As we all pay well deserved tribute to Mark Howe this week as his No. 2 heads to the rafters of the Wells Fargo Center, it got me thinking about the best Flyers defensemen of all-time.
There is little doubt that Howe is at the top of the list, but piecing together the top five is a lot less clear-cut. There are many players who patrolled the blue line that deserve praise, and cutting the group down to just five is extremely difficult. For instance, Chris Pronger and Paul Coffey have had Hall of Fame careers, but sadly have not plied their wares for long enough in Philadelphia to be in the top five, in my opinion.
But I gave it my best shot. Heres my list of the top five defensemen in Flyers history, ranked from fifth to first.
4-5. The Watson brothers
All right Im cheating a little here. But if Joe and Jimmy can be the only players announced together at the Winter Classic Alumni Game, then I can take license and include them as a duo on this list, too.
Joe Watson was an original Flyer. In his decade in Philadelphia, he witnessed the transformation of the Flyers from expansion team to Stanley Cup Champions. He was a solid member of the blue-line corps who suited up 746 times in the orange and black, second most all-time for a defenseman. His energy level is still legendary, and hes continued to be a part of the organization to this day. For someone so intricately tied to the Flyers club, hes got to be on this list.
His brother Jim came along in the mid 70s and also partook in the two Stanley Cups. He had more offensive upside than his stay-at-home older brother and went on to play in four All-Star games. If it werent for some serious back problems, his career would have extended past the early 80s and he would be even higher on this list. As it is, he had a tremendous career with the Flyers and is for some reason, is still largely under the radar.
3. Kimmo Timonen
I like to call him the little warrior. Not because he is a physical player, but because he has played through a variety of injuries in his time in Philly. Unfortunately, his streak of 248 consecutive games played just ended Sunday when he finally had to surrender to a myriad of bumps and bruises.
Through it all, since arriving here from Nashville in 2007, Timonen has been a model two-way defenseman. Whether the Flyers are protecting a one-goal lead late in a game or trying to tie it with a goal, Timonen will be on the ice. Hes on the verge of 200 points as a Flyer, and he will become only the fifth to reach that mark. Considering he also finds himself out against the opposing teams best forwards because of his defensive abilities, it's quite an accomplishment.
Twice an All-Star as a Flyer and twice a Barry Ashbee Award winner, Timonen has needed only five seasons to climb the ladder of Philadelphias all-time best D-men.
2. Eric Desjardins
Eric Desjardins had six different head coaches during his 11 seasons in Philadelphia. I think at one point or another, I heard every single one of them mention that they didnt realize how good Desjardins was until they got to see him night in and night out. Many of the attributes he brought to the table were subtle, but so important.
As is the case with Timonen, Desjardins was a force at both ends of the ice, with perhaps a touch more explosiveness offensively. He is second all-time in goals and points by a Flyers rearguard. He captured a team-record seven Ashbee trophies. He carried himself with grace and dignity both on and off the ice. Despite all of these accolades, I think he was underappreciated by many who followed the team during his time here.
Judging by the huge ovation he got at the Winter Classic Alumni Game, though, in retrospect, it appears people understand just how good he was during his decade plus of service to the Flyers.
1. Mark Howe
And then there is the man of the hour. To just examine the numbers would be more than enough to anoint Howe Numero Uno among Philadelphia defensemen. He has 84 more points than any other Flyers blue liner despite ranking only sixth in games played. He was an amazing plus-349 in the orange and black, including a mind boggling plus-85 in 1985-86. He was a three-time postseason NHL All-Star and four time Ashbee Award winner. His resume is impeccable.
However, to talk with those who performed with him and those who witnessed his 10 years here, the numbers dont even do justice to the impact he had on those exciting Flyers teams of the 1980s. His puck-moving abilities spearheaded the attack mentality of those Mike Keenan directed clubs. He was truly the straw that stirred that drink.
Furthermore, Howe was a class act on and off the ice. He treated the game, and the people around it, with respect. He carried on the legendary Howe name with dignity. To be as dominant a player as he was and still remain humble is unusual in the ego driven sports world. Mark Howe pulled it off. No. 2 in orange and black is thus now his and his alone, as it should be.