Flyers eagerly go back to game's basics

Lindros chaos passed, Philadelphia enjoying role as Cup contender

October 30, 2001|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA - Mark Recchi leans back against his locker, relaxed, happy. The only tension surrounding the Philadelphia Flyers this season is what comes with being a favorite to win the Stanley Cup. And that's something nearly everyone in the room appreciates.

"It's definitely a little calmer around here," Recchi said. "It's pretty obvious we don't have the distractions."

The big distraction was Eric Lindros.

The strapping center sat out all of last season after demanding a trade from the organization with which he had grown to stardom. For more than two years, Lindros, his father, Carl, and Flyers management had been at odds. Though Lindros, a former NHL Most Valuable Player, wasn't around, he still cast a shadow.

Even today, when Flyers general manager Bob Clarke is asked about the significant changes his team has made, the first one that comes to his mind is the trade of Lindros to the New York Rangers.

And he isn't the only one who's happy about that.

"Making the trade with the Rangers really put everything behind us," said Flyers defenseman Eric Desjardins. "It's nice to focus just on hockey."

As the Flyers come to Washington for today's game with the Capitals, it is a team-wide feeling.

Under duress last season, the Flyers rolled up 100 points in the regular season, only to fall flat in the first round of the playoffs.

Over the summer, Clarke was determined to make the Flyers stronger. He re-signed John LeClair to a five-year, $45 million contract. He caused the Capitals much angst by plucking center Jeremy Roenick, a player high on Washington's wish list, off the unrestricted free-agent list for $37.5 million. He got center Jiri Dopita from the Florida Panthers for two years and $3.3 million. And he signed unrestricted free-agent defenseman Eric Weinrich to a three-year, $9 million deal.

And then, he gave himself a great, big present. He traded Lindros to the Rangers for three young, talented players - defenseman Kim Johnson, right wing Jan Hlavac and forward Pavel Brendl - and a third-round choice in the 2003 draft.

"Even if we had gotten nothing for him," Clarke said, "it would have been addition by subtraction."

Clarke likes being around the players, and he liked being around Lindros in the early years. Both men were green. Clarke had just become a general manager, and Lindros had just become an NHL player. Clarke saw a player who was dependent on his parents, but thought he'd grow out of it.

"When you're a young player, you're going to be guided by someone - a parent, a coach, an agent," Clarke said. "But there comes a time when you grow up and take responsibility for yourself. I thought when he grew up, he'd take charge. He never did, and we were unprepared for that. We'd never seen anything like that."

Through his career as a player and general manager, Clarke has seen the Flyers organization take criticism for the way they played. He said that's to be expected and accepted. "But with Lindros and his father, it was different," Clarke said. "The [Philadelphia] Inquirer made a deal with Eric and his father to feed inside information in exchange for good publicity. ... Once Lindros was gone, the criticism slowed a lot."(Lindros was not available to be interviewed for this article.)

At the Inquirer, Tim Dwyer, a former columnist who is now the sports editor, had already heard similar statements from Clarke, but was livid at the suggestion.

"That's ludicrous," Dwyer said. "I told him [Clarke] last year that I talk to him more than I talk to Carl Lindros, and I'd only talked to Clarke four times. He keeps saying there is another side to the story, but when asked, `What is it?' you don't get an answer.

"I did have a relationship with Eric. I covered him from his first day as a rookie. It was a good, professional relationship."

Everything that happened to Lindros, including four concussions and a collapsed lung that nearly cost him his life, was always big news.

The collapsed lung, initially diagnosed as a cracked rib, sparked some of the harshest exchanges between the Lindroses and the team. Clarke was furious that Lindros would publicly, and in his opinion unfairly, criticize the team trainer; Lindros' family members looked at the way the injury was handled and said they were convinced Clarke was trying to kill their son.

At this point, it is difficult to tell which side was happier to see a trade made. But Clarke said if he had the Lindros situation to handle all over again, he would behave differently from the beginning. First, he wouldn't have taken calls from Lindros' dad, who would try to pick linemates for his son and suggest trades for the Flyers. And then he would have tried to make Lindros follow the same rules as everyone else on the team.

But this is a new season. Lindros is gone. The Flyers, while not clicking on all cylinders every night, are rounding into shape. Clarke looks in his locker room now and sees longtime Flyers like LeClair, Desjardins and Recchi smiling at him.

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