On February 9, 1995, the Flyers made a blockbuster trade with the Montreal Canadiens to acquire star defenseman Eric Desjardins. Little did they know, another player they acquired in that trade would go on to change the face of the franchise forever.
John LeClair was born in St. Albans, Vermont on July 5, 1969. LeClair played hockey in high school, drawing the attention of college scouts. He was drafted 33rd overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 1987 out of high school, but decided to attend college at the University of Vermont.
His college career was decimated by injuries, playing just 28 games during his sophomore and junior years. He joined the Canadiens a week after his final senior year game late in the 1990-91 season and scored his first goal in his first NHL game.
During John LeClair’s first full season in Montreal he helped the Canadiens win a Stanley Cup in 1993. LeClair played one more season in Montreal, posting almost identical numbers to the season before, but the struggling Canadiens needed to make a change.
LeClair dealt with injuries during the 1994-95 season and the Canadiens were struggling and bound to miss the playoffs. On February 9, 1995 the Canadiens traded John LeClair, Eric Desjardins, and Gilbert Dionne to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Superstar Mark Recchi. The Flyers were anxious to acquire defenseman Eric Desjardins but little did they know LeClair would be the crown jewel of the deal.
LeClair joined the Flyers and was put on a line with young star Eric Lindros and in just 37 games with the Flyers in the back half of the 1994-95 season LeClair set new career highs in goals and points.
During his first full season in Philadelphia, the famed “Legion of Doom” line really took off. The trio of LeClair, Lindros, and Mikael Renberg dominated the league not just physically but with their deadly offensive production. in 1995-96 the Flyers finished first place in the Eastern Conference thanks in part to the Legion of Doom who collectively had 121 goals and 255 points. This would also be the first of three straight 50-goal seasons, and first of five straight 40-goal seasons for LeClair.
LeClair carried the Flyers during the 1996-97 season thanks to his team-leading 51 goals and 97 points. Philadelphia made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 1997, but got swept by the Detroit Red Wings. This would be the last season the Legion of Doom was together as Renberg got dealt in the summer of 1997 to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Even without Renberg, LeClair still carried the Flyers during the 1997-98 season with his third 50-goal campaign, the second Flyer and first American to do so. The Flyers were heavily favored to repeat as Eastern Conference Champs during the 1998 playoffs, but were crushed by the Sabres in the first round.
The winds of change blew for the Flyers heading into the 1998-99 season as they brought in goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck over the summer and dealt Trent Klatt, Shjon Podein, and Chris Gratton early in the season. General Manager Bobby Clarke made 12 trades during the season. The Lindros/LeClair duo was still leading the way offensively as LeClair posted a 43-goal, 90-point campaign, becoming the second Flyer to record four straight seasons with at least 40 goals after Tim Kerr.
the Flyers 1999-00 season was full of turmoil as the relationship between Eric Lindros and the Flyers front office got worse and worse. The returning Mark Recchi and young star Simon Gagne joined John LeClair as the teams go-to offense. The Flyers finished first in the Eastern Conference again and breezed through the first two rounds of the playoffs before blowing a 3-1 series lead to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Final.
LeClair missed 66 games during the 2000-01 season and with Lindros sitting out the season waiting for a trade, the Flyers struggled for much of the season but managed to make the playoffs thanks to the hot play of goalie Roman Cechmanek and new coach Bill Barber. The team was decimated by injuries and lost in the first round of the playoffs in six games to the Buffalo Sabres.
The duo of Mark Recchi and Simon Gagne were the Flyers driving force of the Flyers offense during the 2001-02 season as John LeClair was struggling to live up to his former glory. LeClair played all 82 games recording 25 goals and 51 points and went pointless in five playoff games.
LeClair only played 35 games during the 2002-03 with 18 goals and 28 points. LeClair had a rebound season in 2003-04 finishing third on the team in scoring with 23 goals and 55 points. Robert Esche and Keith Primeau lead the Flyers in the playoffs but the Flyers lost to the Eastern Conference Final in seven games. LeClair only had 4 points in 18 playoff games in what would be his final games a Flyer.
The 2003-04 season was lost to the lockout. Going into the 2004-05 season, the Flyers had to make multiple moves to be compliant with the newly installed salary cap. The Flyers were forced to buy out the contract of John LeClair and Tony Amonte as well as not re-signing leading scorer Mark Recchi to fit under the cap.
After rumors of LeClair going to Toronto swirled, he surprised everyone by signing the last contract of his career with the Pittsburgh Penguins. With both LeClair and Mark Recchi signing in Pittsburgh alongside top prospect Sidney Crosby, the Penguins should have been a force, but the defense was extremely poor as they allowed the most goals in the league on the season with 310. LeClair, however, finished fourth on the team in scoring and passed the 400 career goal mark and recorded his ninth 50+-point season.
LeClair would play just 21 games during the 2006-07 season before the Penguins released him on December 14, 2006. He would announce his retirement shortly thereafter. LeClair finished with 406 career goals and 819 career points in 967 games. Today, LeClair sits fifth all-time in Flyers history in goals with 333 and eighth in points with 643.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: nbcsports.com