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A decade of greatness

by Bill Meltzer / Philadelphia Flyers
Mark Howe spent 10 years as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers en route to his respective inductions in the Hockey Hall Fame, U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Flyers Hall of Fame and the retirement of his #2 jersey. In honor of his decade in Philadelphia, here’s a year-by-year look at how much Howe’s presence meant to the Philadelphia lineup:

Instant impact (1982-83)
Acquired on Aug. 20, 1982 in a blockbuster trade with the Hartford Whalers, Howe immediately became the Flyers’ best defenseman. Paired with tough guy Glen Cochrane, Howe posted 20 goals, 67 points and a +47 rating in 76 games. He was the first runner-up for the Norris Trophy, took NHL First-Team All-Star honors, played in the NHL All Star Game and won his first Barry Ashbee Trophy.

Blueline leader (1983-84)
Although Czech veteran Miroslav Dvorak beat out Howe for the Barry Ashbee Trophy largely due to the fact that Howe missed nine games due to injury, the 28-year-old Howe still led the team’s defensemen in scoring (19 goals, 53 points) and plus-minus rating (+30) while playing an average of over 30 minutes per game. He finished 10th in the Norris Trophy balloting that season.

Skyrocketing fortunes (1984-85)
The play of Vezina Trophy winning goaltender Pelle Lindbergh and the newly formed defense pairing of Howe and Brad McCrimmon were critical to the youngest team in the NHL achieving a stellar regular season and run to the Stanley Cup Final. Howe’s defense partner, McCrimmon earned Barry Ashbee Trophy honors (8 goals, 53 points, 81 penalty minutes, +52) but it was Howe who finished sixth in the Norris Trophy balloting and led the Philadelphia blueline with 18 goals, 57 points and a plus-51 rating before posting 3 goals and 11 points in 19 playoff games.

Career year (1985-86)
In an emotionally wrenching season ruined by Lindbergh’s death in November, Howe and partner McCrimmon were on-ice beacons in a time of darkness. Howe had the best season of his NHL career, setting career highs for goals (24), assists (58), points (82 in 77 games), shorthanded goals (7) and plus-minus rating (+85). He won his second Barry Ashbee Trophy, was first runner-up for the Norris Trophy, second runner-up for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP, won the Bobby Clarke Trophy as Flyers’ MVP, earned First-Team NHL All-Star honors and played in the NHL All-Star Game.  Incredibly, Howe and McCrimmon (+83) were the only plus-rated Flyers defensemen that season, but it scarcely mattered because the duo often played nearly 40 minutes per game for Mike Keenan.

Third-time Norris Finalist (1986-87)
In a year that saw rookie goalie Ron Hextall backstop the team to a Vezina Trophy and within a single win of the Stanley Cup, Howe came close to duplicating his extraordinary play of the previous season. Limited by injuries to 69 games, Howe still managed to post 15 goals, 58 points and a +57 defensive rating in the regular season, followed by 12 points and a +14 in 26 playoff games. Howe once again placed second in the Norris Trophy balloting but claimed his third Barry Ashbee Trophy and repeated his First-Team NHL All-Star and All-Star Game selection honors

Holding the fort (1987-88)
McCrimmon was traded to Calgary after a contract dispute, and the Flyers struggled for consistency in Mike Keenan’s fourth and final season behind the Philadelphia bench. Now paired Kjell Samuelsson, Howe’s excellence remained a constant in a time of upheaval. He won his fourth and final Barry Ashbee Trophy, played in the NHL All-Star Game and placed ninth in the Norris Trophy balloting on the strength of a campaign that saw Howe post 19 goals and 62 points in 75 games, while posting a +23 defensive rating.

Redeeming a frustrating season (1988-89)
By this point in his career, chronic back problems forced Howe to miss considerable time during the season (an issue that plagued him for the remainder of his NHL career), and he also dealt with knee problems. Howe was limited to just 52 games, posting 9 goals and 38 points to go along with a +7 rating (lowest in his Flyers career).  With Howe and other key players out of the lineup so often, the club fell to a .500 record (36-36-8) during the regular season. But he played his best hockey of the year in the spring, compiling 15 points and a +14 rating in 19 playoff games as the Flyers made a surprise run to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals.

Half-time star (1989-90)
Howe’s health issues limited him to 40 games and he was lost for the rest of the season after Jan. 27. But when the team had its best defenseman in the lineup, it suddenly transformed into a more competitive squad. In Howe’s 40 games, he still managed to lead the team by far with a +22 defense rating. With Howe playing, the team posted a 17-20-3 record, compared to its 13-19-8 without him. The Flyers began a five-year stretch of missing the playoffs.

Fighting through the pain (1990-91)
Recurring back problems and a broken thumb kept Howe out of all but 19 games, and he was lost for the season in late November. Nevertheless, his crucial value to the team shone through. Apart from the 10 points and +9 rating Howe posted in those 19 games, the club sported an 11-7-1 record. Without him, the club was 22-30-9.

Reunited with the Silver Fox (1991-92)
Despite constant problems with his back, Howe gritted his way through 42 games in what proved to be his final season as a Flyer before signing as a free agent with the Red Wings. Although it was another frustrating season that saw the club miss the playoffs for the third straight year, Howe enjoyed being reunited with new head coach Bill Dineen; a long-time family friend who was Howe’s coach with Houston the WHA. On the ice, it was a similar story to his recent seasons. When Howe played, the team was respectable (21-18-3). When he couldn’t, it struggled (11-19-8). Howe’s +18 defense rating again led the team, and he managed 7 goals and 25 points despite his injury woes.
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