Inside the Flyers: '74 Cup champs talk about Flyers' title drought

Posted: January 27, 2014

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Flyers' first Stanley Cup, the players from that 1974 team will be honored Monday by the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association at its annual banquet in Cherry Hill.

The Flyers, with most of the same shaggy-haired players, also won in 1975. Since then, they have come close but have not had another parade down Broad Street.

It has been 39 years since the Flyers' last Cup, and now seems as good a time as any to get the 1974 and 1975 players' take on why the drought has lasted this long.

"I just think it's hard to win because you have so many teams today," said Don Saleski, the lanky right winger on those Cup champs of yesteryear.

Back when Saleski and the Broad Street Bullies were winning Cups, the NHL had 16 teams, and it took only three playoff rounds to win the title. Now there are 30 teams and four rounds.

"There's so much parity in the league now," said Saleski, who is a partner with a health-care management company, "and there's not so much difference between the teams. And some of it comes down to luck and injuries. Back when we played - I wouldn't call them easy games - but there were games where we had a high confidence we'd win. Now, there are no easy games."

Since they won their last Cup, the Flyers have gone through 15 coaches, 16 captains, and about a gazillion goalies.

"They aren't afraid to spend money, and it's not like they haven't been to the Finals," said Orest Kindrachuk, a valuable center on the Cup champs who is an insurance executive; owns a packaging company; and, like many of his former teammates, still lives in the area.

Since winning their last Cup in 1975, the Flyers have lost in six Stanley Cup Finals.

The last Finals defeat was in 2010, when goalie Michael Leighton allowed a bad-angle, overtime goal to Patrick Kane in Game 6, enabling Chicago to win the crown. If the Flyers had Steve Mason in the nets that year, Kindrachuk said, the championship drought might have ended.

Kindrachuk thinks the common denominator in the Cup-less years has been the lack of a shutdown goalie for most of those seasons. He believes Mason, 25, is the type of goalie who can win a championship.

"He's still young, and it takes a goalie a while to get in stride," said Kindrachuk, aware that Hall-of-Famer Bernie Parent was 29 and in his ninth NHL season when the Flyers won their first Cup, "He's got the size, and he has good chemistry with his teammates. Some people think chemistry is overrated. It's not. You don't have to love each other, but you have to like each other. You go into the playoffs with one goal, and you have to have everybody together."

Jimmy Watson, a young, talented defenseman on the '74 and '75 Cup champs, said the Flyers won those titles because of great leadership throughout the team, starting with their captain.

"We had the hardest worker who ever played the game in Bobby Clarke," Watson said. "He's a guy who comes along once in a lifetime, and we had other leaders, too. We never got outworked. Never. And that gave you a mental comfort. You have to be extremely tough mentally to always work hard, and that's what we did."

Watson, who co-owns a hockey rink in Delaware County, said Clarke's work ethic began in practices and carried into games. "He was an example to all of us. It all started at practice. And he'd sit there in that small locker room before the game and stare you in the face as you were getting ready, and you could see his total commitment and his intensity. You became a part of it."

Watson thinks Claude Giroux, the Flyers' 26-year-old captain, "has all the makings to be a great leader. I think they have that work ethic and leadership group that is slowly maturing. It takes time."

And it takes shrewd maneuvers by the front office. Keith "The Thief" Allen, the general manager from 1969-70 to 1982-83, rarely made a trade he regretted. The same cannot be said for the latter-day Flyers GMs, who were beaten in deals in which they lost promising young players such as Patrick Sharp, Dennis Seidenberg, R.J. Umberger, Sergei Bobrovsky, and James van Riemsdyk.

To be fair, the Flyers have had some good recent trades, too. That said, no general manager in franchise history could match what Allen did.

Inside the Flyers: Thirsty Teams

These are the NHL teams that have had the longest championship droughts:

Toronto: Last won the Stanley Cup in 1967.

St. Louis: Has not won a Cup since entering the league in 1967-68.

Vancouver: Has not won a Cup since entering the league in 1970-71.

Buffalo: Has not won a Cup since entering the league in 1970-71.

Washington: Has not won a Cup since entering the league in 1974-75.

Flyers: Last won the Stanley Cup in 1975.

- Sam Carchidi



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