Bill Barber's sheer physical strength was one of his most important attributes, and one that contributed to his Hockey Hall of Fame career.
After excelling in his hometown, he was drafted by the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL where he centred a line with Jerry Byers and Al Blanchard, and this trio was among the league's top scoring lines. All three were drafted early in the NHL's 1972 Amateur Draft. Barber was selected seventh overall by the Philadelphia Flyers and was the only one of the three who went on to make a significant impact in the NHL.
Initially, Barber was assigned to Richmond of the AHL by the Flyers, but after just 11 games he was recalled when Bill Flett sprained his knee. Barber was among the top rookies all year, finishing the season with 30 goals and placing second in voting for the Calder Trophy.
Part of his immediate success was in coach Shero's decision to play Barber as a left wing to Bobby Clarke on the first line rather than keep him at his natural center position on a fourth line. Clarke quickly realized Barber had an excellent shot and good hands and endeavored to get the puck to the port side whenever possible.
He scored 34 goals in each of the next two years, then exploded for a career year in 1975-76 by scoring 50 and getting 112 total points. Along the way, and not coincidentally, the Flyers were winning the Stanley Cup. They became the first expansion team to win in 1974 and took home the sacred silverware again the next year.
Barber had four more 40-goal seasons during his career, but the continuing deterioration of his left knee forced him to retire and he was unable to finish the 1983-84 season. He first injured the knee crashing into the boards while backchecking in December 1982 in Pittsburgh. He recovered after missing a few games, but the same knee gave out on him again later in the season. By the spring he required surgery, and once the knee was opened doctors discovered massive damage to the joints and cartilage that had been masked for years by strong muscle mass around the bone. It was completely reconstructed and he missed the entire 1984-85 season trying to recover. After the year was over, he knew he would never be strong enough to endure the physical demands of the NHL.
A coaching career followed, starting with the Flyers' AHL farm team, the Philadelphia Phantoms, where he guided them to a Calder Cup championship in 1998. Barber assumed the head coaching position with the Flyers during the 2000-01 season, and won the Jack Adams Award as the league's best coach. Unfortunately, that head coaching stint lasted but two seasons. After he was released by the Flyers, Barber joined the Tampa Bay Lightning as their Director of Player Personnel, and in 2004, had his name engraved on the Stanley Cup for a third time. In 2008, Bill Barber returned to the Philadelphia Flyers as a scouting consultant.
As a player, Bill Barber retired with 420 goals, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990. He is but one of only three players from those Flyers teams to be so honoured: Bernie Parent and Bobby Clarke are the others.