Thursday, June 19, 2014

Short distance runaround: Flyers who have come back to the fold

In the space of only 16 days, four men who once and recently graced the ice on South Broad Street -- Ville Leino, Mike Richards, Michal Handzus and Ilya Bryzgalov -- will likely be on the market, either through expected compliance buyouts (Leino, Richards) or through plain old unrestricted free agency (Bryz, Handzus).

Add to that the consternation thrown towards the Inquirer's hockey beat writer for the bordering-on-fetishization of the immediate success of three Los Angeles Kings who used to wear the Orange and Black over the last month, the eyelids begin to twitch and the gears began to turn.

That gave rise to a joke about looking up the shortest time a player spent away from the franchise before coming back.

Drawing inspiration from those tweets from Tuesday, I decided to scan the record books and try to locate as many players -- skaters and goaltenders -- as possible who suited up for the Flyers in at least two separate stints throughout their history and track how long it took for those Prodigal Sons to return.

With a margin of error in the 1-2 person range, and removing certain technicalities like Keith Acton being stashed in separate deals with Winnipeg in the offseason prior to the 1989-90 campaign, the totals were still startling, primarily because of the number of transactions which took place before Bob Clarke and Paul Holmgren started to call their boys back home.

In all, at least 38 different players have had their Flyers tenure interrupted by time spent with at least one other organization before returning. Six have been goaltenders, and the rest skaters, with 11 of those defensemen and 20 forwards.

The recently departed Keith "Thief" Allen was responsible for five of those, with the biggest of all happening on his watch: the re-acquisition of Bernie Parent from the Toronto Maple Leafs in May of 1973 after having traded him to the Leafs in February of 1971. In that bunch, the most obscure name is Larry Wright, a center who logged 36 games over parts of two seasons from 1971-73 and came back for two more in 1975-76. Current Phantoms bench boss Terry Murray got his second go-round in 1980-81 after a stint in Detroit thanks to Allen, and the first enforcer retread, Jack McIlhargey, was returned on Day 2 of 1980.

The unlamented Bob McCammon, coach here for parts of four seasons and General Manager for 1983-84, was responsible for another surprise move -- re-signing Rick MacLeish on the eve of that season after Allen had shipped him to Hartford in July of 1981.

And even Russ Farwell, the bridge between the Bob Clarke front-office eras, has two retreads to his credit: bringing back defenseman Moe Mantha for five games after his Olympic experience with Team USA in 1992 and snagging Dave Brown back from the Edmonton Oilers in June of 1991 in a deal which saw the Flyers briefly obtain Jari Kurri.

Over 17-plus seasons in two separate tries in the GM's chair, Clarke spun the wheel and took a chance a whopping 18 times. Mirroring the man who selected him in the second round of the 1969 draft, Clarke's biggest turnabout was also in the acquisition of a goaltender, this time Ron Hextall from the Islanders for Tommy Soderstrom in September of 1994.

The franchise icon also brought back Pete Peeters (1989) and Sean Burke (1998) for the 2004 stretch run after Jeff Hackett retired due to vertigo. He provided a fresh infusion of grit into the lineup for anticipated playoff runs by welcoming Craig Berube (1999, Washington) and Rick Tocchet (2000, Phoenix), bolstered the blueline with deals and signings to net Kjell Samuelsson (1995), Kerry Huffman (1996), Karl Dykhuis (1998), Steve Duchesne (1999), Dmitri Yushkevich (2003) and Chris Therien (2005), and added forward depth with Dan Quinn (1996), Mikael Renberg (1998), Mark Recchi and Jody Hull (1999).

There were also the head-scratchers of taking in former Canucks captain Kevin McCarthy (1986) only to have him play the rest of his career in Hershey; misplaced faith in a washed-up Ken Linseman (1990) for Dave Poulin, and taking back Phantoms hero Mike Maneluk (1998) after a 13-game audition was enough to ship him to Chicago.

Holmgren's handiwork was all over the last lockout-shortened season, as Ruslan Fedotenko, Mike Knuble and Simon Gagne all took their NHL bows here between January and April of 2013. Homer also dug deep to bring back Steve "Human Missile" Downie for Max Talbot on Halloween, and how can we forget the other rocket-fueled miscreant Jesse Boulerice, whose second tenure didn't last long after a 20-game suspension for charging Vancouver's Ryan Kesler. Todd Fedoruk had the honor of his face caving in thanks to a Colton Orr punch in his second time around.

It wasn't all bad, though. Vinny Prospal charged up his line and the power play during the 2008 playoffs, Danny Syvret notched the franchise's first-ever outdoor goal and was so essential he was returned twice more to the organization. Ray Emery, once starter whose career was in jeopardy, provided a rock-solid backup to Steve Mason, Brian Boucher came back so much he decided to retire to South Jersey and Michael Leighton spelled him in the 2010 postseason until the goal that dare not be named.

The Long and Short of It

Upon further review, Jody Hull garners the honor of the player whose two tenures with the Flyers occurred the quickest. After playing the 1998-99 season in Philly in the first of a two-year deal, Hull was exposed in the expansion draft and taken by Atlanta on June 25, 1999. Yet, after 13 days of the 1999-2000 season elapsed, and having not seen a single second of ice time with the nascent Thrashers, he was sent back here for cash on October 15, 1999. 

Syvret is the next closest. His glory as the lone goal scorer in the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park was no buffer when let go and signed as a free agent by the Anaheim Ducks on July 21, 2010, and given back exactly four months later following six appearances in a deal which saw problem child Patrick Maroon exiled to Southern California.

It's no contest when trying to ascertain the Flyer with the longest period between tenures. Ruslan Fedotenko wins the crown of laurels. The native of Ukraine was shipped to Tampa Bay by Clarke on June 21, 2002 in a package deal which included the draft pick used on Joni Pitkanen, and returned via free-agent signing by Holmgren on September 16, 2012.

Ed "Boxcar" Hospodar was the first player to be dealt in the middle of one season only to return the next, sent packing with Todd Bergen to Minnesota for Dave Richter and the forgettable Bo Berglund on November 29, 1985 and then re-signed in June of 1986.

Who is Gord Murphy?

The Flyers' newest assistant coach arrived in Philadelphia in the Fall of 1988, as one of the new vanguard on the club's blue line under first-year head coach Paul Holmgren. He joined fellow rookie Jeff Chychrun, along with new acquisition Terry Carkner and Jay Wells. Aided by the steady influence of Mark Howe and Kjell Samuelsson, the lanky, somewhat gawky-looking Murphy totaled four goals and 31 assists with a minus-7 rating in 75 games for a club at .500 whose goal differential stood at plus-22 -- adding nine points (2G, 7A) in the memorable 19-game run to the Wales Conference Finals.

In the following season, Murphy set career highs with 14 goals and 43 points over 75 games, one of the few players, skaters or goaltenders, to be relatively healthy. With Howe sidelined for most of the first of his three Hellish seasons given over to severe back issues, Murphy had to be leaned on more to carry the defense as part of the primary pairing. It was a baptism by fire, and he did well considering the Flyers dropped to last in the Patrick Division and out of the playoffs for the first time in 18 years.

Over the next two seasons, though, mirroring the club's frustrating slide into a slot below mediocrity, Murphy was one of several key players counted on to carry the load who either peaked or plateaued well short of expectations. When the chance came for then-GM Russ Farwell to pull the trigger on a deal, he made it with Boston, exchanging Murphy -- who needed a change of scenery and would presumably benefit from Ray Bourque's aegis -- for veteran Garry Galley just after the New Year in 1992.

Flash forward to the second round of the 1996 postseason, where Murphy had settled into his role as a second-pairing stopper for Florida. The first line of defense against the Legion of Doom being mammoth rookie Ed Jovanovski, who primarily went head-to-head against Eric Lindros, Murphy was counted on to take up the cerebral part of Doug MacLean's passive neutral-zone trap along with Jason Woolley and former Philly teammate Carkner. The Panthers ended up winning that series in six games, largely handcuffing Lindros and the Legion, and neutralizing the scattershot second line.

In a strange twist, if it weren't for the Bruins being bounced from the 1993 playoffs in a first-round sweep by fourth-place Buffalo, Murphy never would have had the chance to haunt his former team. After less than two seasons with the B's, and in the wake of the Sabres' infamous "May Day" victory, he was designated expendable by Harry Sinden and left to be picked up by either expansion club. Florida snagged him, and Murphy played six capable seasons there.

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