Thursday, March 14, 2013

Alexandre Daigle's Magic Hat

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

Alexandre Daigle spent 68 mostly forgettable games with the Orange and Black in 1998 and '99, a period of near-constant upheaval on and off the ice for the franchise.

He had one brief shining moment, 15 years ago today, in a Saturday matinee from South Philadelphia broadcast nationally against the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings. 

One of the most head-scratching trades made by Bob Clarke during his second tenure as Philadelphia Flyers GM, it was one that most fans outside of the Delaware Valley heard about in shocking fashion during the All-Star Festivities broadcast on FOX.

You could almost hear the braying diction of Gary Bettman saying "We have a trade to announce" with the revelation that Clarke shipped young center Vaclav "Vinny" Prospal and forward Pat Falloon to the Ottawa Senators for Daigle, a busted former first-overall pick in the 1993 draft, on January 17, 1998.

This addition by subtraction, while the Flyers were vying with the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche for best record in the NHL.

Daigle, who had already participated in all four games Ottawa had played against Philly in the first half of the season -- and whose point-per-game average in those appearances matched perfectly with the GPA of Bluto Blutarski -- coasted into the roster to say the least.

He failed to score in his first 15 games here, but did manage nine assists as well as a four-game point-scoring streak before the NHL stopped play for the very first time to let its players participate in the Winter Olympics at Nagano, Japan.

But Daigle's luck began to change as the Flyers began a key six-game homestand which would go a long way towards their quest for the Atlantic Division title and one of the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference.

First, there was his electrifying overtime winner on March 8, in front of a national audience on a Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the back end of a home-and-home series. Even before the puck was dropped, all eyes trained on the Quebec native, who had to be counted on to provide more offensive punch in the absence of Eric Lindros -- lost to a severe concussion the day before after a hit from Darius Kasparaitis. He'd be gone six weeks.

Then, six days later, the crowing achievement during his brief stay:
It was a stunning performance. Two deflections and a one-timer against Red Wings starter Chris Osgood -- the same Osgood who bore the brunt of playoff failures as the starter in 1994 and 1996 -- who went on that June to confound his detractors by leading Detroit to the second of back-to-back Stanley Cups.

"I hadn't had that many stretches [of goals] in Ottawa,'' an understated Daigle said to Tim Panaccio of the Inquirer following the game. "Personally, I feel more relaxed, loose and confident. "We're playing better on the power play...we got the shots on net and we had three deflections in the game.''

If not for a crossbar hit, he'd have joined the rarified air of players in franchise history who totaled four goals in one game. Still, it was a memorable achievement which stuck out even more given the Flyers' largest margin of victory over the Wings at home in more than seven years.

Daigle went lukewarm from there, scoring only four more times in the final 18 games as Philly fell one point shy of the division crown, settling for the third seed and a first-round meeting with the Buffalo Sabres. Although he etched himself in an obscure corner of the Flyers' record book by tallying the lone goal in a season-opening 1-0 win at Madison Square Garden the following October, Daigle fell deeper into the defensive doghouse of head coach Roger Neilson.

He spent most of the end of calendar year 1998 as a scratch, then rang in 1999 with a trade request to the Los Angeles Kings before Clarke shuffled him off to Edmonton for Andrei "Tank" Kovalenko at the end of January. He racked up three goals and five points in 31 games before departing, 12 scores and 31 points in all.

Daigle only recorded a handful of multi-goal games over the remainder of his piecemeal career, including three in a four-game span for Minnesota in 2004 -- but his second and final trifecta remains a curious and hardly-celebrated part of Flyers history.

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