For an interactive, online project we are doing for Inquirer.com, I was asked to select the top 16 players, in order, in Flyers history.
Colleagues Les Bowen (Eagles), Keith Pompey (76ers), and Scott Lauber (Phillies) were asked to do likewise for their respective sports. We then put a 64-player bracket together, with each team having a 16-player field. The fans’ vote will determine the greatest Philly athlete of all-time.
The final four will have one player from each team, and the top seeds are the Flyers’ Bobby Clarke, the Eagles’ Reggie White, the 76ers’ Wilt Chamberlain, and the Phillies’ Mike Schmidt. Four Philly sports icons, to be sure.
For the four beat writers, narrowing each field to 16 players was not easy, and you probably could make a strong case for other choices than the ones we selected, especially the players ranked in the teens.
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Most of the players on my top-16 list played for the Flyers in the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s and the early part of the 21st century. The exceptions: Claude Giroux (11th) and Simon Gagne (12th).
From here, Giroux has a good chance to climb to sixth on the list before his brilliant career ends. A decade from now, Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny, Carter Hart, and Ivan Provorov are among the current Flyers who could be on the list.
Here is my top 16:
1. Bobby Clarke
3. Bill Barber
4. Eric Lindros
5. Mark Howe
6. Rick MacLeish
7. Tim Kerr
8. John LeClair
9. Reggie Leach
10. Brian Propp
11. Claude Giroux
12. Simon Gagne
13. Eric Desjardins
14. Mark Recchi
15. Ron Hextall
16. Rick Tocchet
Clarke was No. 1, but it was a difficult choice over Parent.
Do the Flyers win two Cups without Clarke? Probably not, but there’s a chance they do. If Clarke was out, MacLeish would have moved to the No. 1 center spot and the Flyers’ top line would have still been excellent, though their depth at center would have had an obvious drop-off.
But if you took Parent away from those teams, they absolutely wouldn’t have won a Cup. He was the biggest reason for their playoff success. No offense to backup goalies Bobby Taylor in 1973-74 or Wayne Stephenson in 1974-75, but the drop was precipitous.
That said, I went with Clarke at No. 1 for all his intangibles and the fact he played 15 seasons with the Flyers, compared with Parent’s 10. Not only was Clarke a great all-around center, but he was the best captain in franchise history and some think the best captain in NHL history. He battled diabetes and still became a world-class player. No one worked harder. No one set a better example.
Readers agreed. In a poll I did on Twitter that had about 2,000 responses, 80% gave Clarke the nod over Parent -- I was surprised it was so one-sided -- as the best player in franchise history.
There were several outstanding players I hated not having in my top 16, especially Rod Brind’Amour. But I ran out of room. Jimmy Watson, Kimmo Timonen, and Dave Poulin were also close calls.
There are some interesting first-round matchups, including the sixth-seeded MacLeish against the 11th-seeded Giroux. I expect Giroux to pull the upset because of the fact that many of our readers didn’t have a chance to witness MacLeish’s greatness.
Some other interesting early matchups: No. 2 Parent vs. No. 15 Hextall. This should be one-sided, but it’s odd how the two best goalies in Flyers history are matched against each other in the first round.
To me, the best opening-round matchup is between No. 8 LeClair and No. 9 Leach, wingers who were prolific goal scorers.
Anyway, our 64-player field is expected to go online at Inquirer.com this week, giving fans a chance to vote on players from all four sports. The four beat writers also did a video talking about how we composed our rankings, some of our difficult decisions, and more.
With all of our sports closed down because of the coronavirus, it’s our hope that this 64-player field will serve as a diversion and be a fun and thought-provoking exercise. As I said in the video, there are no right or wrong answers. Everyone has their own opinions and this is not an exact science, but rather something we hope will stir some lively conversations and debates.
Since many of our readers have not seen some of the great players from the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and even ‘80s, I’m guessing the younger athletes will do well in this 64-player field — guys like Giroux, Brian Dawkins, Joel Embiid, Allen Iverson, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels.
Personally, I think Chamberlain should be the overall winner, hands down. But my guess is that Dawkins, who is fourth-seeded among the Eagles, will win the whole thing.
If you’re keeping track, the regular season would have ended last Saturday and the playoffs would have started this Wednesday. If the playoffs were based on how the standings stood when the season was paused March 12, the Flyers would have hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1.
Yes, it would have been an intriguing matchup, and the Flyers, who were 1-1-1 against the Penguins this season, were peaking and seemed ready to win their first playoff series since 2012.
Here’s hoping at least some of the playoffs can be salvaged.
Wednesday: Replay of alumni game, Flyers vs. Penguins from 2017, 7 p.m. (NBCSP).
Thursday: Replay of Rangers at Flyers from Feb. 28, 7 p.m. (NBCSP).
Sunday: Replay of Capitals at Flyers from March 4, 7 p.m. (NBCSP).
You would leave Scott Laughton unprotected in next year’s expansion draft? He is five years younger than James van Riemsdyk and Jake Voracek and a versatile player in the locker room.
(@mrweissm) via Twitter
Answer: Thanks for the question, Michael. As it now stands, I would protect the blossoming Laughton over van Riemsdyk, but not over top-line right winger Voracek. There are lots of moving parts, of course, because of the health uncertainty of Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom. That will play a part in whom the Flyers protect next year.