Welcome to LWOS Hockey’s summer series. After the historic 2016 NHL Free Agency period, it’s a good time to look at the best free agent signing in the history of all 30 NHL franchises. Up next: The all-time best Philadelphia Flyers free agent signing.
Make sure to check out the previous articles in our 2016 summer series here.
The All-Time Best Philadelphia Flyers Free Agent Signing
1980 – Tim Kerr: Amateur Free Agency
Timothy Kerr, a native of Windsor, Ontario, began his path to the National Hockey League in the Ontario Major Junior Hockey League, otherwise known as the OMJHL. He was a member of the Windsor Spitfires in 1976-77 and the Kingston Canadians from 1977 to 1980.
During his time in junior, Kerr was seen as a “decent” hockey player. He was deemed too unmotivated to play in the pros. His size was good, but he was considered mediocre when it came to his skating, shot and his hands. In his final season with the Canadians, Kerr scored 40 goals in 63 regular-season tilts, but was still seen as undesirable by most NHL clubs.
In 1980, the Philadelphia Flyers signed the then-20-year old, 6’3, 225-pound winger as an undrafted free agent. The terms of this contract are not known due to the fact that the National Hockey League Players’ Association did not release details of contract agreements until the 1990s.
Kerr would play a total of 11 seasons with the Flyers, scoring a total of 363 goals and 650 assists for a total of 1,013 points in 601 games played. Since his time in the OMJHL, Kerr’s game improved, his shot and release becoming his major strength along with his “oak tree-like” size.
Kerr’s rookie season was one of promise. He would play 68 games, often on the third or fourth line tallying 22 goals, including a hat trick against the Boston Bruins, while adding 23 assists. Philadelphia would go on to reach the Stanley Cup Final, but would eventually lose to the New York Islanders. He would play in 10 contests during those playoffs, tallying four points.
In his sophomore season, Kerr played in 61 games, still bouncing between lines in the bottom six, while also seeing secondary power play time. His point production would heavily increase, with him breaking the 50 point barrier, netting 21 goals and 30 assists.
However, in 1982, his third season with Philly, Kerr would suffer both a knee injury and a broken leg, limiting him to only 24 games, in which he would put up 19 points. Early on Kerr faced heavy criticism for being “soft” and not having the work ethic of an elite NHL player.
Kerr would bounce back big time, conditioning heavily in the off-season and rehabbing his injuries. At the start of the Flyers’ preseason camp, it was noticed that Kerr was in much better shape and his skills increasingly better.
This would all pay off with his next four seasons being the best of his career. In those four campaigns, he would break the 50-goal plateau each time (54 in both 1983-84 and 1984-85, and 58 in both 1985-86 and 1986-87). Almost 80 percent of the goals he scored were 10 feet or less from the opposing net.
Kerr would grow to be a powerful winger for the orange and black, being described as “an unmovable presence in the slot” and “needing chains wrapped around his arms and legs” to keep him from his dominating performance.
In the 1985 playoffs, the Flyers, backstopped by star goaltender Pelle Lindbergh, made a memorable run that would unfortunately end up in them losing to the Edmonton Oilers in five games in the Stanley Cup Final. However, Kerr would set a NHL single-game record scoring four consecutive goals in 8:16 against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in the first round. Kerr would not last long in the remainder of the playoffs, suffering an injury after playing 12 games.
Due to his net front play, Kerr would take a beating from opposing players. During the 1987-88 season, Kerr suffered a major shoulder injury. This would sideline him for nearly the entire season, having him only suit up for eight games, scoring only three goals while adding two helpers. Over the course of 14 months between 1986 and 1988, Kerr would undergo a total of five shoulder surgeries, all in attempt to heal his injury plagued self.
Unfortunately, the 1987-88 season would signal the decline of his career. In the following season, Kerr would stay healthy, but wouldn’t play the whole season, instead playing 69 games, tallying 88 points.
Though it looked as if Kerr was back on track to being his usual scoring self, the next two seasons, 1989-90 and 1990-91 would deny that theory. He would play only 40 games in the 1989-90 season and even less, 27, in 1990-91.
In 1991, the National Hockey League expanded, welcoming the San Jose Sharks, the Ottawa Senators, and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Due to the NHL expansion draft rules allowing teams to protect a specific number of players, the Flyers decided to leave Kerr unprotected. He would be signed by the Sharks, but then quickly traded to the Rangers. In New York, he would play only 32 games. He would then be traded to the Hartford Whalers, where he would end his career, having played in only 22 games his final season. At the age of 33, Kerr retired from the National Hockey League.
If it wasn’t for injuries, Tim Kerr may have lasted even longer in the NHL, and most likely would have had more points than what he ultimately posted. Looking back, four consecutive 50-goal seasons, as well as six seasons with 50 or more points, is astounding for an undrafted free agent.
He had a presence on the ice and developed into one of the league’s top goal scoring machines, both in 5-on-5 play and on the power play. But what made Kerr even more special is the fact that he battled much adversity and kept fighting. Whether it was from the poor, early scouting reports, to his repeating injuries, Kerr kept playing. In 1989, Kerr won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded to the player who showed the ultimate dedication and perseverance in hockey that year.
He remains a fan favorite among Flyers fans today and will always be remembered for the grit and skill he displayed on the ice, all while taking a beating from opposing defenders.