The Philadelphia Flyers achieved a successful season in 2019-20, and one contributing factor was finally departing from their “Broad Street Bullies” mentality.
To their credit, the Philadelphia Flyers managed to build an entire culture and a fan base around the aura of their “Broad Street Bullies” personality from the 1970’s. Unfortunately, it’s been something that they’ve long been reluctant to shed, even as the game of hockey has increasingly left that mentality in the dust.
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Because of this, many saw the Flyers’ organization as a dinosaur, one trying to do business the way that it was decades ago, largely in the form of icing a product that was gritty but frequently came up short in actual talent.
With the 2019-20 season, however, it looks like we’re finally past that.
It’s been a long time coming, of course, but you could still see vestiges of Bully culture in recent years even as rock ’em, sock ’em hockey fell out of favor for a number of reasons, most notably our newfound awareness of the seriousness of concussions, CTE, and the like.
In the past decade, the Flyers still employed the likes of straight-up goons such as Jody Shelley and Jay Rosehill, along with more “pest”-type players in Daniel Carcillo and Zac Rinaldo. These players seemed to exist solely for the potential to give the team a spark rather than for any actual skill they possessed, as they received limited ice time for a reason and were almost complete liabilities on the ice. On top of this, even skilled but physical players like Wayne Simmonds, God bless him, saw their effectiveness fall off a cliff because the game of hockey seemingly left them in the dust overnight.
I do realize that the Flyers weren’t the only team doing this in recent years, still trying to brandish brute force as a necessary component to winning hockey. And maybe it still can be helpful in small doses in today’s NHL if your team possesses enough skill and skating ability otherwise. The Flyers, unfortunately, didn’t have those things for quite a while, making the “bully” aspect of their club seem like mere window dressing, a way to get the fans supposedly excited without actually contributing to the team being any good.
Slowly but surely, the Flyers moved off this mode of thinking. When your Cup drought gets long enough, and you can’t even make the playoffs with regularity, I suppose something has to give. And last year, it seems like we finally arrived at the tipping point, the proverbial demise of the Broad Street Bullies.
This was accomplished in two moves. First, the Flyers decided not to negotiate a new contract with the clearly over-the-hill Simmonds, trading him late last season. It was difficult to part with such a popular player, and the Flyers of old surely wouldn’t have. They’d have given Simmonds a new multi-year deal, playing off his sharp dip in scoring and pointing to how much he still offered “in the locker room” or wherever else. But by trading him away, it looked like the Flyers finally understood what’s needed in today’s NHL.
The other move of consequence that the Flyers made was to trade Radko Gudas, who had been the team’s most physical overall player for several seasons. Coupled with losing Simmonds, many thought that the Flyers no longer possessed enough toughness and that teams might be able to walk (or skate) all over them because of this.
But you know what? It didn’t happen.
This Flyers team held its own, and they didn’t have to resort to nightly brawling to do it. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy the occasional dust-up as much as the next fan, but they’re simply not necessary when you’re beating teams on the scoreboard like the Flyers made a habit of this season for once.
They actually had more fighting majors in this shortened 69-game season (11) than they did in 2018-19 (10), but it didn’t seem like it because the overall product was so much better and actually held your attention on its own. At any rate, the number was a far cry from what they used to put up. And I mean in the last half dozen years, not back in the mid-70’s. This season, the Flyers managed to scrap only when they needed to, while almost completely avoiding the usual shenanigans that have caused issues like suspensions in the past. And I’ll bet you can’t even name the Flyers’ penalty minute leader from this past season.
Think for a second.
Did you guess rookie Joel Farabee? Because he paced the team, with just 39 PIM. And he earned a good chunk of those because of one dumb play. The 39 PIM were easily the lowest total to lead the Flyers in a season in their history. And yes, the season got cut short, but it was still going to establish the new low even if we went the full 82 games. The previous low was held by no-talent Shawn Antoski, who had 61 PIM (and zero points) in just 25 games during the lockout-shortened 1995 season.
After what I saw this year, I can only conclude that the Broad Street Bullies are gone for good and that the Flyers organization finally gets it and has seen the light of what it takes to win games. They’re not getting pushed around by any means, either. They’re just playing the kind of smart, fast hockey that leads to W’s and doesn’t create much need for hooliganism. It’s the opposite of what Bully culture stood for, and some will probably lament that, but it’s what’s necessary today.