, won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP in a losing effort in 1987, and was the first goalie to score a goal by actually shooting the puck into the other team’s net. So Ron gets the nod. Hextall won 30+ games for three seasons; his fourth season (’89-90) saw him appear in just eight games due to a variety of reasons (a hold-out and multiple injuries). Although the team was weakening around him towards the end of the decade, his record was steady; he was 101-73-20 in 200 appearances, although he did only log one shut-out. However, he still had a respectable 3.27 goals-against average and a decent .892 save percentage. He was unquestionably the man in Philadelphia, and he was a fan favourite due to his toughness and competitiveness.