Back in the day, the Flyers were known as the Broad Street Bullies. They were a hard-nosed, tough team that took no prisoners. They were physical but had talent. They could score almost at will, thanks to players like Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber. They ushered in a new era of hockey thanks to their physical play.
It was an era that the NHL didn’t seem to appreciate. You could almost see that the league did not want to give the Stanley Cup to Clarke and the gang when they won back-to-back cups in the 70s. But as other teams saw the success of the Flyers, they picked up that style of play too. It even helped inspire one of the greatest sports movies ever, Slapshot, with the iconic Hanson Brothers.
In the 1990s, it seemed as if every team had an enforcer on there. Some of them became legendary: Tie Domi, Darius Kasparaitis, Rob Ray, Craig Berube, and Claude Lemieux. But after 2000, the league began to crack down on “goon” type players.
When the Flyers signed Nicolas Deslauriers this offseason, it was expected that he would help to bring a physical presence to the team. He was never much of a scoring threat, but brought a size and physicality that has been missing from the Flyers for a while; like a Dan Carcillo, but not reckless.
On a team that has been ravaged by injuries for a second year running, he has played in every game so far. He has scored one goal with two assists; tying his total of points from last season in Minnesota. He has played mostly on the third and fourth lines with players like Morgan Frost, Lukas Sedlak, Noah Cates, and Zack MacEwen.
He’s had a steadying presence on the team so far. He has been in four scraps so far, against Kyle Burroughs, Pat Maroon, Mark Borowiecki, and Mathieu Olivier. He’s laid out 47 hits to lead the team. However, if you take away the 20 min of penalty minutes due to fighting, he’s only committed two other penalties. So Deslauriers is physical, but he is not putting the team down a guy.
The Flyers have a young team that they are fielding as they are trying to navigate through to whatever the future of this team is going to be. Having someone on the team that can protect the younger players while they develop is important.
Also, having an element of physicality helps to intimidate teams in the way that the old Bullies teams used to do. The Flyers have been in the top five of fewest goals allowed for much of this season. Having a player like Deslauriers putting the hurt on other teams’ top lines has helped keep the number of goals scored down.
When looking at the free agency spree that took place at the beginning of summer, it seemed that the signing of Deslauriers was kind of a sign that this team had given up before the season had started. He wasn’t Johnny Gaudreau, Vincent Trocheck, or any of the other top free-agency names. Deslauriers wasn’t a flashy signing. However, it’s hard to say that it hasn’t paid off.
The season is not even a quarter of the way over, but the Flyers have defied all expectations and have stayed near the top of the division despite all the injuries. Deslauriers has been a major part of it. He is bringing an old-school, Bully vibe back to the team. And if it continues to pay off, he could well be on his way to being a fan favorite.