It's not often that the toughest-talking guy on a hockey team is
the general manager. But Flyers G.M. Bobby Clarke took his share
of sutures during his Hall of Fame career, and his calculated
decision to publicly challenge franchise player Eric Lindros this
summer will either help Philadelphia grab a long-awaited Stanley
Cup, or it will blow up in Clarke's face.
"If he wants to be paid like one of the top players in the game,"
Clarke said in July, "then he needs to play like one."
"My first reaction? I was confused," Lindros says, choosing his
words carefully. "We got into it privately. I'm not going to go
into exactly what was said. I'm sick of worrying about it.
[Clarke] has always got something to say. I was right up there
among the league [scoring] leaders when I got hurt last year.
The team had a good season until the playoffs. Not to belittle
what happened then, but the ship doesn't sink just because we
went through some rough seas."
What happened was that the Flyers, a year removed from advancing
to the Cup finals, were knocked out of the playoffs in the first
round by the Sabres. Philadelphia, however, has everything it
needs to roar back to the finals this season, including the most
talent in the Eastern Conference and an improved attitude.
Goalie John Vanbiesbrouck, who Clarke signed in the off-season,
is a significant upgrade over incumbent Ron Hextall. Roger
Neilson, who took over as Flyers coach late last season, is
convinced the team's problems are unity and defensive play. In
training camp Neilson harped on both.
So far Lindros has shown no signs of pouting. He reported to
camp in better shape than any of his teammates, and he was a
terror during the exhibition season. He says his mind-set was
helped by some off-season heart-to-heart chats with Red Wings
captain Steve Yzerman, who owns a cabin near Lindros's summer
house in Ontario. Asked what Yzerman said that stuck with him,
Lindros smirks and says, "Stevie said, 'Just play. Just play.'"
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOHN TAMANIO [Drawing of golden hockey puck]
Keep him busy: New goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck's goals-against
average last season with the Panthers was 2.66 on one day of
rest between games, 2.97 on two days' rest and 3.04 on three or
KEYS TO SUCCESS
--The Flyers, who blew leads in 19 matches last season, need to
play a more responsible defensive game when they're ahead.
--Captain Eric Lindros, who hasn't had an injury-free season in
his six NHL years, must remain healthy and assume a stronger
leadership role on the team.