Brotherly Puck Weekly Issue 14

Vanbiesbrouck over Joseph in 1998

After a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 1997 where the Flyers got swept by the Red Wings, a first round elimination in 1998 at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres forced the Flyers to make a change. They opted to let goaltenders Garth Snow and Sean Burke walk in free agency, while Ron Hextall, who was in the last year of his contract (and his career), was retained. There were two major options in the summer of 1998 to address the goaltending woes, John Vanbiesbrouck and Curtis Joseph.

Vanbiesbrouck was 35 at the time and Joseph was 31. “Breezer” was a long-time New York Ranger and coming off a five-year stint with the Florida Panthers. He took the Panthers to the Cup Final in 1996, but was coming off a horrible season in 1997-98.

Jospeh was an eight-year pro, split between the St. Louis Blues and Edmonton Oilers. Even though he was an above average goalie, there was still a lot of doubt that he could be a top guy in the NHL. Joseph was mainly known for stepping up during the playoffs when he carried the ’93 Blues and the ’98 Oilers.

Then-GM Bobby Clarke opted to sign Vanbiesbrouck, a decision that didn’t pay off. While his first season with the Flyers was successful, posting a 27-18-15 record with a career best six shutouts and a 2.18 GAA and .902 SV%, it was a playoff performance that soured the fans opinion of him.

Joseph, on the other hand, signed with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs where he would finally establish himself as a star. He posted a 35-24-7 record with a 2.56 GAA and .910 SV% in his first season in Toronto.

Ironically, the Flyers would meet the Leafs in the first round in the 1999 playoffs, and despite a closely contested series, the Leafs won in six games. This was the first time the fans truly turned on Vanbiesbrouck after it was perceived he was letting in “soft” goals even though he had a 1.46 GAA and .938 SV% and allowed just nine goals in six games.

Breezer entered the 1999-00 season as the Flyers starter, but was quickly supplanted by rookie Brian Boucher. Even though Vanbiesbrouck still played 49 regular season games, the Flyers chose to utilize Boucher for all 18 playoff games as he carried them to the Conference Final where they lost to the Devils. Vanbiesbrouck was traded to the New York Islanders at the 2002 NHL draft for a fourth round pick (Jordin Tootoo).

Joseph would go on to post three consecutive 30-win seasons, and was a runner-up for the Vezina Trophy in 1999 and 2000. He was also a key member of the deep playoff runs the Maple Leafs had in 1999 and 2002. A dispute with GM Pat Quinn eventually led to Joseph signing with the Red Wings in the summer of 2002.

The Flyers were eliminated in the first round three of the four years after they signed Vanbiesbrouck whereas the Leafs made it to the second round twice and the Conference Final twice in the same span, thanks in part to Curtis Joseph.

The Flyers choosing to sign Breezer over Joseph ultimately goes down as one of the biggest “what ifs” in Flyers history.

MYERS JOINS TEAM CANADA

After Sabres defenseman Brandon Montour went down with an injury early in the World Championship Tournament, his replacement was kind of shocking. It was Flyers rookie Phil Myers who got the call. Myers made his NHL debut late in the Flyers season and played 21 games with the big club before being returned to the Phantoms for their failed playoff push. He recorded one goal and one assist with the Flyers and nine goals and 33 assists with the Phantoms this season.

Myers looked extremely comfortable during his limited NHL action this season after his debut being held off for a couple weeks as Scott Gordon wanted him to mesh with his teammates before playing an NHL game.

Myers joins elite company on the Team Canada blueline such as other young phenoms Thomas Chabot, Shea Theodore, and Damon Severson.

 

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