In a previous post, The Hockey Writers took a look at every Flyers captain from Lou Angotti, the first, to Rick Tocchet, the last man to wear the C before the team’s captainless 1992–93 season.
Here, we examine the men who served as captain from 1993–94 until the lockout of 2004 that cost fans an entire season. Thanks in large part to Eric Lindros, the Flyers emerged from the funk they had fallen into after several Stanley Cup playoff runs in the ’80s. They couldn’t bring home a Cup during that time, but they gave fans some of the franchise’s most exciting hockey.
The Hartford Whalers drafted Kevin Dineen in the third round of the 1982 NHL Entry Draft. He made his NHL debut during the 1984–85 season and spent seven productive years in Hartford, including two 40-goal campaigns. During the 1990–91 season, however, he missed time due to complications from Crohn’s disease. The next season, the Whalers traded him to Philadelphia. His father, Bill, joined the team as head coach later that year.
Dineen rebounded with the Flyers, scoring 26 goals in 64 games that year and 35 during the Flyers’ captainless 1992–93 season. The team rewarded Dineen with the captaincy for the following year. His production slipped (19 goals, 23 assists), but his gritty leadership helped establish a new culture. The Flyers missed the playoffs by just four points, but the team was relevant again. Of course, Dineen’s eventual replacement, Eric Lindros, had a lot to do with that, but according to Flyers legend Mark Howe, Dineen’s role was crucial:
“I think the team really needed what Kevin brought with him. We were in a bad situation … . It wasn’t fun. Kevin was a guy who loved to come to the rink and, win or lose, played the game the right way.” (Bill Meltzer, NHL.com)
When the Flyers returned to the playoffs in 1995, Dineen scored 10 points in 15 games before the Flyers lost to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Final. They traded him back to Hartford the following year. Dineen spent the 1999–2000 season in Ottawa before Columbus picked him up in the 2000 NHL Expansion Draft. He retired four games into the 2002–03 season. Since then, he served as head coach of the Florida Panthers (2011–13), and he’s been a Chicago Blackhawks assistant coach since the 2014–15 season.
If Kevin Dineen’s captaincy marked the beginning of the Flyers’ return to playoff contention, Eric Lindros’s tenure solidified it.
A New Era
Entering the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, Lindros was the most highly touted prospect since Wayne Gretzky, leading many to call him The Next One. After an outstanding career with the Oshawa Generals, the Quebec Nordiques drafted him first overall—but he had already said he’d never play for them. Lindros held out that year and demanded a trade. The Nordiques eventually caved, and just four years after the Earth-shattering Gretzky trade, they dealt Lindros to Philadelphia for Peter Forsberg, Steve Duchesne, Ron Hextall, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, Chris Simon, two first-round draft picks and $15 million. Despite the king’s ransom the Flyers had to give up, few fans regret the decision.
The Lindros era was one of the most entertaining in Flyers history. At 6’4” and around 230 pounds, he was a massive man, often called a linebacker on skates, and he had an elite scoring touch. The NHL had never seen a player with Lindros’s size, strength, and skill before.
Lindros was named team captain for the 1994–95 season. Later that year, the Flyers acquired John LeClair, and the Legion of Doom was born. Lindros centered him and Mikael Renberg, and that line simply terrorized the league for the next three years.
After a five-year playoff drought, Lindros led the Flyers all the way to the 1995 Eastern Conference Final. At the conclusion of that season, Lindros won the Hart Memorial Trophy and the Lester B. Pearson Award, was named a First Team All-Star and won the Bobby Clarke Trophy. He seemed destined to bring the Stanley Cup back to Philadelphia. Indeed, the Flyers made the playoffs every year that Lindros was on the team. In 1997, he brought the team back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 10 years. He scored 26 points in 19 games, but the Detroit Red Wings shut the Legion of Doom down and swept the Flyers. Unfortunately, that was as close as he’d get to winning a Cup for Philly.
The Lindros–Clarke Feud
Lindros began to miss more and more time due to injury, particularly concussions. Perhaps he was accustomed to being the biggest man on the ice, but he never seemed to learn to keep his head up.
Then-GM Bobby Clarke began to question Lindros’s toughness, and their relationship quickly fell apart. Clarke, of course, was one of the toughest players to ever don the orange and black, but concussions were not as well understood then. But in one notable incident, a collapsed lung that team doctors misdiagnosed as a rib injury nearly cost Lindros his life.
During the 1999–2000 season, he suffered two more concussions. Team doctors missed the second, though, which Lindros publicly criticized them for. He was stripped of the C and sat out the rest of the regular season as he recovered.
“It’s just not possible for him to be disliking the organization—and that includes the doctors and trainers—and still be captain. He’s supposed to represent the other players, and the other players don’t feel that way.” Bobby Clarke (Michael Farber, Sports Illustrated)
He returned in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final against New Jersey. Game 7 would be his last with the Flyers. He suffered the infamous Scott Stevens hit, and the Flyers lost the series despite a three-games-to-one lead.
Lindros sat out the 2000–01 season before the Flyers traded him to the New York Rangers. He had an impressive season in 2001–02, scoring 37 goals and making the All-Star Game for his seventh and final time. His play began tail off after that, though. He wouldn’t break 20 goals again, and after playing 81 games in 2002–03, he wouldn’t play more than 49 before retiring. After the lockout, he signed with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs for the 2005–06 season, then played his final season with the Dallas Stars before retiring in 2007.
In just 486 games with the Flyers, he scored 659 points, good for fifth all-time among Flyers players. He also retired with eight diagnosed concussions. Lindros was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2016 and was named one of the NHL’s 100 best players in 2017. He gave Philadelphia some of the most exciting hockey in Flyers history, but fans can’t help but wonder what might have been.
The drama in Philadelphia didn’t end after the Flyers stripped Lindros of the captaincy. Eric Desjardins, who would retire as the Flyers’ second-best defenseman ever, filled the vacancy left by Lindros, but he never really embraced the role. He first wore the C at the tail end of the 1999–00 season, and he would give it up just a few games into the 2001–02 season.
Desjardins had joined the team during the 1994–95 season. Montreal traded him and John LeClair for Mark Recchi and a third-rounder in the 1995 draft. He had some strong seasons in Montreal, but the team as a whole was struggling. He continued his excellent play in Philadelphia, quickly becoming the team’s best defenseman that year. The reserved veteran seemed like a perfect contrast to the turmoil that marked the Lindros saga at that point.
After 11 years with the Flyers, he climbed to second all-time in points by a Flyers defenseman, won seven Barry Ashbee Trophies and played in two All-Star Games. But as good a player as he was, he never felt comfortable as captain. As he put it:
“The way I ended up being captain was a weird situation. 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.” (Randy Miller, NJ.com)
While he was captain, the Flyers changed head coaches twice and traded away Lindros, the face of the franchise for a decade. All that pressure began to affect Desjardins’ focus, though in his one full season as captain, he did score 48 points.
Early in the next season, he informed the team that he was not happy as captain. Keith Primeau assumed the role in his place. Desjardins’ production began to decline after that as he aged and injuries took their toll. He retired as a Flyer after the 2005–06 season, and the team later inducted him into the Flyers Hall of Fame. He’s currently involved in minor hockey in Quebec.
When Eric Desjardins stepped down as captain eight games into the 2001–02 season, the chaos of the Lindros ordeal threatened to reignite. Luckily, the Flyers’ next captain turned out to be one of their greatest leaders ever.
A Slow Start for Primeau
The Detroit Red Wings drafted Keith Primeau with the third overall pick in 1990. He didn’t live up to the Wings’ expectations, but he did show some offensive potential—and he was 6’5?. His relationship with Detroit eventually soured, and he held out for a contract renegotiation after the 1995–96 season. They traded him (and all-time great Paul Coffey) to the Hartford Whalers for a package that featured Brendan Shanahan.
Primeau’s time playing behind Steve Yzerman apparently served him well, as he emerged as a team leader with Hartford. The Whalers became the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997 and named Primeau captain a year later (replacing Kevin Dineen). After his first season as captain, though, he held out again. Carolina traded him to the Flyers, where he finally got the contract he felt that he deserved: five years, $22.75 million.
Primeau Steps Up
The Flyers gave up fan favorite Rod Brind’Amour, but those fans soon came to love Primeau just as much. He quickly made his mark with the Flyers. In the 2000 Stanley Cup playoffs, he scored 13 points in 18 games, one of which was his historic five-overtime game-winner against Pittsburgh.
Primeau led the team in goals with 34 in 2001–01, his first full season with Philadelphia, and replaced Desjardins as captain the following season. He would wear the C for Philadelphia for the rest of his career.
After his 34-goal season, his production began to fall. When the Flyers hired new head coach Ken Hitchcock in 2002–03, Primeau took on a more defensive role. But his leadership remained unquestioned. He missed time due to concussion in 2003–04, but he put on an incredible performance in the playoffs that year.
“Probably the best individual performance that I had seen by a Flyer. He literally carried that team on his shoulders. And he was not a Joe Sakic/Wayne Gretzky/Mario Lemieux kind of player. He was a mucker and a grinder, and he did things that were uncharacteristic for him.” Chuck Gormley, former Flyers reporter (Adam Kimelman, “The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: Philadelphia Flyers”)
Leading up to the playoffs, Primeau had only five postseason points in the previous three years. In the 2002 playoffs, he didn’t score a single point. But that wasn’t the case in 2004. He scored 16 points in 18 games, including a hat trick against Toronto. They met Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Finals, and Primeau played out of his mind. He won Game 4 with a shorthanded goal to tie the series. In Game 6, he scored the tying goal late in regulation and set up Simon Gagne for the overtime winner, forcing a Game 7.
Of course, he and the Flyers fell short of the ultimate goal. Tampa won Game 7 and eventually the Stanley Cup. Many fans felt that Primeau played as if he knew that this was his last shot at the Cup. As it turned out, it was. A lockout cancelled the 2004–05 season, and another concussion just nine games into the 2005–06 season ended Primeau’s career.
After his playing days ended, Primeau, like Lindros, became an active proponent of concussion research. He currently serves as president of the Durham Hockey Institute.
In the next piece, we’ll take a look at the Flyers who have served as captain since the lockout. This period saw the Flyers’ worst season ever as well as a return to the Stanley Cup Final. The Flyers captaincy saw similar highs and lows as new leaders emerged and others flamed out.