Comments from Flyers Legend the Latest Saga in Reality Show Season

By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor 

How’s this for a week? The Flyers took the ice in Anaheim last Tuesday without their captain and their top-pairing defenseman on the COVID list, along with their top-line center and other top-pairing defenseman out with injury to face the Ducks and get handed a 4-1 loss.

Two nights later, the Flyers had the same shorthanded lineup and added another top-six forward and top-four defenseman to the COVID list. They faced the Pittsburgh Penguins, at the time on a nine-game winning streak, and lost convincingly. It also happened to be the same night as their late founder’s birthday. There was nary a mention of such an event, even hours after his own foundation dedicated to using hockey to promote education and empowerment of under-resourced youth, tweeted out their own tribute.

Last Saturday, the same shorthanded team took to the ice in front of a half-capacity crowd at Wells Fargo that was more concerned with the football game going on across the street, to the point where an Eagles touchdown resulted in the loudest cheers of the night. That was off the ice. On the ice, the team took a 2-0 lead in the third period, then blew it in overtime on the second hat trick they had allowed in five days, resulting in a fifth straight loss.

Then came this Tuesday, on a day when the Flyers were suddenly off due to a postponed game against Carolina. Not only did their COVID issues continue, but the franchise’s all-time legendary player had some harsh comments about a former GM and the state of the franchise.

Bobby Clarke was on the “Cam and Strick Podcast,” co-hosted by former NHL veteran Cam Janssen and NHL insider Andy Strickland, on Tuesday and shed some light into the decisions made under former GM Ron Hextall, most notably the 2017 NHL Draft that saw the Flyers vaulted to the second overall pick. 

Here’s Clarke on Hextall’s tenure, the decision to fire him as GM back in 2018 and the decision to draft Nolan Patrick in 2017.

“It had to be. When Paul Holmgren hired him, I thought it was the best decision that he could have made. When Hexy came in, we remained friends, but he alienated everybody right away. He shut his door, he locked the door, he was the boss. Nobody else was part of it. 

“We get the second pick in the [2017 NHL Draft] and we end up drafting Nolan Patrick. None of our scouts wanted Nolan Patrick. I don’t know where Patrick should have gone after his performances in Brandon. He’s a pretty good player. But they wanted [Cale] Makar. Of course, he went next. Now he’s a superstar and Patrick hasn’t played…but Hextall made that choice himself, and there were other choices that were made in our drafts that we’re paying for. We’ve got two or three first-round picks that are never gonna play. That’s why we’re struggling. Hexy made some huge mistakes. 

“And more than that, just alienating everybody. He never included anybody. He made himself bigger than the team. That is something I would have never, ever have thought of with Hexy because he was such a team player. Even the alumni were kept out of the locker rooms and stuff. Those kinds of things don’t work. They backfired. We’re way behind right now. We’ve got a long way to go to catch up. The salary cap affects everybody, but everybody works with it. We’ve got to get back to the middle of the pack and start pecking our way up.”

Things continued when the Brayden Schenn trade from that same draft was brought up. More from Clarke:

“That was just as bad. Nobody knew it. Hexy made that on his own. All our scouts – it was at the draft – our scouts were so made at Hexy for doing that, trading Schenn. And we also – I’m talking too much – but we also had a chance to get [Ryan] O’Reilly from Buffalo. We didn’t, obviously that was the manager’s decision, but it’s another one the scouts weren’t consulted on. I sat at the table three seats away from him when he traded Schenn – didn’t have a clue.”

So obviously, there’s a ton to dissect here, and it certainly helps to hear more than just the clip posted to social media and listen to Clarke’s entire answer regarding Hextall. The clip is posted below, and you can listen to the entire podcast here

It’s no real secret that there has always been some perceived disagreement with how the Flyers used the second-overall pick, but this takes it to a new level. The most legendary Flyers player and a noted general manager of the team essentially threw Hextall under the bus. That’s something that simply doesn’t happen in the typical family atmosphere that has always been with the Flyers. 

We can debate the 2017 NHL Draft until we’re blue in the face. Truthfully, hindsight is 20-20 and the decision to select Patrick over Makar or even Miro Heiskanen – who actually went third with the pick after Patrick – or Elias Pettersson, who went fifth overall after Makar, is a huge miss in the Flyers recent history.

That can be said with any draft picks, but it’s very interesting to hear Clarke mention “two or three first-round picks that are never going to play.” From Hextall’s tenure as GM, there are plenty of first-round picks that have amounted to NHL-level talent. Travis Sanheim in 2014, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny in 2015, Joel Farabee in 2018, even Patrick in 2017 still counts, as Patrick has over 200 NHL games of experience despite the injuries and Clarke’s comments.

But in 2016, the Flyers traded back in the first round of the NHL Draft and selected 22nd overall. They took German Rubtsov, who has played in only four NHL games since. Morgan Frost, taken with the 27th overall pick in 2017 with one of the picks acquired for Schenn, has just 38 games of NHL experience, dealing with injuries of his own over the years. Jay O’Brien was selected 19th overall in 2018, just five picks after Farabee. He has essentially become a forgotten part of the prospect pool, still currently in the college ranks.

The 2018 NHL Draft was Hextall’s last as Flyers GM. Since the 2015 Draft, only two players Hextall drafted have gone on to play at least 100 games at the NHL level – Patrick and Carter Hart. 

It was also no secret that during Hextall’s tenure as GM, there was a clear hierarchy in the way things were handled, particularly among the players and alumni. Anthony SanFilippo of Crossing Broad did a deep dive into Hextall’s micromanaging nature back when he was fired in 2018, detailing everything from the alumni not being permitted to use the locker room for an alumni game – which Clarke also mentioned on the podcast – to controlling the players diets, equipment, and essentially planting spies within the locker room and facilities to ensure all of this was being followed. 

So, from this, it’s not like some of these details are news. This has been out there for some time and it’s only now that a franchise legend has actually commented on any of it publicly. That said, it’s another indictment on the state of this once-great franchise.

On the ice, the Flyers are playing through a myriad of injuries and COVID cases, some players only at partial health, and it shows in the results. You can point to the 4-1 defeat that closed a 1-2-1 West coast trip, the 6-2 drubbing to the Penguins, or the 3-2 overtime loss to San Jose that most of the city probably didn’t even know was happening to see that the Flyers are back in free-fall mode again. A 10-game losing streak was followed with a seven-game points streak that has morphed into another five-game losing streak and counting.

But it’s more than just the wins and losses and performance on the ice. Think about all of the missteps that the organization has had in, essentially, just the last month. 

In the midst of said 10-game losing streak, the Flyers made yet another coaching change. Mike Yeo, taking over in the interim role for Alain Vigneault, became the sixth head coach the team has employed since the start of the 2013-14 season. 

On the same day that Vigneault was fired, the team was taking on the Colorado Avalanche and a police dog relieved itself on the center-ice logo, a moment that was well-documented and went viral. 

When the losing streak hit 10 games, fans took to Twitter and started a movement, changing their profile pictures to a singular image of a fan with a bag over his head. 

With the team finally having a few more positive results on the ice, positives also started piling up off the ice as another COVID surge hit the NHL. The season paused for a week. The Flyers didn’t play for 11 days. When they returned, they continued their recent stretch of futility by neglecting to acknowledge Ed Snider’s birthday, which drew reactions from former players and Snider’s daughter, and then Clarke’s comments on this podcast surfaced.

It's even telling to listen to the tone of Clarke's voice. First a player, then a member of the front office, franchise leader in many categories, the passion for the game runs in his blood and you can hear that. But you can also hear the tone of frustration, and even anger, in his voice. You hear the exasperation – the "I'm taking too much" line really says it all – as he recounts moments during the most recent years of Flyers history.

It has reached a new level for the Flyers. This is essentially one great, big reality show. The play on the ice is only one part of the equation, and at this point, the things happening off the ice are becoming bigger headlines.