We’ve all been there. You’re talking with your Dad about players from different eras. “Sidney Crosby is nowhere near the player Wayne Gretzky was!” It’s a tough question to answer because the game today is so different from what the norm was in the 1980’s. In this article I’ll take a look at Flyers Defensemen, and their offensive contributions. How good was Mark Howe compared to more modern guys like Eric Desjardins or Kimmo Timonen? Quantifying their defensive merits is pretty darn tough, but we can get a picture of offensive output.
Next time: Top Offensive Forwards
A lot of people have tried to adjust goal scoring rates over the years to compensate for highs or lows. The most recent attempt was over on r/hockey. Reddit user RadMarchand97 compiled quite a lot of data, and tried his best to tilt said data based on how many goals were scored in the NHL during different years. He averaged team scoring to 3.00 goals per game. In the 80’s it was close to 4.00 and today’s teams score more like 2.70 every game. Since scoring has dropped recently points today are worth a lot more than in the 80’s when everyone was chalking up 100+ point seasons. His original spreadsheet is over here.
The Top Five
It’s a little foolish to place Gostisbehere among these defensemen after (basically) 1 season, but I couldn’t resist. Shayne’s 46 points in 66 games is the best scoring rate of any defenseman in Flyers’ history. Adjusting for the deflation of scoring means he would have about 63 points over a full 82 game schedule. Nothing to turn up your nose at. It’s an extremely limited sample, but let’s just put a pin in this because what he did this past season was incredible. Keeping up a similar scoring rate for a few seasons could legitimately give him a chance at top-5 Flyers Offensive Defensemen.
I honestly wasn’t sure if Pronger would have the numbers to pull ahead of Howe, especially since he was in the twilight of his career when he came to Philly. The fact that he scored this much at 35-37 years old speaks volumes about how good he must have been in his prime. Chris’ 92 points in 145 games for Philly adjusts to about 55.5 points per 82 games. That stick to the eye.. man..
Gostisbehere, Pronger, Galley, Howe, Pitkanen.
A huge surprise. Garry snuck in 1 adjusted point ahead of Howe because he had a couple of excellent seasons when scoring was starting to dip just a little bit in the early 90’s. 62 points in 1993, and 70 points in 1994 were enough to power him into 3rd. Unlike Pronger and Howe though Galley was with the Flyers from age 28-31, pretty much right in (or just exiting) his prime.
The Flyers’ all-time leader among Defensemen with 480 points, and scored at a pace of 0.8 points per game. That’s incredible. Howe’s stint with the Flyers ran from age 27 – 36 so yes there were some prime seasons, but also some not so ‘prime’ years near the end of his career. He put up 82 points in 77 games in 1985-86, but hell Gretzky had 215 that year so points weren’t exactly hard to come by. Adjusting for the goal inflation during this period of Howe’s career would shave 101 points off his Flyers’ scoring record.
I’m sure Joni Pitkanen wasn’t on anyone’s list of best Flyers’ defensemen of all time, but before injuries derailed his career Joni was pretty much elite. He had 116 points in 206 games with the Flyers from age 20 to 23! Not too shabby. Kind of a shame he was dealt to Edmonton at just 23 because it would have been nice to see how high he could have ascended. 2 more reasonable 40 point years would place him near the top-5 all-time Flyer defenders.
Rounding out the Top Ten
Another player in the twilight of his career (much like Pronger in that regard), Streit has always been an elite puck-mover. 119 points in 225 games places him just ahead of Pitkanen in total points. It’s quite likely Mark will suffer a slide down this list in the upcoming season because he’ll be 39 and is seeing his Powerplay time cut due to the rise of Gostisbehere.
3rd all-time in Games Played (738) and 2nd in points (396) by a Philadelphia defenseman, Eric Desjardins could very well be the most valuable Defenseman the organization has ever had. There would be debates back and forth with Howe of course, but my money’s on Eric. His adjusted scoring rate of 47 points per season over 9 full seasons of games with the team is amazing. What he meant to the organization during the late 90’s and early 2000’s was definitely on par with Howe about 10 years earlier, and Kimmo about 10 years after.
Streit, Desjardins, Johnsson, Timonen, Dailey.
Ranking 15th in all-time scoring among Flyer defensemen (and with very few relative games played) is a seemingly forgotten Swedish Flyer Kim Johnsson. Kim had 3 seasons in a row of about 40 points at the peak of what’s known as the ‘dead puck era’. Clutch and grab, neutral zone trap, defensive hockey. His point totals would probably be a bit higher had he played today, and WAY higher had he played in the 80’s. Adjusting brings him up to about 46 points per 82 games. He was no slouch.
Any conversation about great Flyer defenders has to mention Kimmo. 270 points (3rd) over 519 games (10th) puts him in elite company. Those weren’t even his best NHL seasons as he also had 301 points with the Preds before coming to Philly. Despite ranking 3rd all-time in total scoring for Philly defenders, he ranks just 9th in adjusting scoring per season. Timonen was never all that flashy, but damn was he steady and much better defensively than most on this list.
Was an absolute mutant in 1977. There were a very select few defensemen that were 6’5″ and scored 40 points a year. Those 2 traits didn’t go hand-in-hand then, and it’s still very tough to find today. Looking for comparables I found Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, and Ron Stackhouse who were big men that were higher up the scoring charts in 77. Everyone else above Dailey was right around 6’0″ tall. He came to the organization just after the Cup wins, and as a result was never really cemented into that group of ‘Great Flyers’. He would be remembered a lot more fondly if he hadn’t absolutely shattered his ankle at the beginning of the 1982 season ending his career at just 28 years old.
The Best of the Rest
Another big (6’3″) man who could score, and came in around at the same time as Dailey. He went on to play for the Blackhawks, and was later claimed by the Canucks in a waiver draft, but never played for them. Similarly to Dailey his career was ended by an injury at just 29. For Wilson it was his back.
Matt Carle and Dan McGillis
Both cut from the same cloth. Neither were very good defensemen, but both were essentially like having a 4th Forward on the ice at times. Good in offensive situations, but not for much else.
Wilson, Carle, McGillis, Bladon, Murphy.
The 1 real offensive threat from the back-end during the Flyers’ Championships was Tom Bladon. He was the 4th player in NHL history (1st Defenseman) to score 8 points in a single game when he had 4 goals and 4 assists on December 11th, 1977 against a lacklustre Cleveland team. He was good, but even in a stat like straight up Points per Game Played (unadjusted) Bladon didn’t score as much as Timonen.
Current Flyers’ Assistant Coach Murphy played with the team at the beginning of what would be a fairly successful NHL career. Murphy was a key member of some pretty great early Florida Panther teams as he was picked in the NHL expansion draft. He also joined another expansion team, the Atlanta Thrashers, at the very end of his career. Steady, but not an exceptional offensive guy.
Brad McCrimmon and Doug Crossman
2 Flyers who played during the height of the 1980’s scoring binge Brad McCrimmon, and Doug Crossman were decent scorers, but they weren’t elite. By adjusting the scoring rates both of them lost 42 points and fell to around 32 points per 82 games. They were good NHLers, but adjusting their numbers shows us that they were feeding off a high scoring period.
Braydon Coburn and Andre Dupont
I thought it was a good idea to include some guys like Braydon Coburn here to give everyone an idea of how poor offensively some of these notable defensive defensemen were. Coburn was a very good defender, but his offensive game was never more than average. As it turns out he’s a very good comparable for Broad Street Bullies Legend Andre ‘Moose’ Dupont. Completely different eras, but quite similar defense first attitudes.. Dupont of course had about 1000 more Penalty Minutes in roughly the same amount of games, but like I said, different eras.
Jim and Joe Watson
Both of the Watson brothers (Jim and Joe) were members of the Cup winning Bullies teams, and both were fairly inept offensively. Remarkably (unlike Moose Dupont) neither had that many penalties during their long Flyer careers either; Jim had 492 pims in 613 games, and Joe had 397 pims in 746 games. Joe had to suffer through the dregs of the early expansion era Philadelphia Flyers so it’s fair to assume he may have ascended a bit higher up the list had he come along a little later. He’s 6th all-time with 198 points, but as mentioned earlier.. 746 games!
The Flyers’ all-time leader in Games Played by a defenseman (753) is none other than Chris Therien. His adjusted 18 points per 82 games is actually a small boost to his career numbers.. and it’s still terrible. But Chris came along in a clutch and grab NHL where a lot of defenders were just big goons.
Speaking of big goons.. 6’6″ Kjell Samuelsson was one of them. Seeing as he came along at the end of a high scoring era (1986) it’s extremely surprising how little he scored. His adjusted rate of 9 points per 82 games is down right hilarious! He lost 79 points off his total which.. wasn’t very much to begin with!