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Top 10 Defensemen to Wear the Orange and Black


As of Monday’s press conference, Chris Pronger officially became one of the finest defensemen in the long and rich history of the Philadelphia Flyers. I will now offer some perspective on the magnitude of this special moment by presenting the top ten defensemen ever to wear the orange and black.

Note: This list encompasses the entire careers of the players, not their play during their tenure in Philadelphia.


1. Paul Coffey

Coffey arrived in Philadelphia in late 1996 past his prime and far less effective than a decade before when he was a key skill player on dominant teams. But that doesn’t change his complete body of work.

Here are some facts: He was a 14 time all-star, a 3 time Norris Trophy winner for league’s best defenseman, a 4 time Stanley Cup winner (also lost in finals 3 times, the last one in 1997 with the Flyers), 12th all-time in career points (2nd amongst defensemen) with an astounding 1531 points, and was introduced into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004.

Need I say more?


2. Chris Pronger

Before Pronger slips on his Flyers sweater for game action, he carries to town an impressive list of credentials that make him the second best D-man in franchise history. At 6’ 6’’ and 220 pounds, he is a big, rugged leader and punishing defender who possesses similarly impressive offensive talents. He will be a treat for Flyers fans to watch. Hopefully for years to come.

Facts: He is a 5 time all-star, won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2006-2007 (lost in 2005-2006 finals), and won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP in 1999-2000, becoming the first and only defenseman since Bobby Orr to do so. Chris has 606 points in 1,022 NHL games thus far.

Pronger is currently 34 and will only add to his career points total of 606. Here’s to hoping he adds many to that total during his tenure here in Philadelphia.


3. Mark Howe

He was blessed with the genes. He was the son of the man they called “Mr. Hockey”, Gordie Howe. In Philadelphia in the mid 1980’s, it was Mark, not Gordie that fans labeled “Mr. Hockey”. Mark was a tremendously skilled player and was a great leader as well, helping the Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals twice during his tenure here.

Facts: Howe was a 4 time all-star, a 3 time finalist for the Norris Trophy, and he compiled 742 points in 929 NHL games.

Howe was considered by many as the best defenseman in history to have not won a Norris Trophy as league’s best defenseman. He certainly had our vote here in Philly.


4. Eric Desjardins

Often overshadowed and underappreciated, the man they call “Rico” never quite got the universal admiration he deserved. But Flyers fans know just how great Desjardins was. His steady play and low, hard, heavy shot helped anchor the power play for over a decade.

Facts: Eric was a 3 time all-star and an incredible 7 time Barry Ashbee Trophy winner as best Flyers defenseman. He complied 575 points in 1143 NHL games. He was a key contributor to the Montreal Canadiens 1993 Stanley Cup victory. His game 2 hat trick (including overtime winner) shifted the entire momentum of the series and allowed Montreal to escape victorious.

Having watched him play from 1995 to 2006, I honestly cannot imagine how Desjardins was only a 3 time all-star and never finished higher than 4th in the Norris trophy voting. Eric, unfortunately you are 4th on this list as well but you deserve much more praise than you’ve gotten over the years.


5. Kimmo Timonen

Upon arrival in June 2007, Kimmo Timonen filled a huge void left when Eric Desjardins retired. He immediately stepped into the role as the team’s steadiest and most reliable defenseman. He is tough, smooth, and offensively gifted. He is strong and more than capable defensively in his own zone. He is not an elite superstar like Pronger, but is admired and respected as a far above average D-man across the NHL.

Facts: Timonen is a 4 time all-star and has compiled 388 points in 703 NHL games. He holds the Nashville Predators record for career assists. He is a 2 time winner of the Barry Ashbee trophy as well.

Kimmo Timonen is a class act and silent warrior. His teaming up with Chris Pronger this season gives Flyers have a legitimate shot at their long awaited third Stanley Cup. Enough said.


6. Brad McCrimmon

Drafted 15th overall in 1979 in what is considered to be one of the greatest NHL drafts of all time, Brad McCrimmon came to the Flyers in a 1982 trade that sent standout goalie Pete Peeters to the Boston Bruins. Brad became a mainstay on the Flyers blue line for much of the 1980’s, teaming with Mark Howe to form perhaps the best defensive pairing in franchise history.

Facts: McCrimmon led the entire NHL in plus/minus in the 1987-1988 season with a +48. Just two seasons prior, he was an astounding +83. He amassed 403 points in 1222 NHL games. In 1989, he was a key member of the Calgary Flames team that won the Stanley Cup.

The thoughts of Howe and McCrimmon manning the blueline are spectacular and memorable in the minds of Flyers fans. If only he had been able to win his Cup here in Philadelphia. If only…


7. Steve Duchesne

When thinking of the all-time Flyers defensemen, the name of Steve Duchesne does not jump to the forefront of most minds. Steve enjoyed two stints as a Flyer, both unfortunately brief for a player of his caliber. In the summer of 1992, Duchesne was packaged as a part of the trade that brought Eric Lindros to Philadelphia. In my mind, Duchesne is the “forgotten expenditure” of the Lindros deal. People always discuss giving up Forsberg, Hextall, and Ricci, but not often Duchesne, who was a well above average defenseman with tremendous offensive gifts.

Facts: Duchesne was a 3 time all-star who won the Barry Ashbee trophy as top Flyers defenseman in 1992. In the 1988-1989 season, he led all NHL defenseman in shorthanded goals. In his career, Steve had 752 points in 1113 NHL games. He also added an impressive 77 points in 121 playoff games.

Not the first name that comes to mind? Think again.


8. Derian Hatcher

When signed in July of 2005 as a free agent, Derian Hatcher came into town as a big, bruising defenseman clearly on the downside of his career, but still an impact player. Derian’s toughness and leadership were unquestioned; he had captained the 1998-1999 Dallas Stars to a Stanley Cup. While his knees gave him constant trouble and eventually gave out, Hatcher would serve out his player career with the determination, toughness, and pride that made him regarded as one of the finest defensemen of the 1990’s.

Facts: Hatcher was a 1 time all-star who became the first American born captain to win the Stanley Cup (with Dallas in 1999). He compiled 331 points in his 1,045 game NHL career.

The memories of his brave 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs run are enough to make you wish his knees still had life and ligament.


9. Jimmy Watson

In Philadelphia Flyers history, the Watson brothers- Jim and Joe- are clearly amongst the finest defensemen ever to wear the orange and black. There is little or no doubt that each qualifies as excellent players and key members the Flyers teams that won the Stanley Cup. Over time, it is older brother Joe that seems to be given credit as the better player. However, the facts tell a slightly different story. And so, younger brother Jim gets the nod as the 9th best defenseman in Flyers history.

Facts: Jimmy was a 5 time all-star who twice won the Barry Ashbee trophy. He had 186 points in 613 NHL games, all for the Flyers.

Jimmy steps out of the shadow of his older brother Joe, who was not much further down this list.


10. Barry Ashbee

The name Barry Ashbee and Flyers defenseman are synonymous. In fact, it is Ashbee’s name that graces the trophy presented each year to the team’s top defenseman. Despite his short-lived career and tragic death, Barry Ashbee was a talented defender and leader. This list simply is not complete without him.

Facts: Ashbee was named as a second team all-star in 1973-74, helping lead the Flyers to their first Stanley Cup. That season he had an impressive plus/minus rating of +52 and finished 4th in the voting for the Norris trophy as the league’s top defenseman. Barry had 85 points during his brief 284 game career in the NHL.

Rest in peace, Barry. You are remembered as the ultimate symbol of greatness on the Philadelphia blue line.


Honorable Mention: Tom Bladon, Joe Watson, Ulf Samuelsson, Petr Svoboda, Chris Therien, Bob Dailey, Doug Crossman, Kjell Samuellson.

Photo: www.usatoday.com