June 01, 2023
After Claude Giroux served as the captain and face of the franchise for more than a decade, the Flyers are now undergoing a rebuild and are in search of their next true star.
But as they begin that process, we got curious.
Looking back at the accomplishments (and lack thereof) of past Philadelphia Flyers teams, we wanted to see who the faces of the franchise really were over the years.
So, going back through the team's history since its inaugural season in 1967, we anointed one player as the face of the franchise for each year since.
Essentially, this is a "Flyers most important and/or most popular player" belt. In order for someone new to take over the team, they have to exceed the prior holder of the title in popularity or in performance.
Without further ado, let's jump in, starting with the Flyers' greatest goalie:
On a team starting from the ground floor, Parent was an expansion draft pickup who developed into the Flyers' No. 1 goaltender and one of their first stars. He wasn't the Vezina and Conn Smythe winner he would go on to become just yet, but after a trade to Toronto and a short-lived stint in the WHA, Parent returned to the Flyers just in time for the rise of the Broad Street Bullies, a run to back-to-back Stanley Cups, and a true face at the forefront of it all...
Bobby Clarke was the guy.
A chip on his shoulder and the perfect blend of skill, aggression, and physicality, that toothless smile encapsulated what Flyers hockey was all about.
The captain through the franchise's meteoric rise into an NHL powerhouse and one of the league's greatest players ever, when you think of the 70s Flyers, the image in your head goes right to Clarke and more than likely, those unforgettable shots of him and Parent skating away with the Stanley Cup.
A regular goal-scorer and just as crucial a part of the Flyers' success in the 70s, Barber kept that production up in the latter part of the decade and into the early 80s, earning the bulk of his career All-Star nominations during that span as the Flyers steadily transitioned into their next era...
With the son of Mr. Hockey and a Hall of Famer well within his own right leading them through it. A constant on defense and a regular source of points, even from the blue line, Howe was arguably the Flyers' best skater during the 80s and one of the main reasons that '87 team was able to push the Oilers dynasty to the brink.
One of the franchise's greatest goal scorers (second all-time), and all with a signature celebration, Propp was one of the most popular and recognizable Flyers of this era, and even though he wasn't the Hall of Fame talent that Howe was, he was a star in his own right.
A sixth-round draft pick from 1983 and a breakout scorer in the latter part of the decade, Rick Tocchet had arrived as a winger capable of putting 35-40 goals, but at a point where the Flyers were lost in limbo and trying to build toward something new. He was dealt to the Penguins while they were on their way to a second straight Stanley Cup in '92.
Traded over from St. Louis, Brind'Amour led the team in scoring and emerged as one of the league's best shutdown centers, but this was during a time when the Flyers were still aimless.
The same goes for Mark Recchi, who was finding the net with ease during a 53-goal, 123-point season in his first stint with the Flyers, though that stint was ultimately made by who came back for him in a trade with Montreal a couple of years later.
Eric Lindros' trade to the Flyers at the 1992 draft remains one of the wildest and most controversial transactions in NHL history. It shook the hockey world to its core and, in an instant, changed everything for Philadelphia to a level that hasn't been seen since. And as a player at his peak, the Flyers haven't had anyone like him since either.
He was big but just as fast and with all the skill in the world.
He was a true superstar, and on that legendary Legion of Doom line with John LeClair and Mikael Renberg, had the Flyers on the doorstep of a Stanley Cup until that buzzsaw of a Detroit Red Wings team was there to meet them.
Everyone in Philadelphia knew Eric Lindros, everyone in hockey knew Eric Lindros, and until concussions started becoming a real problem, there was arguably no greater talent in the city than him.
No. 10 was just as synonymous with the Flyers at the time, though just not to the superstar level Lindros was, which really can't be a knock against him under the circumstances.
And like LeClair, Desjardins was in the same boat, having even inherited the captaincy when things between the Flyers and Lindros were really falling apart.
A fantastic defenseman and a steadying presence for the team through the 90s and early 2000s, Desjardins was one of the league's star blueliners, although – much like LeClair – his more quiet nature wasn't as marketable.
But Jeremy Roenick was anything but quiet. He brought loads of personality, and the skill to boot, when he signed with the Flyers ahead of the 2001-02 season, and while you can argue who the best player was on the team at the time – between him, LeClair, Desjardins, Recchi, Simon Gagné, and so on – Roenick was always the one in commercials, on videogame covers, guest starring on Rocket Power, or putting on a show at the All-Star Game.
Simon Gagné was the young up-and-comer through the early part of the decade, when the core of the team was still built around the veterans in LeClair, Desjardins, Recchi, Roenick, and Keith Primeau, but they were getting older and moving on – the 2004-05 lockout accelerated the process – and coming out on the other side of it, the Flyers had more clearly become Gagné's team.
When it was Gagné at the helm, and an oft-injured Peter Forsberg, he was a 40-plus goal scorer, but that was during a rough period for the Flyers. They still made the playoffs in 2006 but were out after the first round, then fell into the NHL's basement in 2007.
The league had gotten faster. The Flyers had gotten older and slower, but the next era was already on its way. Gagné would be along for the ride, but as a more complementary piece rather than the team's true star.
The Flyers were the NHL's worst team in the 2006-07 season, but rumors had swirled for months by that point that things weren't going to stay that way for long. Paul Holmgren was already making trades to retool the team, with full knowledge that Buffalo Sabres star Danny Brière was headed for free agency and readying up to make a run at him.
And Brière had plenty of lucrative offers to pick from, but in the end, he chose Philadelphia, and it was a clear sign to everyone that the Flyers were going to be good again quickly.
Brière settled right in as the top center on the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, all while a top prospect was stepping up to take the torch going forward.
Never exactly one for the spotlight, but when it came to what happened on the ice at least, Mike Richards took the "C" and ran with it.
A physical, two-way center who could get the puck to the net by any means, Richards was being lined up as the next face of the Flyers for a long time and looked like he was going to be throughout the 2010s.
And for a while, he absolutely was, marked by that miracle run and signature shift on the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010. But then the Flyers hit a hard playoff wall in 2011, "Dry Island" was a thing infamously floating in the background, and that summer, Richards and Jeff Carter were both suddenly traded out of town while goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was signed to a massive contract.
The Flyers probably wish they had a few of those decisions back.
But then again, Claude Giroux's rise probably did help cushion the blow.
With his name all over the team's record books – second all-time in games played, assists, points, and the club's longest-tenured captain – Giroux went from a good player, and a postseason hero in 2010, during his first few seasons in the NHL to a full-blown star in 2012, when a commanding playoff series win over the rival Penguins made it abundantly clear that the Flyers were Giroux's team going forward.
He was given the captaincy soon after and over the course of the next decade – even though guys like Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek, and Shayne Gostisbehere would command the spotlight along the way as well – No. 28 was always the one synonymous with orange and black, through good and, unfortunately, a ton of bad.
He's one of the greatest Flyers ever, but the one that had to lead them through the most turbulent decade in franchise history.
Now Giroux's gone and the Flyers, after much hesitance and denial, are rebuilding. There are some promising young names either on the roster or on the way to it, but right now, the team's lacking in any game-changing skill or true star power.
You could argue that head coach John Tortorella is the real face of the franchise right now as he's been the one at the forefront of re-establishing the team's direction and culture, but if we're keeping it purely to players, well, pickings are slim.
Carter Hart, after a rough couple of years following the playoff bubble, has bounced back into a solid goaltender but is still far from being considered one of the league's best. Scott Laughton is the only one trusted to wear a letter on his chest right now but has his role carved out as a steady bottom-six forward, which can only push the team so far. Sean Couturier hasn't skated in over a year due to injury. And Owen Tippett had a major breakthrough this season, but only just found steady footing within the league.
Really, in terms of overall on-ice performance and a personality that embodies what the Flyers should be, Travis Konecny is probably the closest thing they have to a face of the franchise right now.
A winger capable of putting up 30 goals, can fly down the ice, and annoy the hell out of opponents while he's at it? That sure does sound like a Flyer, but given where the team's at, you can't get too attached to anyone long-term.
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