With basketball and hockey on hiatus for the summer and football still months away, there's nothing happening except the dog days of summer. So I'll be publishing my own personal lists of my five favorite players of the four major Philadelphia sports franchises.
View the first installment on the Phillies here and the second installment on the Sixers here.
Last night was one of the most boringest nights in the history of boring, meaning I spent a large portion of it aimlessly flipping through the channels watching whatever horrible show captured my interest for more than 2 minutes. Then I went to sleep. Weeknights with no Phillies games are brutal.
So seeing as I have nothing else to talk about at the moment, I figured it'd be a great time to share with you, the people, my five favorite Philadelphia Flyers of my lifetime, especially with the Flyers making a big splash by trading for Chris Pronger over the weekend. This one was tougher than you might think because traditionally, I have liked almost every Flyer on every team since I can remember watching, with the notable exceptions of the players listed here. I really hated those guys.
Anyway, here's the list. Number one is sure to be a shocker … unless you actually know me.
1. Shjon Podein
I am pretty damn sure that I'm the only person on the planet not related to or a personal friend of Shjon Podein that lists him as their favorite Flyer of all time. After all, Podein was never even close to being considered the best player on the team in his five seasons in Philadelphia, and the guy was never an all-star. He didn't score a lot of goals or do anything flashy. Hell, if you don't really understand the game of hockey, Shjon Podein is the type of player you probably never even noticed.
But I freakin loved Shjon Podein. For starters, the guy spells his name in the most bad-ass way possible. Shawn is probably the worst possible spelling, and Sean doesn't even make sense. Shjon is the balls way to spell it, and his play reflected his bad-assness. Podein was one of the most incredible penalty killers I've ever seen wear the Orange and Black, doing anything and everything to make sure his team wouldn't give up a goal down a man. He was a grinder, a worker, and one of the toughest players on the ice. Podein could win a battle in the corner, shut down opposing superstars, kill penalties, occasionally score and wasn't afraid to drop the gloves either.
Basically, Podein would do anything asked of him for the betterment of the team. And I loved him for it. As odd as it sounds, Shjon Podein is my favorite Flyer ever.
2. Keith Primeau
Keith Primeau entered the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings with some hefty expectations in hockey town but could never quite fulfill them. He was traded to Hartford where he became a very, very good player with the Whalers/Hurricanes, and then in January of 2000, he was traded to Philadelphia for fan favorite Rod Brind'Amour. When the trade was first announced, I, just like everyone else, didn't like it. Brind'Amour was a tremendous player for the Flyers, a great face-off man, excellent penalty killer with a nice scoring touch and the type of guy every team loves to have.
Unfortunately, his rocky relationship with Eric Lindros forced him out of town. It was not going to be easy for Primeau to win over a city that just lost perhaps its favorite player. But it didn't take long for Keith to make the Philly faithful forget about Brind'Amour, at least for a while.
Turns out this trade was an excellent one for both teams. Primeau came to Philadelphia and instantly became a leader in the locker room. Everything Brind'Amour brought to the table, Primeau did as well. Any time the Flyers needed a face-off win, out went Primeau to take the draw, and more often than not, he won it. The guy became a fixture on the penalty kill, power play and transformed from a guy expected to be a scorer to one of the best shut-down centers in hockey.
He was big, fast, could hit like a truck, fight and man oh man could this guy lead. In fact, he was such an incredible leader that inspired his fellow teammates that in 2002, he took over the captaincy from Eric Desjardins and didn't relinquish it until he was forced out of action due to concussions in 2006.
In the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs, Primeau had one of the most dominating performances I've ever witnessed. Almost single-handedly, he carried the Flyers to the Eastern Conference Finals to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning. In that series, he was by far the best player on the ice for either team. Unfortunately, he received little help from his teammates, ending yet another season in disappointment. But it was hardly Primeau's fault. That guy played out of his mind, and his game-tying goal in game 6 was a thing of beauty, kicking it across the crease, going behind the net and getting it on the other side to bury it.
Man was he awesome in that series. Primeau took the Flyers on his back and simply did it all. It's a shame the concussions did him in, because he was the leader the Flyers needed. In fact, it's safe to say the team hasn't been able to sufficiently fill that leadership void since he retired, though hopefully the addition of Chris Pronger will change that.
Oh yeah, and Primeau also scored the game-winning goal in the most intense, thrilling and longest playoff hockey game I've ever watched in my entire life.
I miss that guy.
3. Claude Giroux
It may seem completely absurd to include a guy who hasn't even played a full season in the NHL as my third favorite Flyer ever, but that's how much I love Claude Giroux. Seriously, he has the potential to move all the way to the top spot, that's how much I love the guy, as if you didn't already know that.
For some reason or another, Giroux didn't make the Flyers out of training camp, but once he got the call up, he showed the makings of future superstar. Down the stretch, when most of the other Flyers were sputtering and looking gassed, Giroux was flourishing, proving he could play in the NHL.
The kid's skills are scary good. His ice vision in remarkable, his passing pin-point accurate and he handles the puck as if it's on a string attached to his stick. He routinely made defenders look silly, threaded passes even some of the most experienced NHLers wouldn't even dream of attempting and improved each and every game.
But that's not all. Giroux showed he was more than just a finesse player, throwing his weight around with hits, working his tail off to become a mainstay on the penalty kill and displaying the skill that will surely benefit the power play, even though for some insane reason (because he's a bad coach?) John Stevens did everything in his power to keep the kid off the ice with the man advantage. Something tells me that will change in 2009-10.
Giroux is simply an amazing talent who really came into his own this season. He was arguably the best player on the Flyers in the final two months of the regular season, and he was unquestionably the best forward in the first-round playoff loss to the Penguins for Philadelphia, in which he logged one of the greatest shifts these eyes have ever seen.
It may be too early to anoint Giroux as the next big thing, but man, he has to get you excited. I love this guy, even without a full season under his belt, and I can't wait to see what he has in store next season.
4. Eric Lindros
Last week, I broached the subject of Eric Lindros and the Hall of Fame. In my mind, he deserves his enshrinement, and if it was not for his tumultuous exit from Philadelphia, rest assured, this guy would be tops on my list. It's funny how a little (big?) squabble with management and seeing him in a New York Rangers uniform can make him drop to the 4th spot.
But as I said last week, Lindros, during his prime, is far and away the greatest Philadelphia Flyer I ever saw. He single-handedly made the Flyers relevant again, taking them all the way to the precipice, leading the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals, a place they haven't been since. He won the Hart Trophy here. Dominated the sport. Became the face of hockey as the careers of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux wound down.
He carried that mantle well before concussions derailed his superstar career. Even so, Lindros scored 865 points in just 760 games, good for 1.38 points per game, sitting among the all-time best. He was a beast on the ice, able to be his own enforcer with his fists, his hits and his skills. He had perhaps the hardest wrist shot in the game, was big, fast, physical and intimidating. Frankly, if you could genetically engineer the perfect hockey player in a lab, it would look an awful lot like Eric Lindros in his prime … except for the mush head.
Lindros did things on the ice that no one else could duplicate. He was a runaway freight train with the puck, a scary combination of size and speed. He could bury the puck, but he was equally as dangerous setting up teammates. In fact, Eric Lindros was part of perhaps the greatest play I've ever seen in hockey. I can't remember exactly when it was or who it was against, but in the game, Lindros, back in his own defensive zone, saw his teammate Kevin Haller sneak behind the defense. So Lindros popped the puck up in the air down the ice, hitting Haller in stride right at the opposition's blue line, where Haller caught it perfectly without letting up, stayed onside and promptly scored a goal. It was incredible.
Much like the career of Eric Lindros as a Flyer. In the 1996-97 playoffs, Lindros was on a mission, dominating everyone in the East. In 19 games that postseason, he scored 12 goals and added 14 assists, good for 26 points against the best of the best … and this was in the era of the left-wing lock, trapping system defenses.
Lindros was a marvel, and to this day, he was the most dominating, most exciting Flyer I've ever seen lace up the skates.
Perhaps the thing I admired most about Lindros was his work in the face-off circle, as odd as that may sound. Not only was he tremendous at winning face-offs, but he also perfected the shot off the face-off in the offensive zone. I have watched a lot of hockey in my 25 years, and I can honestly say there hasn't been another center I've seen shoot the puck right at the face-off as often as Lindros did. He often caught the goalkeeper napping, either scoring off the shot or opening up a huge rebound for a teammate to bang home. It's amazing the things this guy could do, even if skating with his head up all the time wasn't one of them.
5. Kim Johnsson
Despite his girlish name, Kim Johnsson is my favorite defenseman the Flyers have had since I've been following the team. Johnsson came over to Philadelphia as part of the package that was shipped from the Rangers in exchange for Lindros, and little did we know the Flyers were getting one of the most steady defensemen in all of hockey.
In his three-plus seasons as a Flyer, Johnsson flew under the radar by NHL brass, never making the all-star game despite being the best defenseman on one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Johnsson wasn't the biggest guy or the scariest guy on the blue line, but he may very well have been the smartest d-man the Flyers have had in a long, long time.
Johnsson was a fleet-footed skater who never seemed to make a mistake. Where the wildly overrated Eric Desjardins went through infuriating bouts of coughing up the puck in his own zone, Johnsson never seemed to panic and always seemed to make the right play. He was heady, skilled and made the position look easy, which we all know it's not.
His injury in 2006 is a big reason the Flyers struggled so much in the playoffs. They were missing their top defenseman, a guy who could move the puck, run the power play and do it on both ends of the ice. In his first three seasons in Philadelphia, he played in 82, 82 and 80 games, scoring 41, 39 and 42 points respectively, and the guy never had a minus-season in the Orange and Black despite logging huge minutes against the opposition's first or second lines. He was an underappreciated, underrated player during his days here, but he was always my favorite Flyers defenseman.
As I said, this list was a difficult one to make. Leaving guys like Rod Brind'Amour, John LeClair, Rick Tocchet, Mark Recchi, Dan McGillis (I loved how much that guy hit, even if he only had one or two good seasons), Danny Markov, Jeremy Roenick, Sami Kapanen, Jody Hull, Trent Klatt, Michal Handzus, Mike Richards and the list goes on and on was difficult, because like I said, I've really, really liked the majority of Flyers that have put on the uniform in my lifetime. That's a good thing. Now if only they could win a Cup one of these days …