John Vanbiesbrouck is part of a long list of goaltenders who never panned out for the Flyers. Despite a short-lived career with the Flyers, Vanbiesbrouck is the best player to come through the Flyers and wear no. 34.
Vanbiesbrouck had already established himself as a solid goaltender when he came to Philadelphia. His career gained new life with the Florida Panthers after spending eleven seasons with the New York Rangers. Vanbiesbrouck had posted respectable numbers with the Rangers, but he began to share playing time with a young goaltender named Mike Richter midway through the 1989-90 season.
During his five seasons in Florida, Vanbiesbrouck carried the Panthers to their first and only Stanley Cup Final in 1996, made three All Star games and became the 15th goaltender in NHL history and second American goaltender to win 300 games.
“I like John a lot and Roger (Nielson) wanted Vanbiesbrouck. Beezer was a lot cheaper, but I think if we had taken Joseph he would have given us a much better chance. He was a better goalie. -Bob Clarke in Orange, Black & Blue
Vanbiesbrouck signed a two-year $7.25 million contract with the Flyers during the 1998 offseason amid some controversy. Mike Richter and Curtis Joseph were available and some fans were irate that the Flyers had gone “cheap.” Bob Clarke admitted in the book “Orange, Black & Blue” that his biggest mistake was not landing a top goaltender when Eric Lindros was on the team.
Vanbiesbrouck’s first year with the Flyers was a huge success. He went 27-18-15, and he posted career-highs in games played (62), goals against average (2.18) and shutouts (6). Despite impressive playoff numbers, Vanbiesbrouck cost the Flyers several games because he allowed numerous soft goals. The Flyers were eliminated in the first round by the Toronto Maple Leafs in six games.
Vanbiesbrouck’s game did not improve much when the 1999-00 season began, and rookie Brian Boucher saw more action. Vanbiesbrouck still posted respectable numbers, going 25-15-9 with a 2.20 goals against average and a .906 save percentage, but the Flyers decided to stick with Boucher when the playoffs began.
The Flyers traded Vanbiesbrouck to the New York Islanders at the 2000 NHL Draft. Vanbiesbrouck would play for three more seasons before he retired.
Vanbiesbrouck had to overcome his small stature – 5-foot8 – to succeed in the NHL. He, like Martin Brodeur, was a hybrid-style goaltender. One of Vanbiesbrouck’s strengths was playing the angles and using his quickness to challenge shooters. Vanbiesbrouck was not shy when it came to playing the puck, but his greatest strength may have been his confidence.
When his career was finished, John Vanbiesbrouck had much to smile about. He had two All Star appearances and a Vezina Trophy to his name. Years after his retirement, the Detroit, M.I. native was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame. NHL.com named Vanbiesbrouck the best NHL player to wear no. 34. He is also the winningest American-born goaltender with 374 wins.