The Legion of Doomed
Bob Clarke's legacy as GM is misunderstood at best and a
disaster at worst, writes TFP columnist Greg Wyshynski.
(WASHINGTON, DC) -- Here in Washington, DC, the federal
government is famous for delivering stunning news to the
media late on a Friday afternoon; perfect for revelation
in the Saturday morning papers and having already been
spun by the time Monday rolls around.
But if you're in Philadelphia, the perfect time to break
bad news is evidently a Sunday morning, when the city is
counting down the hours before the latest football
disappointment from the Eagles.
Ed Snider fires Ken Hitchcock and accepts Bob Clarke's
resignation while most Flyers fans were more concerned
about the number of touches Brian Westbrook was going to
get against Tampa Bay that afternoon.
At the end of the day, it was all put into perspective:
the Eagles lost on a 62-yard (!) field-goal, and the
Flyers were now in a lost season they're a rudderless
ship that may still sail into the playoffs, but only as
a first-round bye for a top seed.
The Flyers are done, toast, finished. They're beyond a
rebuilding project they're a reconstruction project, from
the cracked foundation of their philosophy to their antiquated
window dressings. They're now the Legion of Doomed.
The only way Black (and Orange) Sunday could have been more
disastrous for the city's sports fans was if the Sixers traded
Iverson for Kwame Brown and Ryan Howard decided to leave
baseball and join a monastery.
How did this happen? Hitchcock lost the dressing room, for
one. His managerial style had caused a subtle player revolt,
and his handling of the goaltending situation one of
Clarke's many follies was horrific. Maybe things are
different if Keith Primeau is still in there to keep the
chemistry experiment from exploding, but without that kind of
leadership Hitch couldn't keep the team together. The fact
that Snider refused to accept this was happening, giving the
coach a three-year extension months before firing him, is
damning to the owner's grasp on the reality of his team.
Clarke, as we were told, wasn't fired but rather resigned.
Naturally, his resignation came after an extensive
investigation by Snider, which probably consisted of watching
the second period of the Buffalo game and then glancing at the
current standings in USA Today.
After conducting my own extensive investigation, I've
discovered that it's a minor miracle Clarke lasted this long.
After his bitter, immature managing of the team's relationship
with Eric Lindros. After not being able to take down the
Devils with any of his Stanley Cup-caliber teams. After
letting every Tom, Dick and Cechmanek embarrass the Flyers
between the pipes in the postseason.
The only reason he was still the general manager of the
Philadelphia Flyers was due to the wide-spread refusal that
Bobby Clarke, the ultimate Bully, had morphed into Bob Clarke,
building teams that were constantly being bullied. His legacy
as a player was legendary enough to cloud the fact that his
own mistakes led the Flyers to disappointment after
disappointment. It reminds me of the slack that was cut to
Willis Reed when the former Knicks icon was general manager of
the New Jersey Nets; the only difference being that Reed
couldn't build a contender if you spotted him Jordan and
Did the game pass Clarke by? In many respects it did, both
fiscally and competitively. Ironic, isn't it, that the man who
lobbied for rules changes to handcuff his team's arch nemesis,
Marty Brodeur, now finds himself a relic because the game has
been so dramatically retooled.
But I've seen the "Clarke didn't know how to compete in the new
NHL" harangue repeated throughout the hockey media, and quite
frankly find it to be disingenuous. Clarke wasn't alone in
thinking he knew how to build a winner under the new rules,
only to realize he'd have to revolutionize his entire approach
to the game. Fact is that it was a harsh education for all of
us; and by all of us, I mean everyone who was ready to hand
Philly the Cup in 2005 when it added Forsberg and two solid
defensemen to its roster.
Clarke's signing of Derian Hatcher is lambasted now, but at
the time the biggest concern about the acquisition wasn't his
ability to play under the new rules. It was that his that his
knee wouldn't hold up, and Hatcher played 77 regular season
games and six post-season games for the Flyers. Would this
signing even be a point of debate had Clarke been able to sign
his top choice Adam Foote rather than Hatcher?
The signings of Hatcher and Mike Rathje are now treated like
mistakes, saddling the defense with a pair of immobile
dinosaurs. How many critics were claiming that when they were
signed? Not many; the majority sounded like Philadelphia
Inquirer writer Tim Panaccio did:
"It was a recurring nightmare for several members of the
Flyers' brass. Visions of Marian Hossa, Daniel Alfredsson, Joe
Thornton, Dany Heatley, Mats Sundin, Vincent Lecavalier and
Jaromir Jagr - all coming across the blue line with speed. Who
among the Flyers' defense was big enough to stop them? Late
Monday night, in a swift assault on free agency, general
manager Bob Clarke addressed that concern."
So give the ex-GM points for trying. Clarke gets no credit for
sending Tony Amonte and John LeClair packing going with
faster, younger talent at forward mainly because the Flyers
traded goal-scoring for quickness and grit. It's too earlier
to see if the Kyle Calder trade pays dividends, but with
Handzus gone for the season it's looking pretty good. These
were moves made by a man attempting to change with the times,
even if they were changing too quickly for him.
But now, as I meekly attempt to defend the indefensible, we
all have to wonder how many of Clarke's many disappointments
and few successes he can actually claim to be his. Because the
most shocking, pathetic and condemnable comment from the
deposed general manager was that he really didn't do much
managing in general over the last two years:
"I don't know if the right word is burnt-out or tired or
something," he said. "The decisions that had to be made, I was
not willing to make them. I was lettin' ... other people make
I hear a man say something like that, and I expect him to be
shuffling around in a bathrobe and slippers, clutching a
Flyers teddy bear and mumbling something about Reggie Leach's
skate size. I don't expect him to be a paid professional who
was entrusted by management, and more importantly the fans, to
bring a championship home to a city that needs one as badly as
an Eagles fan needs a 9-volt with good hang time.
Looking back on his last few seasons, it's clear that Clarke
may have been passing the buck. Rathje was then-scout Dean
Lombardi's choice. Chris Therien's return was all but demanded
by Roenick and Primeau. The only move I'm confident Clarke
made was signing Ryan Kesler to an offer sheet, because it was
such a Clarke-type move.
If Clarke had health concerns, he should have resigned
earlier. If he lost his desire for the job, he should have
resigned earlier. If one of hockey's all-time greatest
competitors on the ice was content to be a figurehead off the
ice, he should have resigned earlier.
But he didn't. Because whether he's Bobby, or Bob, Clarke,
he's symbolic of the Flyers organization: stubborn to change,
no matter how far their fortunes and reputations have fallen.
...Speculation begins immediately that the Flyers are
going to seek out a big name general manager or coach. Cue the
usual suspects: Neil Smith, Brent Sutter, Pat Quinn....and
Mike Keenan? That last option is always going to be on the
table, but the fan revolt would be palpable if Keenan returned
to the Flyers.
(By the way, am I the only one who envisions Keenan waiting
for a job a lot like Beetlejuice waiting for someone to free
him from the afterlife? I picture Iron Mike relaxing on a
miniature zamboni, until Ed Snider walks in and says, "KeenanKeenanKeenan!"
Mike slicks back his hair and says, "It's shooooooooooooowtime!")
...I received about 50 e-mails all making the same joke:
that Robert Esche was going to be named the general manager of
the Flyers, ala Garth Snow with the Islanders.
You know, it wasn't so much Esche getting the front office gig
that worried me; it was Nittymaki getting a 15-year contract.
...The best hockey news of the week came during the worst
television news of the week: that NBC Sports was going to be
untouched by the monstrous cost-cutting by NBC Universal,
which wants to slash expenses by $750 million. With the NHL
expected to extend its relationship with NBC through the next
Winter Olympics, the opportunity remains for the network to
try and continue to revolutionize its coverage of the sport
from a technical standpoint without financial constraints.
...If baseball is to blame for the embarrassing attendance
numbers coming out of St. Louis, why is Detroit playing to
capacity every night in an Yzerman-less season?
...Finally, Brendan Shanahan told the Toronto Sun that
potentially taking over as NHL Commissioner was "kind of a
Memo to Shanny: Right now, I'm looking at the NHL Directory's
listing for the current staff in the league's New York office.
And I've seen dumber.
Wyshynski, also the Sports Editor of The Connect Newspaper, is
a columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com and the Washington
Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine.
His book, "Glow Pucks and 10-Cent Beer: The 101 Worst Ideas in Sports
is now on sale.