Over the years, Flyers fans have had the joy of watching a number of very skilled defensemen. From the rock-solid play of Ed Van Impe during the Cup years to the brilliant but all-too-brief Flyers career of Chris Pronger, Philadelphia has had no shortage of talented blueliners. But of all those great players, who was the best defenseman to ever put on the Orange and Black? To determine that, I’ll compare two fan favorites, Eric Desjardins and Mark Howe to come up with what I believe to be the best Flyers’ defenseman of all time.
February 9, 1995 has gone down as a orange-letter day in Flyers history. On that day, in what proved to be one of the best trades ever made by any Philadelphia team, the Flyers acquired both Eric Desjardins and John LeClair from Montreal for Mark Recchi and a 3rd round draft pick. For the next 11 years, Eric Desjardins would be a mainstay on defense for the Flyers.
While technically not a member of the famous Legion of Doom, Desjardins played a major part in the tremendous success of that line. In a recent article by Tim Panaccio, John LeClair gives Desjardins much of the credit for their many accomplishments:
“To me, the backbone of the success we had … Eric [Desjardins] was the reason why. Without him back there, the way he controlled the game, the things he did, honestly helped us so much as forwards.”
Desjardins won the Barry Ashbee Trophy (awarded each year to the top Flyers defenseman) no less than seven times and was an NHL All-Star on four occasions. And his 396 points rank him second all time among Flyers defensemen. Even more impressive, his career plus/minus was plus 198.
In addition, Desjardins was an excellent leader. During the 2000-01 season he became the team captain after Eric Lindros was stripped of his “C” for his complaints about the Flyers’ medical staff.
Perhaps teammate Keith Primeau described Desjardin best when he said “He was a good player when you played against him, but you didn’t fully appreciate him until you played with him.”
You know you have a lot to live up to when your father has been ranked as the third greatest all-time player in NHL history. While Mark Howe could not quite live up to his legendary father, hockey icon Gordie Howe, he certainly had a stellar NHL career in his own right.
Some defensemen can score while others excel at covering their own end of the ice. However, Howe could do both of those things exceedingly well, and as a result, was the consummate two-way defenseman. On the one hand, he was an excellent scorer- In each of his first seven seasons as a Flyer he had at least 53 points and he still leads all Flyers defensemen in points with 480, head and shoulders above the rest. And on the other hand, he’s second all-time in Flyers history with a remarkable plus/minus of plus 349.
Howe played from 1982 through 1992 for the Flyers, although his career nearly came to a screeching halt several years earlier when he played for the Hartford Whalers. On December 27, 1980, Howe slid into the pointed metal center of the net and cut a five inch gash in his upper thigh. He was essentially impaled by the metal, and the injury prompted the NHL to change the design of its nets so that there would no longer be a center portion that jutted up toward the goal line. Believing that Howe was now damaged goods, Hartford traded him to Philadelphia, and as they say, “the rest was history”.
Mark joined his famous father as a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in November, 2011. He and Gordie Howe were only the second father-son combination in hockey history to be named to the Hall of Fame, behind Brett and Bobby Hull.
And the Winner Is….
While Eric Desjardins was a great Flyers defenseman, Five-time NHL All Star Howe leaves Desjardins in his slush. So the greatest Flyer defenseman of all time is Mark Howe.