Take a look back at one of the greatest Philadelphia Flyers of all-time, John LeClair.
When John LeClair first came to the Philadelphia Flyers, I was less than enthusiastic. LeClair was a solid, young player, but Mark Recchi was sent to the Montreal Canadiens as part of the trade. Recchi was already established as my favorite player to use in the EA NHL video game series, and from playing Montreal, LeClair, Eric Desjardins, and Gilbert Dionne weren’t exactly names that inspired fear in my rink raging thumbs.
EA’s spectacular game series taught me just about everything about hockey up to that point. Watching actual games was a relatively new thing for me; however, I was quickly hooked and spent most of the season watching as many games as I could on WPHL 17. Recchi led the team in points for two consecutive years, so my video game favoritism spilled over to real life.
John LeClair quickly erased any sore feelings from the trade. The birth of the Legion of Doom line brought the Philadelphia Flyers into the spotlight of the NHL as one of the best teams. With linemates Eric Lindros and Mikael Renberg, LeClair became a superstar.
While playing for Montreal, LeClair’s highest point total in a season was 44. His first 37 games with the Flyers after the trade, he put up 25 goals and 24 assists for 49 points. He followed it up with three straight seasons with 50 or more goals and five straight all-star game appearances.
His play on the ice epitomized his line’s nickname. In the attack zone, LeClair posted up next to the goalies and banged against defenders with the Flyers crash the net style. He became deadly with chip-ins and rebounds which propelled him to a total of 333 goals with the Philadelphia Flyers, good enough for fifth on their all-time list.
LeClair’s gritty, hard-nosed play style made it very easy to cheer for him. His play and leadership helped push the Philadelphia Flyers to one of their greatest eras which included annual playoff appearances and a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in the 1996-1997 season.
The success of the Flyers was deterred because of the decline of the Legion of Doom. Lindros suffered multiple injuries which forced him to miss considerable amounts of time. Renberg was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Both players left the team, and only LeClair remained on the team. During the 2000-01 season, he missed most of the season with his own injury.
LeClair returned to the team for a few more seasons, but he never returned to all-star form. A combination of age and injuries kept him from maintaining a high level of play. Plus, he never gelled with another line the way he did with Lindros and Renberg. Following the 2003-04 season, the Flyers bought out his remaining contract to make room under the newly instated salary cap.
I didn’t want John LeClair on the Philadelphia Flyers when he first arrived. Looking back, I can’t think of another player that better symbolizes what it means to be a Flyer. He fought for every goal that he scored. The prominent example of a blue-collar player for a blue-collar town. My love for the Flyers wouldn’t be the same if he never came to town.