Bob Clarke always gave as good as he got. And in the end, he got himself good.
The ultimate face of the Flyers since the start of his playing days in the early 1970s, Clarke resigned after 17-plus seasons in Philadelphia’s GM chair (he also had brief stints as the GM of the Florida Panthers and Minnesota North Stars in the early 1990s).
While Philadelphia experienced plenty of success during Clarke’s reign Â– three Stanley Cup final appearances and an active streak of 11 consecutive seasons finishing first or second in the Atlantic Division Â– the Flyers GM couldn’t do what he had done as a Flyers player: win the Cup (twice).
There’s no denying owner Ed Snider gave Clarke the benefit of the doubt at every turn. Before the lockout, Clarke spent his boss’s money like they were printing it in the basement.
That fiscal flexibility allowed Clarke to cover up any roster holes, but that luxury barely exists in the new salary-capped NHL. Overpay a player in today’s game, and you’ll end up shorting your team at another position because there’s only so much money to spread around.
Clarke didn’t do his team any favors by signing super-sized but slow-footed defensemen Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje after the lockout, but Philadelphia’s failings are bigger than those two players.
It’s no secret, for example, the Flyers have been desperately searching for a No. 1 goalie since Ron Hextall hacked his last opponent and called it a career. Roman Cechmanek just didn’t cut it.
Ask anyone who knows anything about hockey, and they’ll go on and on about how you need great goaltending to win the Cup. The Flyers haven’t had that for a decade, which is probably why they haven’t been back to the Cup final since 1997.
Clarke’s teams always had leadership; sometimes misguided, granted, but leadership nonetheless. And the culture of winning, Clarke’s calling card as a player, was evident throughout the organization.
Just two years ago, the Flyers pushed eventual Cup-winner Tampa Bay to Game 7 in the Eastern Conference final.
Philadelphia had but one losing season in Clarke’s 17 years as GM Â– back in 1989-90, his final season in his first go-around as the big boss. (It should be noted that in the four subsequent seasons in the early ’90s when Clarke was GM of Florida and Minnesota, the Flyers had a losing record every season.)
Yet, for all the good Clarke did for the Flyers, his legacy as a GM isn’t nearly as sparkling as his playing resume.
As a player, he was an all-star, a fearless leader, a league MVP, and a playoff champion.
As a GM, though, his determination and competitiveness often manifested itself in frustration and angry outbursts. There were many public spats, with people inside and outside the Flyers organization, and most notably with Roger Neilson and Eric Lindros.
Under Clarke, Philadelphia went through coaches like that city devours cheese-steak sandwiches. Too often, the bigger the star, the bigger the shot that Clarke would fire across the bow.
Perhaps it was Clarke’s attempt at motivation, a verbal kick in the pants that he was able to deliver so effectively as a player. But more often than not, as GM, his words were misinterpreted Â– or, perhaps, interpreted all too clearly Â– and disharmony and unrest resulted.
In the end, Clarke, the GM, said he was too burned out to continue on. And his record supports that statement. Still, those are words that never would’ve been uttered by Clarke, the player.
The (Winning) Ways of the Buffalo
Yes, the Sabres are super.
Buffalo can roll three scoring lines, and not miss a beat when its fourth unit is on the ice.
The Sabres are deep on defense, and sophomore goalie Ryan Miller has continued his ascension to the league’s elite.
They lost only a handful of key players (Jay McKee, J-P Dumont, Mike Grier) from the team that made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final last season and most of the Sabres are still on the upswing of their young careers.
If Buffalo beats the Islanders (Thursday) and Thrashers (Saturday), the Sabres will establish a new NHL record for consecutive wins at the start of the season.
The Toronto Maple Leafs went 10-0-0 to start the 1993-94 campaign. The Leafs finished with a 43-29-12 record that season, for 98 points, and made it to the Western Conference final before bowing out to Vancouver in five games.
Not Buffalo, but not bad
With the Sabres off to such a hot start, some other teams have been overlooked.
In the East, Atlanta (7-1-1) and Montreal (4-2-2) were performing above expectations; and in the West, Anaheim (6-0-2), Dallas (8-1-0) and Minnesota (7-1-0) got out of the gates in a hurry.
And, while they may not be around for the playoff run in the spring, Chicago (4-4-0) and Pittsburgh (4-3-0) were looking a lot better than the clubs that finished 28th and 29th in the NHL, respectively, last season. Even last year’s last-place team, St. Louis, is off to a respectable 3-3-2 start.
Â‘Eh’ game gone missing
About three weeks into the season, there were just two Canadian-born players among the NHL’s top 20 scorers. Buffalo center Daniel Briere and San Jose pivot Patrick Marleau, tied for 13th with 11 points as of Oct. 24, were looking up to the likes of Atlanta’s Marian Hossa and Buffalo’s Chris Drury and Maxim Afinogenov (who finally looks like he’s figured out that he’s a lethal weapon in the post-obstruction NHL).
There are eight nationalities among the top 20 scorers, including five Russians, five from the Czech Republic, two from each of Sweden (Vancouver’s Sedin brothers) and the U.S., and one from Slovakia (Hossa), Austria (Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek), Finland (Florida’s Olli Jokinen) and Slovenia (Los Angeles rookie Anze Kopitar).
Ottawa defenseman Andrej Meszaros, who tied for second in the NHL in plus-minus rating (plus-34) as a rookie last season, was minus-6 through seven games in 2006-07.
Among NHL defensemen, only the Rangers’ Karel Rachunek (minus-7), Phoenix’s Dennis Seidenberg (minus-9) and Philadelphia’s Derian Hatcher (a league-low minus-10) were worse.