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Desjardins inducted into Flyers Hall of Fame

by Adam Kimelman / NHL.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Eric Desjardins won the Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens, but he'll always consider himself a part of the Philadelphia Flyers family.

And the Flyers will always remember Desjardins' contributions during his 11 seasons in Philadelphia. On Thursday, he was inducted into the Flyers Hall of Fame.

Desjardins played 738 games with Philadelphia, eighth overall and third among defensemen in Flyers history. His 93 goals, 303 assists and 396 points are second among Flyers defensemen to Hockey Hall of Fame member Mark Howe.

More than the numbers, his arrival in Philadelphia in a trade with the Canadiens on Feb. 9, 1995, along with forward John LeClair, remade the Flyers. LeClair was the power forward who could play with star center Eric Lindros, and Desjardins was a No. 1 defenseman who could play in all situations.

"When that trade was made, it was just a great fit for what they were trying to do in Philadelphia at the time," said Shjon Podein, who was Desjardins' teammate with the Flyers. "It just catapulted this organization to that next level."

Desjardins already was a solid defenseman during parts of seven seasons with the Canadiens. He had a hat trick in Game 2 of the 1993 Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings to help the Canadiens win the Cup. But he took his play to another level when he got to Philadelphia.

"At the age I got here, my game could only get better as a defenseman," Desjardins said. "I was 25 when I got [to Philadelphia]. And you get experience, you start to get confidence too. You get stronger as an athlete, physically. ... When I got here I got all the chance I could hope for with the coaches I got, the management. They gave me every chance to succeed."

The season Desjardins arrived, the Flyers went to the Eastern Conference Final after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs the previous five seasons. Two seasons later, they advanced to the Stanley Cup Final but were swept by the Detroit Red Wings.

Philadelphia made the playoffs all 11 seasons Desjardins was on its roster. Individually, he won the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the Flyers' best defenseman seven times, more than any other player.

"To me, the backbone of the success we had when I was here, Eric was the reason why," LeClair said. "Without him back there, the way he controlled the game back there, the things he did, that honestly helped us so much as forwards, it was amazing. ... I don't think other people realize how much of an asset he is with what he does for everybody on the ice."

Desjardins spent most of his time with the Flyers paired with Chris Therien, but everyone who played with Desjardins did more by having him as a teammate.

"It was his quiet leadership and the way he approached his job," Keith Primeau said. "He was the ultimate professional in how he carried himself. Did it with humility and dignity, and that's what garnered him the respect not only in our locker room but around the League."

Desjardins also was a steadying influence during some of the tumult that surrounded the Flyers during Lindros' final seasons in Philadelphia. When Lindros was stripped of the captaincy during the 1999-2000 season, the role went to Desjardins. He was captain until relinquishing the "C" early in the 2001-02 season because he felt it was affecting his play.

"The way I ended up being captain was a weird situation," Desjardins said. "There's no doubt about it. It maybe wasn't the best thing for me to end up with the captaincy that way, but it happened. I'm happy I was the captain at one point, and I enjoyed being the captain."

Injuries plagued Desjardins late in his career. A broken foot knocked him out the 2003 playoffs. He missed nearly three months with a broken forearm during the 2003-04 season, and on the eve of the 2004 playoffs, the plate that had been surgically implanted in the arm broke, causing him to miss the postseason. The Flyers advanced to the Eastern Conference Final but lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games. Decimated by injuries, the Flyers resorted to playing rookie Joni Pitkanen and forward Sami Kapanen for long stretches on defense.

"We were down to just bodies," said Primeau, who succeeded Desjardins as captain. "You're taking Sami Kapanen, putting him back up front and putting Eric Desjardins on the back end for 30 minutes -- yeah, might be a different outcome."

In 2005-06, Desjardins missed two months with a shoulder injury, and at age 37 when the season ended, he opted to retire with the Flyers despite having a contract offer to return to the Canadiens.

"I played for the Flyers for 11 years and I experienced so many great things here," Desjardins said. "Had so many good years. We had great teams, we had the chance to go in the playoffs every year. Had my kids here. For me, I wanted to keep playing but in the end, with the Flyers, I didn't want to go anywhere else."

At a press conference announcing his retirement, Bob Clarke, then Flyers general manager, said Desjardins was more than just a very good player.

"Desjardins was what everyone believes an athlete should be," Clarke said. "His conduct off the ice was always classy; his dress, his demeanor, his relationship with the fans, the press, with everybody. His play on the ice was at an exceptionally high level every game. You don't find people, or athletes, like that very often. All our younger players, they were all told, conduct yourself like Desjardins conducts himself."

After spending one season as a development coach for the Flyers, Desjardins now lives in Montreal and works in real estate. Coaching could be in his future when his children get older, but for now he's happy outside hockey. For one night though, he was more than willing to relive the good old days.

"It's a great honor, there's no doubt about it," Desjardins said. "For me, it's a nice closure of my career. It means that I did pretty good for the time I was in Philly. It's going to be a great night, an emotional night I'm sure. But it should be fun."

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