The Hockey Hall of Fame announced its class for 2023. Amongst the deserving candidates was former Flyers head coach Ken Hitchcock. Hitchcock hasn’t coached since 2018-19, but during his tenure, he was one of the greatest hockey minds behind the bench. He currently ranks fourth all time with 849 wins; although Lindy Ruff (834) and Paul Maurice (817) could pass him this season.
131 of those 849 victories came as the head coach of the Flyers. He spent three full seasons in Philadelphia. He came at the tail end of Bobby Clarke’s reign as general manager where he fired coaches left and right. Between the end of the 1997 season, when the Flyers fired Terry Murray after losing the Stanley Cup Finals to Detroit through Hitchcock’s hiring in 2002, the Flyers went through a stretch where they had four coaches in five years: Wayne Cashman, Roger Nielson, Craig Ramsay (lasted just 28 games!), and Bill Barber.
Hitchcock came to Philly shortly after being fired by the Dallas Stars. He had taken Dallas to a Stanley Cup victory in 1999. The Stars, much like the Flyers, were loaded with talented players like Mike Modano, Brett Hull, Derian Hatcher, and Ed Belfour. And also like the Flyers, they were a constant contender that usually fell short in the playoffs. But since he won a Stanley Cup in Dallas, it was hoped he could do the same in Philly.
He came close in 2003-04. It was that Flyers team that was loaded up with aging stars just before the 2004 lockout hit. A team lead by Keith Primeau, Eric Desjardins, John LeClair, and Jeremy Roenick had won the Atlantic Division and breezed through the first round of the playoffs, dispatching the New Jersey Devils in five games. However, a strong Toronto Maple Leafs team (last time they got past the first round until this past year) left the Flyers battered and bruised. They limped into the Eastern Conference Finals against Tampa Bay and lost in seven games to future Flyers coach, John Tortorella.
But with an aging roster returning from the lockout and Clarke trying to rebuild a Broad Street Bully type of team with new rules, the Flyers couldn’t adapt. The Flyers finished second in the Atlantic Division in 2005-06 before being dropped by the Buffalo Sabres in the first round; capped off with a humiliating 7-1 game six to knock them out.
In the following season, Hitchcock’s team won just one of its opening eight games. He was fired and Clarke resigned as general manager. Hitchcock would eventually be rehired two weeks later as a pro scout by Philly. A few weeks after that, the Columbus Blue Jackets hired him for a four year stretch. Meanwhile Hitchock’s replacement, John Stevens, presided over, what was then, the worst Flyers season in team history and saw them collapse from 101 points to just 56; still an NHL record in dropping off from one season to the next.
Hitchcock, in his career, won one Stanley Cup championship and took one other team to the final round. In his 22 seasons as an NHL coach, he won eight division titles and went to the playoffs 14 teams.
Had it not been for the lockout screwing things up or for Clarke’s inability to adjust to new rules, it would have been interesting to see what Hitchcock could’ve done. Maybe he could’ve brought a Cup to Philadelphia. His 131 victories rank him sixth in Flyers history; 11 above Stevens and three behind Dave Hakstol. That’s not bad when you consider he spent only three full seasons here.
Congrats to Hitchcock on a great career and a well deserved honor!