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.' "