Broad Street Bullies

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Bye, bye Broad Street Bullies? Flyers don’t have a fight yet

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by Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

Hockey in the NHL is a far different game than it was 45 years ago, when the Broad Street Bullies ruled the ice with their fists.

In the 1970s, the Philadelphia Flyers had guys like Dave ”The Hammer” Schultz, Bob ”The Hound” Kelly and Andre ”Moose” Dupont to not just beat opponents but beat them up, too.

The current Flyers may still carry the ”Bullies” nickname but they are hardly bullying anyone: They are one of only two teams in the NHL that has not been assessed a fighting major a quarter of the way through the season.

The old Bullies can hardly believe it.

”They’re two different animals, the way the game is today,” Kelly said. ”With the rules today, you can’t hit anybody, you can’t verbally intimidate anybody, so that takes a lot out of it. You don’t have to fight anybody. The biggest thing you’re given is a face wash.”

It’s no secret that fighting has been weeded out of the game over the years, but nobody expected the Flyers to be on the leading edge of the anti-pugilistic trend. With tough players like Wayne Simmonds, Radko Gudas and Dale Weise, Philadelphia isn’t exactly a group of shrinking violets. Even general manager Ron Hextall fought five times during his playing career and he was a goaltender.

This is the latest in a season the Flyers have ever gone without an official NHL fighting penalty, eclipsing the previous record from 1967. That was the first year of existence for the franchise and it was before the players were beaten up in a brawl against the St. Louis Blues, an incident that prompted founder Ed Snider to demand a tough-as-nails approach.

”We have a new mascot called Gritty now, and I think the Flyers’ fans expect that from then players to play like Gritty because of the name he has,” said Bullies-era defenseman Joe Watson, who believes the current team is more about finesse. ”Fighting is a form of intimidation. … Players think twice of going in the corner with this guy or that guy because they might get a punch in the face or hit severely or so on and so forth, and it just doesn’t seem to happen right now. We do have guys that can handle themselves. I don’t know why it has happened this way. It’s hard to believe.”

Philadelphia has no fighting majors and a 9-9-2 record through 20 games. While the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers lead the league with seven fights apiece, the Flyers and Arizona Coyotes are the only ones stuck on zero.

”I think we’re team tough,” Weise said. ”I don’t think anyone takes advantage of us. I think if the situation arose, we’ve got a lot of guys that can handle themselves. But I just think the way hockey is going, you can’t take a stupid penalty (if you) go and get an instigator or something like that or get a roughing and put (another) team on the power play.”

Philadelphia isn’t a small team, with players averaging 6-1 and 198 pounds, but Jakub Voracek said: ”I really cannot say that we are big and tough if we don’t have a fight yet.”

Maybe the answer lies in some of that size and toughness.

”When you have a Wayne Simmonds on your team, I don’t think people want to fight him and it’s always good to have a guy like that who can play,” said Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet, who holds the Flyers’ all-time penalty minutes record with 1,815 and 171 fights during his career. ”If there had to be a fight, he’s a pretty good deterrent guy to have. I just don’t think anybody wants to fight Wayne Simmonds. That’s probably why there’s no fights.”

Simmonds and his teammates have tried to goad opponents into fights and a handful of times have dropped their gloves only to find no willing dance partner. According to HockeyFights.com, less than 16 percent of games leaguewide this season have had a fight, down from 41 percent as recently as 2009-10.

The NHL years ago sought to curb staged fights between enforcers, and even a lot of the fighting following big hits has decreased.

In 2009-10, 171 games included more than one fight. Last season, only 41 games had more than one.

”I don’t feel there’s any hate in the league anymore,” said Kelly, who dropped the gloves 97 times in the NHL. ”The rules have definitely changed the whole game, the whole approach and it’s holding back a lot of the physicality that players used to play with. It’s not worth the fight, and unfortunately you have to watch your teammate skate off hurt or something because somebody got cheap shot or did something and you just can’t afford to want to jump in and help out.”

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said people can debate whether the sport is better with less fighting, but most agree there is still a purpose for it. Commissioner Gary Bettman has suggested an occasional fight keeps tensions from boiling over, something Tocchet agreed with.

”The league’s trying to take control of the head injuries, the hitting from behind, the cheap stuff, sticking a guy behind his knee,” Tocchet said. ”The NHL’s trying to clean that up, so you don’t need that deterrent of a guy going in there and policing (the game) himself. I still think that there’s still a need for fighting in certain places … The odd time a guy needs to be reminded that he can’t do the stuff he’s doing on the ice if things aren’t being called.”

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Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and the ‘Dry Island’: Two unnamed Flyers blame duo’s departure on partying

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The Philadelphia Flyers’ franchise seems like it’s been defined by two things: partying and bullying. (Meanwhile, winning and finding solid goaltending are things that tend to come and go.)

HBO’s brilliant documentary “Broad Street Bullies” pointed out that the 1970’s-era team wore black arm bands when their favorite bar burned to the ground. (If that’s not a brazen ode to boozing, I don’t know what is.) Many hockey message boards/rumor mills generated gossip about various Flyers players having illicit affairs with teammates’ significant others over the years. It’s probably not a totally accurate way of describing the way the team does business, but sometimes these myths become larger than the truth in this modern, media-saturated era. Some might sense that Philly fans aren’t shy about appreciating players who are as hard-drinking as they are hard-nosed.

It’s no secret that many believe the surprising departures of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter had much more to do with “character issues” and “locker room chemistry” than on-ice performance. That being said, there really haven’t been many details floating around in major outlets, leaving fans to imagine all kinds of over-the-top scenarios.

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Dan Gross published a rather interesting bit of gossip regarding the team’s inner politics today. Gross wonders if the duo of centers were indeed scuttled out of town because of their partying habits, citing two unnamed Flyers who provided their theories.

It’s important to note that those Flyers were anonymous, so apply the typical grains of salt. The more interesting detail, however, was one that even Flyers GM Paul Holmgren couldn’t deny.

Shortly after his arrival in December 2009, coach Peter Laviolette instituted what players came to call the “Dry Island.” Laviolette asked team members to commit to not drinking for a month, and each player was asked to write his number on a locker room board as a pledge. No. 17 (Carter) and No. 18 (Richards) were absent from the board on the first Dry Island, as well as the estimated five more times the policy was instituted.

In a phone interview Thursday, Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren confirmed that Richards and Carter hadn’t put their numbers on the board, but said there had been others who declined. “We carry 23 players and there wasn’t 23 numbers up there.”

Holmgren was “really upset that this is out there. That’s our locker room. Our inner sanctum. Our board. Someone’s crossing a line here,” in discussing the Dry Island.

Don’t be surprised if clever Flyers fans respond to an especially heinous hangover by saying “Guys, this hangover makes me want to go to the Dry Island for a few weeks.” Of course, Holmgren also denied that Richards and Carter were traded because of their partying ways and Carter’s agent Rick Curran voiced a strong opinion about the matter as well.

Carter’s agent, Rick Curran, told us it was “bull—-” to suggest that the two were traded because of their partying. “You’re telling me a number of accusations [that] they are out partying and not focused on hockey. For someone to suggest that behind doors without having the balls to come out publicly, consider it for what it is,” Curran told us.

Perhaps Curran touches on a great concern that the Flyers couldn’t just trade away: it seems like the team has trouble keeping their locker room business private. Perhaps that’s toll one pays for doing business in a media atmosphere like Philadelphia, but that might be the clearest lesson from these issues.

On a whole, the Flyers have actually been a consistently successful hockey team. That hasn’t kept their club from being surrounded by drama, though. It’s hard to say that era is over even without Carter and Richards in the fold (whether they really lived up to their reputations or not).

(H/T to Rotoworld.)