How bad are the Broad Street Bullies?

If you believe that behavior is influenced by your environment, and specifically the opinions and attitudes that surround you, then the fact that the Philadelphia Flyers have consistently held the title as the dirtiest team in the league should come as no surprise.

After joining the NHL in the league’s first mass expansion back 1967, the Flyers and their equally inexperienced expansion-mates essentially served as the developmentally-challenged younger siblings of the NHL’s favored Original Six sons. A year later though, despite their early struggles and an overall losing record, the rag-tag group of hockey players from Philly made their first playoff appearance in franchise history. It was a proud moment for the club until they were summarily dismissed in a physically-lopsided four-game sweep at the hands of the St. Louis Blues – one of their 1967 counterparts.

Flyers owner Ed Snider, a man whose original passion was actually football, not hockey, made it known that he would never again allow his team to be so physically outmatched. Enter Bobby Clark and Dave Schultz . Five years later the mediocre franchise was, for the first time, referred to as the Broad Street Bullies in a 1973 edition of the Philadelphia Bulletin. The rough and tumble team had fought their way to two consecutive Stanley Cup championships and it would seem that the recipe for their success, right or wrong, was now etched in stone.

A lot has changed in the NHL over course of the four decades since, but one thing that has remained constant is the vow that Snider made back in 1968. You might wonder if an off-handed comment made by an owner 40-plus years ago could really shape the team that takes to the ice today, but the answer is obvious. Naturally his credo had and still has a tangible effect on the organization’s draft picks and player development programs.

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However, there’s the more subtle influence of how, since the now infamous coining of the “Broad Street Bullies” phrase way back in 1973, there has existed a widely-held belief amongst players, media and fans alike that the Flyers are and always will be a dirty hockey team. As it turns out, like any other stereotype in life, if its repeated enough, some are bound to live up to it.

Now in their 43rd year as a franchise, the Philadelphia Flyers have amassed a whopping 103 suspensions, which works out to an impressive 2.4 per year. In total, there have been just nine years in which the team has managed to avoid the long arm of the NHL’s disciplinary committee (team imposed suspensions notwithstanding). And not surprisingly, four of those years (’67, ’69, ’71 and ’72) came before the “Broad Street Bullies” label was ever even applied.

A Flyer also holds the record for most penalty minutes in one season, that being none other than the aforementioned Shultz, with 472 minutes in the 1974-75 season. Record for the most penalty minutes in a single game? You guessed it, the Flyers. Oddly enough against the Ottawa Senators in 2004 when an unfathomable 419 penalty minutes were doled out.

All of the evidence only reaffirms a conclusion that everybody already had anyway, that the Flyers are a bunch of bullies. But are they really?

Only two Flyers appear on the Top 50 single season penalty leader list. And of their 103 all-time suspensions, only four were amongst the 30 longest in league history. So, are there other teams just as nasty, if not nastier than the Flyers? Are there players who would put even the roughest Flyers to shame? It seems quite likely. Chris Simon and/or Marty McSorley anyone?

All told, the long line of facts and statistics combine to beg the question of why, then, is Philadelphia the one team, year after year, referred to as notoriously dirty? The answer’s not as hard to pinpoint as it might first seem. Like the kid known as the class clown or the dog bred to fight, the Flyers have continued to live up to the stereotype expected of them for so long. They may not be the most penalized, or even garner the most severe suspensions, but then again, nobody said the class clown was necessarily the funniest kid in school or that the fighting dog doesn’t like to have his belly rubbed sometimes.

So the next time you find yourself feeding the notion that the Philadelphia Flyers are the bullies of the NHL, recognize that such observations are only paving the way for yet another season of dirty players trying to thrive in the niche that society has created for them. After all, if you really want to see a respectable group of Flyers stay out of the penalty box unnecessarily, it’s on all of us to start acknowledging that Broad Street isn’t all bad these days.

Only then can we begin to enjoy a team free of cheap shots, unabashed brawling and questionable stick work. And that my friends, is when a Philadelphia Flyer wins the Lady Byng Trophy and I stop watching hockey.

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