From the Broad Street Bullies to the Legion of Doom to the stars of today, there have been so many truly great Philadelphia Flyers players over the years. Over the next several weeks we’ll be taking a look at many the best players to ever put on the Orange and Black. We’ll look at who we believe to be the top two players at each position in order to come up with a team the greatest Flyers ever. We begin by comparing the two best Flyers centers of all time- Bobby Clarke vs. Eric Lindros.
Towards the end of his brilliant 15-year career, Bobby Clarke was accidently hit in the forehead by a screaming Reggie Leach slapshot. It was a serious injury – there was blood everywhere, and Clarke was escorted off the ice for immediate medical treatment. To nearly no one’s surprise, he returned to the ice just a few moments later wearing his blood-soaked jersey and promptly proceeded to score the 1000th point of his illustrious career.
Robert Earl Clarke was the heart and soul of the Flyers franchise during its early years, and he still holds many team records today including the all-time team leader in games played with 1,144.
Along with his great tenacity and skill, Clarke was also a very unselfish player. In fact, he twice posted 89 assists in a season (1974-75 and ’75-76) and is far and away the Flyers’ all-time assists leader with 852. He also scored 358 goals, the fourth most in team history. Overall that’s better than a point-per-game pace for his career – not bad for a kid who was told he would never play in the NHL because he was a diabetic! He also helped lead the team to two Stanley Cups in the mid-70’s which no one has done since.
Clarke was highly respected among his teammates, but also among his peers. He won the Hart Trophy three times as the NHL MVP. He also was awarded the Masterton Trophy (perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey), the Ted Lindsay Award (most outstanding player), and the Selke Trophy (best defensive forward).
His famous number 16 jersey was retired in November of 1984 and he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987. In terms of ability, tenacity, and toughness, no other Flyer, and very few other NHL players could hold a candle to Bobby Clarke.
Sadly, the defining moment of Eric Lindros’ career as a Flyer was also his final moment as a Flyer. It was the spring of 2000 and Lindros had been suffering from a number of injuries including a series of concussions, some of which were misdiagnosed by the Flyers training staff. It was Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the New Jersey Devils. Lindros was drilled by defenseman Scott Stevens, and had to be carried off the ice, never to skate as a Flyer again, and the Devils went on to play for a Stanley Cup. And so when you look at Eric Lindros, you can’t help but think about what might have been. And what might have been certainly could have been the greatest Flyer ever.
Lindros’ career began with a bang. With his size, speed, tremendous physical strength and excellent playmaking ability, he quickly established himself as a dominant NHL player. “Number 88” is still the fourth-fastest player in NHL history to score 400 points (277 games) behind Wayne Gretzky (197), Mario Lemieux (240) and Peter Šťastný (247) – a truly remarkable achievement!
With linemates John LeClair and Mikael Renberg, Lindros excelled on what was known as the “Legion of Doom” line. In 1995 he led the Flyers to their first playoff berth in 6 years and also was awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league MVP.
However, Lindros’ intense physical style was a double-edged sword. It led to his dominant play, but it also led to a series of injuries, including some that were not treated correctly by the Flyers trainers. One example – during a game against the Nashville Predators in 1999, Lindros suffered what was diagnosed by the team as a rib injury. Later that night, his roommate Keith Jones found Lindros lying in a bathtub, pale and cold. The trainer was instructed by management to put Lindros on a plane that was returning to Philadelphia with injured teammate Mark Recchi. But Jones insisted that Lindros be taken to a nearby hospital. There it was discovered that Lindros had suffered a collapsed lung caused by internal bleeding of his chest wall. Lindros’ father later wrote the Flyers a letter in which he said that if the trainer had followed team orders and put Eric on that plane, he would have died. This statement was supported by the doctors who treated Lindros in Nashville.
Eric Lindros was the most dominant player to ever lace up a pair of skates as a Flyer. Yet the many controversies that surrounded his career plus the numerous injuries he faced kept him from fully living up to his tremendous potential as one of the NHL all time greats. So when we think of Eric Lindros, despite of the greatness he showed us, we can’t help but think about what might have been.
And the Winner Is…
Despite Eric Lindros’ many accomplishments, Bobby Clarke wins as the greatest center in Flyers history.