Olys were a bad omen for Flyers

DAVID W. UNKLE -- For SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 1:06 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia followed up a 2-1 shootout loss on Mar. 1 to the New Jersey Devils with a 6-1 blowout at the hands of the New York Rangers in the first two games following the Olympic break, a harbinger of things to come.

Then, in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup against the Buffalo Sabres, the Flyers lost Game One in sudden-death overtime 3-2, rebounding with an 8-2 annihilation at the hands of the Sabres in Game Two and a 7-1 thrashing in the series-ending Game Six in Philadelphia.

Coincidence?

Hardly.

General manager Bob Clarke says "there's a bit of a bigger picture here," about to prime the ears of anyone listening that his Flyers were sitting at the top of the NHL despite a plethora of injuries.

That's when he rolls out the excuse that he's been waiting months to use.

"If you look the teams that sent the most players to the Olympics they are out (of the playoffs), the Rangers, Detroit and us," said Clarke.

Detroit and New York each sent nine players to Italy while the Flyers sent eight.

"I know those are excuses, but there is some reality to it," said Clarke.

Clarke's explanation has serious flaws.

It ignores the fact that the Colorado Avalanche sent 10 players to the Turin Olympics, the most of any NHL team.

All the Avalanche did was dispatch the number two seed, the Dallas Stars in five games, including three overtime victories.

What about the Ottawa Senators, Bob?

The Sens had eight Olympians and arguably suffered a more devastating injury when goaltender Dominik Hasek suffered a season-ending injury.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning fell to Ottawa in five games.

New Jersey and Carolina, who are battling each other in the Eastern Conference semifinals, sent seven and six players, respectively.

Here's a more plausible excuse, Clarkie.

Your team tripped over its own obsolete feet coming out of the Olympic break.

While Ottawa and Colorado sprinted out to records of 5-1-0 and 4-2-0, respectively, the Flyers sputtered to a 2-3-1 record.

Detroit, the team that you threw up there to support your flimsy explanation, also had a 4-2-0 record.

Yes, the Rangers went 1-3-1 following the Olympics and would've have killed for that record by the time the season's final five games rolled around, but is Kevin Weekes really going to lead a team to the Stanley Cup?

The "reality" is the Flyers' are hockey's version of "That 70's Show."

In Clarke's post-playoff eulogy, he stated that, "The (NHL) took out all the defensive methods that defensive defencemen used forever."

Compare that Clarke's comments in July 2005 when he was quoted as saying, "I like the new rules. It's going to make a big change in our game. The play is going to go on continuously a lot better than it did in the past."

When the Flyers lost defencemen Vladimir Malakhov, Marcus Ragnarsson, Mattias Timander, and Danny Markov, following the 2003-04 season, Clarke passed up a chance to sign Scott Niedermayer.

The cheaper option, fueled by Clarke's infatuation with yesteryear, was to sign behemoths Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje. Clarke would compound that error in announcing the re-acquisition of Chris Therien.

Clarke's revelation that "The defensive defenseman is becoming an almost obsolete player," is nine months too late. Contractually, Rathje and Hatcher are white elephants that will serve as perennial reminders of Clarke's miscalculations.

Owner Ed Snider sat on the NHL's competition committee, so Clarke can hardly feign ignorance on what the desired effect of the rule changes would be. One of the charges that Committee faced was a way to ensure that the rules were consistently enforced.

Speaking of the rules, Clarke is concerned that, "The hitting is down, but the violent hits are up." Key players Keith Primeau and Kim Johnsson suffered season-ending concussions, and rookie R.J. Umberger was laid out in the Buffalo series, supporting Clarke's beliefs.

So why go out and get Denis Gauthier, a crusher who wasn't penciled in on anyone's Lady Byng ballot, instead of a handful of available defencemen at the trade deadline?

But perhaps Clarke's biggest tempest in a teapot resides between the pipes where Robert Esche and Antero Niittymaki want the bulk of the action next season.

But only in Philadelphia can the Olympic MVP play second-fiddle to a player who arguably should have been left off Team USA's roster.

"They both want to be number one goalies, (and) I think they are both good enough to deserve to be."

Clarke says in the next breath that, "I don't think we'll address it this summer."

Mistake Number One.

The Flyers have been down this road before. Doug Favell, Pete Peeters, Dominic Roussel, Roman Cechmanek, Jeff Hackett, are just a handful of the disgruntled Philly goaltenders over the last four decades that splintered the dressing room.

"When you don't have a team working together and growing together throughout a whole season, it's a problem," said Snider. "I don't think we ever had the opportunity to develop chemistry on our team."

Mr. Snider, nothing disrupts dressing room chemistry better than a goaltending controversy, so if you thought this year was bad, sit tight and see how miserable you feel next May.

"If you want to characterize everything from start to finish, all of those people who are now criticizing us were predicting us for possibly winning or at least contending for the Stanley Cup with the team that Bob Clarke put together," said Snider.

In all fairness, this writer was one of that predicted a parade down Broad Street (also known as Philly's Walk of Shame) past the homes of the city's other sports failures.

Still, it is time for Snider to ask Clarke to step aside in favor of a progressive mind, someone in the mold of Dean Lombardi who built the San Jose Sharks.

Too bad, then, that Lombardi left the Flyers organization at the end of the regular season to take the GM position with the Los Angeles Kings.

"A fish rots from the head," reads an ancient Chinese saying.

Enough said.

Agree? Disagree? Questions? Send all comments to: topcatsports@canoemail.com.


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