One of the most important trades made in Philadelphia Flyers franchise history took place on February 9, 1995. The Flyers parted with star forward Mark Recchi in order to acquire defenseman Eric Desjardins, John LeClair (then a third-line center in Montreal) and winger Gilbert Dionne from the Montreal Canadiens. The Flyers also sent a 1995 third-round pick (Martin Hohenberger) to the Habs in the deal.
The moves were the capstone of a quick and dramatic turnaround marked by reshaping of the entire Flyers' blueline and the surprise emergence of LeClair as an NHL superstar after being a role player in Montreal.
On the whole, the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season ended up being a major positive shift in the Flyers' on-ice fortunes. That was the year where Philly, after five years of missing the playoffs, re-emerged as a Stanley Cup contender.
Training camp started as scheduled that year prior to the lockout. It is easy nowadays to forget that the team in Sept. 1994 was still considered too suspect on defense and in goal to be a playoff caliber club. New coach Terry Murray and newly rehired GM Bob Clarke had their work cut out for them.
The previous season, the starting defense primarily consisted of Garry Galley, Dmitri Yushkevich, Jeff Finley, rookies Jason Bowen and Stewart Malgunas, tough guy Ryan McGill and various in-season acquisitions such as Rob Zettler and Rob Ramage (a former four-time NHL All-Star and two-time Cup winner who, at age 35 was at the end of the line in his NHL career).
In goal, the Flyers had the duo of Tommy Söderström and Dominic Roussel. Both had been touted for a time as the potential long-term "goalie of the future" -- Söderström had particularly impressed as a rookie in 1992-93 with 5 shutouts in 44 games -- but their ongoing inconsistency was a major concern.
Against that backdrop, Clarke set out to remake the team defensively, while the defensive-minded Murray preached discipline and defensive responsibility:
- On June 29, 1994 Clarke traded the offensively talented (9 goals, 52 points in just 67 games in 1993-94) but defensively questionable Racine to Montreal for Kevin Haller; a chippy, defensively reliable puck-mover with good mobility.
- On July 6, Clarke signed veteran checking center Craig MacTavish to a two-year, $1.6 million contract. MacTavish, who had been a key faceoff presence and penalty killer for the Stanely Cup winning Rangers, also owned three Cup rings from his days as a checking forward on the Edmonton Oilers.
- On July 27, Clarke signed free agent left winger Shjon Podein. An offensive star at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and a 30-goal scorer at the AHL level, the Flyers pegged the now-former Edmonton Oilers forward as a role-playing, two-way winger at the NHL level. He quickly blossomed into one of the NHL's best defensive wingers.
- On Aug. 16, the Flyers signed Shawn Anderson as a free agent. A faded former high-end draft pick (selected fifth overall by Buffalo in the 1986 Draft), Anderson had played under Murray in Washington, and the hope was that he could compete for a third-pairing job with the Flyers. That particular move didn't work out very well. He ended up getting sent to the AHL and eventually released.
- After three years of collegiate hockey at Providence and a year mostly spent with the Canadian national team, the club hoped that rookie defenseman Chris Therien could immediately compete for a spot with the big club. He played impressively at camp, but when the lockout was about to hit, got sent down to Hershey. "Bundy" returned to the big club after the lockout ended and went on to earn NHL All-Rookie team honors.
- On Sept. 22, Clarke traded Söderström to the Islanders and re-acquired Ron Hextall. Hexy was immediately installed as the starting goalie, ahead of Roussel. The Flyers also received a 1995 6th-round draft pick in the trade, using it the next summer to select Russian defenseman Dmitri Tertyshny.
When the season finally got started, the Flyers dropped five of their first eight games, with one tie. It was clear that more changes were necessary. That was when the blockbuster deal with Montreal happened.
As it soon turned out, of course, Murray's decision to make LeClair a full-time winger and play him with Eric Lindros and Mikael Renberg ended up working out better than anyone could have imagined. With the birth of the Legion of Doom line, the Flyers never missed Recchi's production even despite his back-to-back 100-plus point seasons prior to the trade.
Just as important, the acquisition of Desjardins helped stabilize the blueline. He would immediately become the Flyers' best defenseman for most of the next decade; a seven-time winner of the Barry Ashbee Trophy (including in 1994-95). Hs pairing with Haller was highly effective in both 1995 and the 1995-96 campaign because they were two of the most mobile defensemen in the NHL.
Clarke still wasn't done remaking the blueline.
On Feb. 16, 1995 the Flyers and Blackhawks swapped struggling young defensemen, with Karl Dykhuis (a 1990 first-round pick who had been highly touted entering the pros) coming to Philadelphia and Bob Wilkie going to Chicago. Dykhuis immediately stepped into the NHL lineup.
Just before the trade deadline, Clarke sent Galley to Buffalo in exchange for the mobile and defensively steady (but injury prone) Petr Svoboda. Svoboda helped smooth some of young partner Dykhuis' rough edges.
Thus, by the start of the 1995 playoffs, the Flyers had changed over their starting goaltending and five of their six starting defense slots - Zettler remained on as the seventh defenseman - from the end of the previous season. But it wasn't just change for change's sake. Virtually every move ended up making the Flyers a better team.
Clarke's work from the summer of 1994 to the end of the 1995 season was one of the best years seen from an NHL general manager in the last quarter century. Legendary Flyers general manager Keith "the Thief" Allen couldn't have done it any better that year. Clarke also accomplished the turnaround without spending a significant amount of extra money on salaries that season.
Meanwhile, Murray made the Flyers much more accountable defensively as a team. Some of the forwards may not have always liked it, but they saw the results in the standings and with two trips to the Eastern Conference Final (one of which extended to the 1997 Stanley Cup Final) in the next three seasons.
February 9: Through the Years
- 1973: Back-to-back shorthanded goals by Bobby Clarke and Rick MacLeish early in the first period open the floodgates for a 10-5 Flyers road win over the Vancouver Canucks. Amid the offensive carnage and numerous fights, Clarke and MacLeish both go on have respective two-goal, three point games. Ross Lonsberry also scores twice. The game sees MacLeish hit the 30-goal milestone for the season, while rookie Bill Barber nets his 20th goal.
- 1980: Paul Holmgren's power play goal with 2:20 left in the third period proves to be the game-winner in a seesaw 6-5 road win over the Detroit Red Wings. Bill Barber scores his 28th and 29th goals of the season, while linemate Reggie Leach notches his 37th goal.
- 1985: It's the Tim Kerr Show in Washington, as the "Sultan of the Slot" racks up a natural hat trick and goes on to later score a fourth goal - his 40th, 41st, 42nd and 43rd of the season - in a 5-4 road win over the Capitals. Two of the goals are power play tallies, the other two come at even strength.
- 1988: The Flyers acquire Gordie Roberts from the Minnesota North Stars in exchange for a 1989 fourth-round pick (Jean-Francois Quintin).
- 1993: Kevin Dineen racks up a hat trick and rookie Eric Lindros scores twice in an 8-1 home romp over the lowly Ottawa Senators. Pelle Eklund collects three assists, while Mark Recchi compiles one goal and two helpers.
- 2004: The Flyers re-acquire goaltender Sean Burke from the Phoenix Coyotes, along with Branko Radivojevic and forward prospect Ben Eager in exchange for forward Mike Comrie. On the same day, the Flyers make a cost-saving move as they trade veteran defenseman Eric Weinrich to the St. Louis Blues for a 2004 fifth-round pick (Gino Pisellini).
February 9: Flyers Birthday
- Affable off the ice, fierce on the ice, defenseman Ed "Boxcar" Hospodar was born on February 9, 1959 in Bowling Green, Ohio.