Broad Street breakup: Flyers GM Clarke resigns, Hitchcock fired
PHILADELPHIA -- Bob Clarke simply lost interest in his general manager's job. The Flyers stopped paying attention to coach Ken Hitchcock.
No wonder Philadelphia's Stanley Cup drought showed no sign of ending anytime soon.
Now it's up to Paul Holmgren and John Stevens to take their turn, trying to figure out a way to bring the Flyers back among the NHL's elite and end 31 years without a championship.
They'll get their chance after a dramatic Broad Street breakup Sunday that saw Clarke surprisingly resign in his second stint as GM and Hitchcock fired only a month after signing a new deal with the Flyers 1-6-1 and with the fewest points in the NHL.
"I deeply regret not being able to bring the Stanley Cup here," said Clarke, long the face of the Flyers. "I didn't deliver."
Stevens was appointed head coach and Holmgren was promoted from assistant GM to interim GM with the team on a five-game losing streak and off to their worst start in 17 years.
Stevens was in his first season as an assistant after coaching the team's AHL affiliate for six seasons, leading the Phantoms to the Calder Cup championship in 2005 with many of the players now on the Flyers' roster. Stevens, a former Flyers player, will be behind the bench when Philadelphia hosts Atlanta on Thursday.
"I think over time we can be a good team and make it right," said Stevens, who ran his first practice Sunday.
Even with Stanley Cup championships elsewhere on their resumes, Clarke and Hitchcock never found the right mix together to bring a title to Philadelphia.
The Flyers reached the Stanley Cup finals under Clarke in 1985, 1987 and 1997. This year's team is miles away from playing for a title.
Flyers chairman Ed Snider said he decided to fire Hitchcock after a 9-1 loss to Buffalo last week, one of the worst in the franchise's 40-year history.
"I think we have a lot better talent than we've showed so far," Snider said.
While Clarke was given parts of 19 seasons in charge to win a Stanley Cup, Hitchcock had a considerably shorter stick. Only in his fourth season with the Flyers, he signed a new deal in training camp through the 2008-09 season, so it was startling he didn't even finish this one.
"It's disappointing personally I wasn't given the opportunity to turn it around because I felt in my heart it was turning around," he said.
Snider acknowledged the Flyers had tuned out Hitchcock and his demanding style.
"I knew what went on and I feel that's an unfair statement," Hitchcock said.
Clarke said the Flyers' record played no role in his resignation. He said he began feeling spent during last year's draft and hoped for renewed zest once the season started. That never happened, and Clarke said he decided to quit after the third game of the season.
"I felt strongly from the end of last season on, I don't know if the right word is burnt out or tired, but the decisions that had to be made, I was not willing to make them," Clarke said. "I was letting other people make them. I know I didn't do the right job for this organization."
As general manager, Clarke never matched the success he had as a Hall of Fame player when he led the Flyers to Stanley Cup championships in the 1973-74 and 1974-75 seasons. Clarke was in his 13th year in his second stint as general manager, after handling the GM role in the 1980s.
"My heart is very sad it's come to this," Holmgren said.
Known for his "toothless grin," Clarke played for the Flyers from 1969-84 and captained the famed "Broad Street Bullies" teams in the 1970s. He immediately went from playing into management, holding the GM role from 1984-90. He returned to the position in 1994, famously feuding with Eric Lindros in 2000.
Philadelphia was bounced in the first round of the playoffs by Buffalo last season, and has seemed ill-equipped to win a Stanley Cup in an NHL where speed and scoring are now more valuable than the big, tough guys they've traditionally built around. Many of the same problems they had last season have lingered, notably a plodding defense that has yet to score a goal.
The Flyers waived three players last week after the blowout loss to the Sabres and Hitchcock even shuffled the lines, trying to anything to spark his sagging club.
"It's not going to be very far along before this team starts to win on a regular basis," he said.
In 10 NHL seasons with Dallas and Philadelphia, Hitchcock is 408-249-100. He is 66-51 in playoff games and won the Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999. He led the Flyers to the conference finals in 2004, where they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who went on to win the Stanley Cup.
"Sometimes its good to get a change, it doesn't matter what you do," Flyers captain Peter Forsberg said. "John Stevens is a winner, and the young guys like him, and he's going to be a good change for us."
The Flyers are off to their worst start since another 1-6-1 start in the 1989-90 season, coincidentally costing Clarke his first shot as GM. The Flyers missed the playoffs that season, starting a five-year span without a postseason appearance.
The Flyers have to pick up the goal scoring if they want to make the postseason for the 12th straight season. They have only 15 goals in eight games -- five by Simon Gagne. They are a woeful 4-for-55 on power-play chances this season.
"We're all responsible for what happened," Gagne said. "It's not only them. It's enough. We need to find a way."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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