As the calendar turned to March in the 1989-90 season for the Flyers, the team was struggling to gather points in a competitive Patrick Division. For the first time since 1972, the Philadelphia Flyers were in jeopardy to miss the playoffs. One team looking to solidify their postseason hopes that year were the Buffalo Sabres, led by Pierre Turgeon.
A trade was worked out where the Flyers sent veteran defenseman Jay Wells and a 4th-round pick in the 1991 draft to Buffalo in exchange for forward Kevin Maguire and a 2nd-round pick during the talent-rich 1990 draft. Kevin scored in his first game with the Flyers on March 6th, the only Flyers tally in a 2-1 loss to Boston. He went on to play in just four other games with the Flyers that year and was moved in the off-season to Toronto. However, that 2nd-round pick would pay dividends and ended up being the best part of this trade.
In that 1990 NHL Draft, the Flyers selected Mike Ricci 4th overall (passing up on Jaromir Jagr who went 5th to Pittsburgh). In the 2nd round (40th overall), the Flyers used the Sabres’ pick to choose a 19-year-old left wing from Sweden, Mikael Renberg.
The Flyers would wait on Mikael to develop as he played over in Sweden with great success before breaking into the lineup in the '93-'94 season. His impact was immediate, as he played in 83 games, totaling 82 points, and set the Flyers team record for most points in a season for a rookie. He also finished third for the Calder Trophy (NHL best rookie) and was named to the NHL All-Rookie team.
Early in the strike-shortened '94-'95 season, Terry Murray decided to juggle the lines around a bit. He moved Renberg from the LW on Rod Brind’Amour’s line and put him onto the RW of Eric Lindros along with LW John LeClair. This talented but physical line had immediate success together. In the last 37 games, the Flyers won 25 times. Their ability to use their size and strength to create space for each other – “cycling” the puck and over powering opponents -- was dominant in the offensive zone. The new line was also given a nickname by teammate Jim Montgomery that season – the “Legion of Doom." Their success together lasted for three years, including a trip to the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals, however; they were ousted by the dynasty of the Detroit Red Wings and HOF coach Scotty Bowman in four games.
In August 1997, Mikael was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning and played in 88 games over two seasons for them, scoring just 50 points. In December of 1998, he rejoined the Flyers in a trade with Tampa Bay involving Chris Gratton, basically an “undoing” of prior moves between the clubs in 1997. Although this trade spurred team success (an immediate 10-0-5 run) Mikael and the Flyers didn’t exactly dominate like before and made the playoffs only as a five seed. Without star Eric Lindros (lost on April 1 due to injury) the Flyers lost in the first round in six games to the Maple Leafs.
The 1999-2000 season would see Mikael play 62 games with the Flyers; however, he struggled to produce, scoring just 8 goals and 21 assists. In March of 2000, he was traded to Phoenix in exchange for fan favorite Rick Tocchet. Mikael played just 15 games for Phoenix, including the playoffs. For the 2000-01 season, Mikael played in his native Sweden. In 2001-02, he returned to the NHL as a free agent and signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs. After three seasons north of the border, Mikael decided to finish his career closer to his family in Sweden where he retired after the '08-'09 season due to nagging groin injuries.
In two stints with the Flyers, Renberg played in 366 regular season games, along with 50 playoff games. Over his entire NHL career spanning 10 seasons, he played in 728 games totaling 501 points (regular season and playoffs). Mikael still has a connection to hockey, as he works as a hockey commentator in Sweden for the SVT Network, but his place in Flyers’ history will always be remembered as one third of the legendary “Legion of Doom” line of the late 90s.
Mike Watson is a contributing writer for Flyerdelphia. Follow him on twitter @Mwats_99