Written By: Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter
Throughout the years, there has not been very many NHL franchises that could boast the quality lineups that the Philadelphia Flyers has put out on the ice.
Year after year, decade after decade, the Flyers were able to find a few diamonds in the rough, more than their fair share of franchise players and a few Hall of Fame inductees along the way.
Bobby Clarke, Bernie Parent, Bill Barber, Mark Howe, Tim Kerr, Eric Lindros, Brian Propp, (Richard) ‘Rick’ Macleish, John Leclair, Eric Desjardins, Reggie Leach, Mark Recchi, Rick Tocchet, Ron Hextall and Gary Dornhoefer, make up an impressive list of all-time Flyers.
It’s always tough to pick an NHL franchises best player of all-time. Father time makes it impossible for us to compare players in real-time and, sometimes the stats do not tell the whole story.
When you consider the impressive list of players above, one thing is clear. Every one of those players would be welcome on any NHL roster in any era and every one of them deserves his place amongst the Flyers best players of all-time. Question is, who was the best?
When you consider the total package, it’s simply no-contest, the best player in Flyers history is, was, and may very well always be BOBBY CLARKE.
Wearing No. 16, Clarke played 15 seasons with the Flyers and was the face of the franchise while he was there. Clarke leads the Flyers in several regular season categories, including, Games Played (1,144), Assists (852), points (1210), Plus/Minus (+506) and Short Handed Goals (32).
Clarke, who played his entire career with Diabetes, also ranks fourth overall in Goals Scored (358), fourth in Penalty Minutes (1,453) and fifth overall in Power Play goals. Adding to already impressive list of all-time stats.
Known for his feisty brand of play, ability to win faceoffs and willingness to do “whatever it takes” to win a hockey game, Clarke has a long list of accomplishments.
He led the NHL in assists on two occasions, had three 100-point seasons (1972-73, 1974-75, 1975-76), played in eight All-Star games, won the Hart Trophy on three separate occasions (1973, 1975, 1976), and led the Flyers to two consecutive Stanley Cup victories (1974, 1975).
Outside of his duties with the Flyers, Clarke performed at a high level in International competition as well. As a member of Canada’s 1972 Summitt Series, Clarke played exceptionally well for Canada, winning face-offs, throwing some big checks and netting two goals, six points and 18 penalty minutes in eight games.
Unfortunately, during that tournament Clarke became most famous for an on-ice incident and not his hard-nosed play. The incident, which will forever be known as “the slash,” put a black mark on Clarke in many people’s eyes and ignited many to refer to him as a “Goon.”
The incident in question involved Clarke and Russian forward Valeri Kharlamov. Engaged in a tough head-to-head battle with Kharlamov, Clarke was winning some battles, but ultimately was losing the war to the crafty Russian, as was Team Canada.
Kharlamov, who was no angel himself, was Russia’s best player and, with the series in jeopardy and seemingly out of options, Clarke took it upon himself to lay a two-handed slash across Kharlamov’s ankle. It was a low point in the series, but the incident underlined the fact that Clarke would indeed do anything to win...
During his career as a Flyer, teammates and fans alike loved Bobby for what he brought to the game. He was tenacious, a tremendous leader, highly skilled, tough and, with all his missing teeth and rocker-esque hair, fit in nicely as the Captain and leader of the historic “Broad Street Bullies.”
Throughout the '70s and early '80s, Robert Earl Clarke was the face of the Flyers. In fact, when you think of the Flyers today, the first image that comes to many NHL fans minds is the toothless smile of Clarke—you all know the one!
Clarke played a total of 15 seasons with the Flyers, ending in 1983-84, a season in which he played 73 games and scored 17 goals and accumulated 60 points, not bad for an old man!
After Clarke’s playing career was over, he spent another 19 years with the Flyers as the teams general manager during which the Flyers had an impressive regular season record of 714–443–199.
Unfortunately, Playoff success was limited and, Clarke was often criticised for not addressing the Flyers soft goaltending, which seemed to be an ongoing issue during his tenure with the team.
All in all, the Flyers were perennial Stanley Cup contenders on Clarke’s watch and the Flyers had a great chance in 1997 when they made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Alas, the Flyers lost the series to a very talented Detroit Red Wings team.
As such, many Flyers fans view Clarke’s tenure as the teams GM as a failure, keep in mind, Philly fans are amongst the NHL’s toughest breed, the kind of fans that have been rumored to boo when opposing teams jets make safe landings!
Currently serving as the Flyers Senior Vice President, Clarke is in a class all his own and, there is just no getting away from it, Clarke is the Flyers most important player/person of all-time.
Until next time,
Written By: Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter