Robert Earle Clarke, OC (born August 13, 1949 in Flin Flon, Manitoba), better known as Bobby Clarke or, in later life, Bob Clarke, is a retired Canadian professional ice hockey centre who played his entire National Hockey League (NHL) career with the Philadelphia Flyers and is currently an executive with the team. During his 15 season playing career, he led the Flyers to two Stanley Cups and was awarded the Hart Trophy as league MVP three times. A 1987 inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Clarke was rated number 24 on the List of 100 greatest hockey players by The Hockey News in 1998.
A talented playmaker, he had three 100-point seasons, twice led the league in assists, and played in eight NHL All-Star Games. He was also a great defensive player, a great checker, and one of the best in the face-off circle. One of the game's great leaders, Clarke was the captain of the notorious Broad Street Bullies during their heyday in the mid-1970s. The Bullies were a reflection of their captain, who had a tireless work ethic and a strong will to win even if it meant breaking the rules. The latter, some say, is exemplified best by Clarke's infamous slash to the ankle of Valeri Kharlamov during the Summit Series in 1972, which is still a source of controversy to the present day.
Clarke retired following the 1983-84 season with 358 goals and 852 assists for a total of 1210 points in 1144 games, and immediately became general manager of the Flyers. He spent 19 of the following 23 seasons as a GM of the Flyers, also briefly serving as GM of the Minnesota North Stars and Florida Panthers, and reached the Stanley Cup Finals three times with the Flyers and once with Minnesota. His time as an NHL GM had its share of controversy, perhaps none greater than the rift between him and star player Eric Lindros during the late 1990s and early 2000s. He resigned from the GM position less than a month into the 2006-07 season and was the Flyers Senior Vice President.
Born in the small northern Manitoban mining town of Flin Flon, Clarke began playing organized hockey when he was eight years old. Around the time he was 12 or 13 years old, he learned he had diabetes. Even though he progressed into a highly touted prospect playing for the Flin Flon Bombers, leading the league in which the Bombers played in scoring in each of his last three years of junior hockey, NHL teams feared Clarke would never be able to play in the NHL because of his diabetes. Bombers coach Pat Ginnell took Clarke to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota following the 1967-68 season and the doctors concluded that as long as he took care of himself he could play professionally. Ginnell asked the doctors to write that statement down and when NHL scouts came to watch the Bombers play during the 1968-69 season, Ginnell showed them the doctor's verdict.
Even with such assurances Clarke fell to the second round of the 1969 NHL Amateur Draft and was finally selected by the Philadelphia Flyers 17th overall. After Gerry Melnyk, a scout and administrative assistant with the Flyers, tried to convince general manager Bud Poile to draft Clarke with their first round pick and failed Poile drafted Bob Currier instead, a player who retired five years later and, ironically, never played a game in the NHL. Melnyk called a diabetes specialist in Philadelphia who said Clarke would be fine if he looked after his health. Melnyk then successfully convinced Poile to draft Clarke when the Flyers second round pick came around. The Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens immediately offered the Flyers a deal for Clarke, Detroit offering two veteran players and Montreal offering a deal "Flyers management could hardly refuse". The Flyers refused both offers and made it clear Clarke was not for sale.
Wearing #16, Clarke made his NHL debut on October 11, 1969 against the Minnesota North Stars. He recorded his first point on October 22 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, an assist on Lew Morrison's 3rd period goal, and he scored his first goal on October 30 against the New York Rangers, beating Rangers goaltender Ed Giacomin 16:36 into the 3rd period. Clarke played the entire 76-game schedule his rookie season, recording 46 points (15 goals, 31 assists) and earning a trip to the NHL All-Star Game. Clarke led the Flyers in scoring during his sophomore season, 1970–71, with 27 goals and 36 assists for a total of 63 points in 77 games. His efforts helped the Flyers make the playoffs, but Clarke was held scoreless in his first playoff action and the Flyers lost in four games to the Chicago Blackhawks.
A tooth abscess was the cause of a slow start to the 1971–72 season; 20 pounds underweight, Clarke only managed 5 goals and 11 assists 31 games into the season. He rebounded over the final 47 games, scoring 30 goals and 35 assists and bringing his totals to 35 goals and 46 assists. His dedication was rewarded when he became the first Flyer to win a major NHL award, the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, and the Flyers re-signed him to a five-year contract worth $100,000 per season, a raise of $75,000 per season.
A few months following his strong play during the Summit Series for Team Canada, Clarke was named the Flyers' captain at age 23, the youngest to ever assume that role in NHL history at the time. As leader of the brawling Broad Street Bullies, Clarke became the first player from an expansion team to score more than 100 points in a season, 104 points (37 goals, 67 assists) total. Facing the Minnesota North Stars in the first round, the Flyers and Clarke received a scare, as he was hit in the eye with a stick which broke his contact lens and was rushed to the hospital. After removing parts of his broken contact from under the eye, Clarke returned to the lineup the next game despite having suffered a scratched cornea, and the Flyers won their first playoff series. The Flyers lost to the Montreal Canadiens during the next round, but Clarke was later awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league's MVP.
Clarke's production fell to 87 points in 77 games during the 1973–74 regular season, but his leadership and Bernie Parent's stellar goaltending led the Flyers to the second best record in the league and to the Stanley Cup Finals to play the team with the best record, the Boston Bruins. After losing Game 1, Clarke scored arguably the biggest goal of his career in overtime of Game 2, putting a rebound shot in over Bruins goaltender Gilles Gilbert. The Flyers won three of the next four games and became the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup. Clarke was later awarded the Lester B. Pearson Award as the players MVP. Clarke set the NHL record, at the time, for most assists by a centreman with 89 during the 1974–75 season on his way to a 116 point season. The Flyers returned to the Stanley Cup Finals and defeated the Buffalo Sabres in six games, repeating as Stanley Cup champions. In addition to the second championship, Clarke was awarded the Hart Trophy for the second time.
1975–76 was a record breaking season for Clarke. Playing on the LCB line with Reggie Leach and Bill Barber, the trio set a record for most goals by a line with 141. He also tied his mark of the previous season with 89 assists and set a personal best and franchise record for most points in a single season with 119 (later broken by Mark Recchi in 1992–93). The Flyers, without Parent and Rick MacLeish, returned to the Finals, but were swept by Montreal. Clarke was awarded the Hart Trophy one final time as the league's MVP. Clarke's production would drop off over the next few seasons; in fact, his point total fell six seasons in a row. But the Flyers remained contenders, reaching the semifinals and losing to Boston in 1976–77 and 1977–78.
After a quarterfinal loss to the Rangers in 1978–79, Clarke was named an assistant coach. In order to become an assistant he had to give up the captaincy due to NHL rules, so Mel Bridgman was named the 4th captain in Flyers history. His first season as a playing assistant coach, 1979–80, saw the Flyers go on an undefeated streak of 35 games, not only the longest in NHL history, but the longest in North American professional sports history. The Flyers made it to the Stanley Cup Finals before losing to the New York Islanders in six games. During the playoffs, Clarke scored 8 goals and assisted on 12 others in 19 games, all 8 goals coming on the power play. Following the playoffs, Clarke was awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy along with Flyers owner Ed Snider and former Flyers coach Fred Shero.
During the 1980–81 season, Clarke hit a personal milestone in memorable fashion. On March 19, 1981 during a game against the Boston Bruins, a Reggie Leach slapshot struck Clarke. After leaving the ice, he re-appeared moments later stitched up and with his jersey covered in blood. 31 seconds into the third period Clarke beat Bruins goalie Marco Baron for his 19th goal of the season and his 1000th career point.
Despite his diabetes and hard-nosed play, Clarke proved to be remarkably durable. A broken foot suffered during the 1981–82 season limited him to 62 games, the only time in his career he played fewer than 70 games in a season. No longer an assistant coach, Clarke reassumed the captaincy from Bill Barber during 1982–83. He skated in his 1000th career game on October 23, 1982 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Clarke had his best season since 1977–78, scoring 85 points in 80 games. He also won the Frank J. Selke Trophy, given annually to the league's best defensive forward. After the Flyers were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round for the third straight season in 1983–84 and the general manager position opened up after Bob McCammon resigned, Clarke retired on May 15, 1984 to become the General Manager of the Flyers.
Clarke played for Team Canada three times during his career. He played a major role in defeating the Soviet Union during the Summit Series in 1972, captained the Canadian team to gold at the 1976 Canada Cup, and won a bronze medal at the 1982 World Championship. In addition, he led the Flyers to the only outright victory over the Soviet Union's best team, Central Red Army, during the 1976 Super Series, and took part in the 1979 Challenge Cup with the NHL All-Stars. After his playing career, he served as one of Canada's four general managers during the 1987 and 1991 Canada Cups and served as Canada's lone General Manager during the 1998 Winter Olympics.
Coming off his third NHL season, Clarke was the last player Team Canada selected to play in the Summit Series. His line with Ron Ellis and Paul Henderson turned out to be Canada's best during the series, Clarke tallying two goals and four assists in the eight game series won by Canada as well as being awarded Team Canada MVP in game one of the series. Clarke's play earned the respect of many during the series, Henderson saying, "The best thing that could have happened to Ronnie (Ellis) and me was to get this young kid making plays for us. He was terrific!" Wayne Cashman would add, "There were guys on Team Canada who took their game to new heights in that series. A perfect example would be Bobby Clarke." The Soviet team's assistant coach, Boris Kulagin, thought Clarke was Canada's best player. Clarke's strong play was largely attributed to the fact that, unlike many of the Canadian players, Clarke reported to training camp in top physical condition, as he had always followed a strict off-season training regimen. Though he earned much praise due to his play, he was also criticized for an incident during the sixth game which is often referred to as, "The Slash."
Clarke's line played against the line of the Soviet's top player, Valeri Kharlamov, during the entire series. After being on the receiving end of some stick work from Kharlamov while going for the puck, Clarke caught up with Kharlamov and laid a two-handed slash across his already sore ankle. The slash broke Kharlamov's ankle and, though he finished the game, he missed the seventh game and was largely ineffective in the eighth. When asked about the slash years later, Clarke said, "If I hadn't learned to lay on a two-hander once in a while, I'd never have left Flin Flon." 30 years after the series, Henderson criticized Clarke, calling the slash, "the low point of the series." Clarke responded saying that he thought it was, "improper to criticize a teammate 30 years later," and that he didn't, "understand why he would bring it up now." Henderson has since retracted his criticism. Kharlamov, prior to his death in 1981, said he thought Clarke was tasked with, "taking me out of the game." John Ferguson, Sr., an assistant coach with Team Canada in 1972, said, "I called Clarke over to the bench, looked over at Kharlamov and said, 'I think he needs a tap on the ankle.' I didn't think twice about it. It was Us versus Them. And Kharlamov was killing us. I mean, somebody had to do it. And I sure wasn't going to ask Henderson." Clarke, however, does not recall Ferguson telling him this.
Named general manager of Team Canada on January 30, 1997, Clarke was tasked with picking which NHLers would compete for Canada at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, the first time NHLers would compete in the Olympics. A few of Clarke's choices were the source of some consternation, in particular omitting Mark Messier in favour of relative unknown Rob Zamuner and choosing 24-year-old Eric Lindros as the team's captain over the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Ray Bourque, and Steve Yzerman. Ranked number one going into the tournament, Team Canada played strongly until being stymied by Czech goaltender Dominik Hašek in the semi-final penalty shootout. They then lost 3–2 to Finland in the bronze medal match.
Following his retirement, Clarke's first stint as Flyers general manager lasted six seasons and included two trips to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1985 and 1987. After making the playoffs in each of his first five seasons in the front office, the Flyers fell off during the 1989–90 season and missed the playoffs. Jay Snider fired Clarke following the season and Clarke moved on to the Minnesota North Stars and spent two seasons as the North Stars GM, one of which saw a surprise run to the Finals in 1991. Leaving Minnesota, Clarke returned to Philadelphia to assume the role of Senior Vice President during the 1992–93 season, and served as a mentor for young phenom Eric Lindros during his first season. Clarke moved on shortly after and took the general manager position with the expansion Florida Panthers, a team which set the expansion team record for wins and points during a season in 1993–94. He returned to the role of Flyers GM prior to the 1994–95 season (Florida was compensated with cash and the 36th overall pick in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft), and he rebuilt the team into a Cup contender. Though the Flyers only reached the Finals once (1997) during his second tenure as Flyers GM, the Flyers made the playoffs 11 seasons in a row. Following a poor start to the 2006–07 season, Clarke resigned citing a possible burnout and a lack of desire. Clarke returned to the franchise on December 4, 2006 and was named Senior Vice President.
Controversy and Criticism
Clarke failed to win a Stanley Cup over the 22 seasons he was a general manager. During his 19 seasons as Flyers GM, the Flyers reached the Stanley Cup finals three times and amassed a regular season record of 714–443–199, but for one reason or another always came up short of a Cup title. While goaltending was a strength during his first stint with two Vezina Trophy winners between the pipes (Pelle Lindbergh and Ron Hextall), only Hextall in 1995, a combination of Hextall and Garth Snow in 1997, Brian Boucher in 2000, and Robert Esche in 2004 got the Flyers past the second round of the playoffs during his second stint. To make matters worse the New Jersey Devils, their Atlantic Division rivals, were stable in net with Martin Brodeur and beat the Flyers twice on the way to that franchise's first two Stanley Cups in 1995 and 2000.
Clarke received his harshest criticism after first round playoff exits, including a string of four in five years from 1998 to 2002, and several coaching changes. After Terry Murray was fired following the team's disappointing showing in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1997, five more coaching changes were made in the next five years. Some suggested his handling of Roger Neilson in 2000, who took a medical leave to undergo cancer treatment and was replaced by Craig Ramsay, was disrespectful. Clarke explained "The Neilson situation - Roger got cancer - that wasn't our fault. We didn't tell him to go get cancer. It's too bad that he did. We feel sorry for him, but then he went goofy on us." The firing of Bill Barber following a first round exit in 2002 led to calls for Clarke's dismissal. Clarke hired Ken Hitchcock shortly after and Hitchcock remained the head coach until Clarke's resignation four years later.
Following the 2004–05 NHL lockout, Clarke signed 6'5" defensemen Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje to four-year and five-year contracts respectively. While the moves were initially praised and even led some to label the Flyers Cup favorites in 2005–06, some suggested Clarke couldn't compete in the new NHL after the team was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Buffalo, a smaller, quicker team that proved to be effective against such slower defensemen as Hatcher and Rathje. Such criticisms became louder after a poor start to the following season which led to his resignation.
Nothing was more controversial during Clarke's time as a general manager than his dispute with Eric Lindros and his parents, particularly his father Carl who was Eric's agent. The trouble started following the 1997–98 season while negotiating a new contract for Lindros. Clarke threatened to trade him, saying, "If you want to be the highest-paid player in the game or close to it, you've got to play that way." While Lindros wasn't traded and he played well during the 1998–99 season, his season was cut short after sustaining a collapsed lung during a game on April 1 against the Nashville Predators. Lindros' parents criticized team trainer John Worley and claimed Clarke tried to kill their son by trying to put him on a plane back to Philadelphia, which would have been fatal given his condition.
After Lindros criticized Worley in March 2000 for failing to diagnose a concussion (his second of the season), Clarke stripped Lindros of the role of team captain. A few weeks after suffering a third concussion during practice, Lindros returned to the Flyers lineup for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals and sustained his fourth concussion of the season (his sixth in 27 months) during Game 7. Afterwards, Clarke said he didn't dislike Eric, but he had a problem with his parents, saying, "If he's going to come back, he can't have his dad calling us and telling us who to trade for and who he wants to play with Eric and who can't play with Eric." Lindros never played for the Flyers again. He rejected the Flyers qualifying offer in the off-season and sat out the 2000–01 season. Clarke finally traded Lindros to the New York Rangers in August 2001. Following the trade, Clarke said, "I don't give a crap whether he ever plays again or if I ever see him again. All he ever did was cause aggravation to our team."
Upon Lindros' retirement in November 2007, Clarke opined that Lindros belonged in the Hockey Hall of Fame. "Yes, based on his ability to play the game and based on his contributions as a player, I think you have to separate all the crap that went on. Particularly when he played for the Flyers, it was just outstanding, dominant hockey — the first of the huge, big men with small man's skill."
|1965-66||Flin Flon Bombers||SJHL||4||4||3||7||0||--||--||--||--||--|
|Flin Flon Midget Bombers||-||Statistics Unavailable||--||--||--||--||--|
|1966-67||Flin Flon Bombers||MJHL||45||71||112||183||123||8||8||14||22||10|
|1967-68||Flin Flon Bombers||WCJHL||59||51||117||168||148||15||4||10||14||2|
|1968-69||Flin Flon Bombers||WCHL||58||51||86||137||123||18||9||16||25||0|
|1972-73||Team Canada||Summit Series||8||2||4||6||18||--||--||--||--||--|
|Senior int'l totals||26||3||8||11||24|
On November 15, 1984, Bobby Clarke Night was held at the Spectrum. The Flyers retired Clarke's #16 jersey and unveiled the Bobby Clarke Trophy which is awarded annually to the Flyers' Most Valuable Player. Three years later Clarke was a first ballot inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The Flyers created a team Hall of Fame in 1988, and the first two inductees were Clarke and Bernie Parent.
In addition to his NHL honors, Clarke was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada (O.C.). The trophy he won in 1968 and 1969 with the Bombers, given annually to the Western Hockey League's top scorer, was re-named the Bob Clarke Trophy. He was inducted into three more halls of fame, the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame in 2003 as a charter member, Canada's Sports Hall of Fame in 2005, and the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame.
- Fastest player in NHL history to reach 700 assists- 926 GP, surpassed by Marcel Dionne (868 GP) and currently held by Wayne Gretzky (478 GP)
- Fastest player in NHL history to reach 800 assists- 1052 GP, surpassed by Marcel Dionne (1010 GP) and currently held by Wayne Gretzky (527 GP)
- Clarke finished his career 4th all-time in assists and 11th all-time in points, but he has since fallen to 24th all-time in assists and 42nd all-time in points (as of completion of 2012-13 NHL season[update]).
- His career plus-minus of +506 is 5th all-time.
- His back-to-back 89 assist seasons in 1974–75 and 1975–76 is still the Flyers team record and he also owns several other Philadelphia Flyers records, including:
- All-time regular season
- 1st place - Most games played (1144)
- 4th place - Most goals (358)
- 1st place - Most assists (852)
- 1st place - Most points (1210)
- 4th place - Penalty minutes (1453)
- 1st place - Plus/Minus (+506)
- 1st place - Shorthanded goals (32)
- All-time playoffs
- 1st place - Most games played (136)
- 5th place - Most goals (42)
- 1st place - Most assists (77)
- 1st place - Most points (119)
Awards & Achievements
|1965-66||Manitoba Provincial Midget Hockey Championship|
|1966-67||Manitoba Junior Hockey League Goal Scoring Leader, setting League Record of 71|
|Manitoba Junior Hockey League Assist Leader, setting League Record of 112|
|Manitoba Junior Hockey League Scoring Champion, setting League Record of 183|
|Gordon Petrie Memorial Trophy Manitoba Junior Hockey League Rookie of the Year|
|Manitoba Junior Hockey League First All-Star Team|
|Turnbull Cup Manitoba Junior Hockey League Championship|
|1967-68||Western Canada Junior Hockey League Assist Leader, setting League Record of 117|
|Brownridge Trophy Western Canada Junior Hockey League Scoring Champion,|
setting League Record of 168
|Western Canada Junior Hockey League First All-Star Team|
|1968-69||Western Canada Hockey League Assist Leader|
|Brownridge Trophy Western Canada Hockey League Scoring Champion|
|Western Canada Hockey League First All-Star Team|
|Western Canada Hockey League MVP|
|President's Cup Western Canada Hockey League Championship|
- Inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987
- Honoured Member of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame
|Philadelphia Flyers Captains|
|Angotti | Van Impe | Clarke | Bridgman | Barber | Poulin | Sutter | Tocchet | Dineen | Lindros | Desjardins | Primeau | Forsberg | Smith | Richards | Pronger | Giroux|