How Bob Clarke became 'first boss, a longtime mentor' for Chuck Fletcher

How Bob Clarke became 'first boss, a longtime mentor' for Chuck Fletcher

Bob Clarke didn't have much at the time.

As the general manager of the expansion Florida Panthers in 1993, Clarke was forced to build from scratch.

"There's myself and a secretary," he said. "So we had to put together a small group to get started."

The all-time greatest Flyer didn't know Chuck Fletcher, a bright 26-year-old out of Harvard working for Don Meehan, considered the top player agent in the business. 

But Clarke knew Fletcher's father, Cliff Fletcher. Similar to how he admired Keith Allen, the architect of the Flyers' Stanley Cup-winning clubs, Clarke looked up to Cliff Fletcher's benevolence in general managing.

"They were the first two, Keith Allen and Cliff Fletcher, that treated the players and their families better than the other teams," Clarke said Thursday in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "Everybody does that now, but in those days, that wasn't the way it was run. As a player, I knew these things. As a GM, it was what I wanted — the way people were treated was extremely important for me.

"I knew Chuck's background, being raised in hockey and the way his father treated people, and the way he treated me."

So Clarke reached out to Meehan, gathered some information and set up breakfast with Fletcher.

"Very easy man to like, Chuck," Clarke said.

Not long after, Clarke offered Fletcher the assistant general manager position.

"I said, 'I can only give you an opportunity, I want you to work with me and what you do with the opportunity is your own choice,'" Clarke said. "And I made a good decision in hiring Chuck."

Twenty-five years later and Fletcher is now the general manager of the Flyers, brought in to rekindle a winning mentality pillared by Clarke, the franchise's all-time leading scorer and captain of the 1974 and 1975 Cup teams.

Bernie Parent and Bob Clarke in 1975. (AP Images)

At his introductory press conference Wednesday, sitting in front of a Flyers backdrop, Fletcher remembered where he got his start.

"Bob Clarke let me do my first contract in 1993," he said.

"My first boss, a longtime mentor."

Clarke trusted Fletcher back in 1993. He liked his ability to work with others.

"It didn't take very long to recognize — not just his people skills, I mean, lots of people have people skills, but they're still not capable of handling contracts and making decisions and that kind of stuff in the hockey world. He was," Clarke said. "When we brought Ron Hextall in to Philly years and years ago, Paul Holmgren was my assistant and Hexy was next in line. He scouted, he worked his ass off and pretty soon, he was doing some contracts. Not at the top level, not the top players and stuff like that, but dealing with agents and signing some players and developing players. 

"How else will these young guys learn unless you let them? And Hexy was good at it, too. Chuck was real good at it and Hexy was real good at it."

Bob Clarke and Chuck Fletcher. (AP Images/Zack Hill, Philadelphia Flyers)

Fletcher and Clarke spoke to each other Tuesday night before the official commencement of this new era in Flyers hockey.

"When we talked, I said, 'Thanks for coming and I think you'll do a great job with us,'" Clarke, the Flyers' senior vice president, said. "And the Flyers need him. I thanked him and of course he was calling to thank me for supporting him."

The Flyers need Fletcher after firing Hextall last week following four-plus years under his guidance as GM. Upper management is yearning to compete at the top level again, where the Flyers haven't been in sometime, or at least weren't getting there quickly enough. They've been without a playoff series victory since 2012 and have missed the postseason three of the last six years.

Clarke has faith that Fletcher can put the Flyers back in that winning echelon of teams. Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott was attracted by Fletcher's "deep experience" along with his "easy, open management style, leadership style."

It's what Clarke saw in Fletcher during 1993, the characteristics he loved about Cliff Fletcher as a GM.

"I think we deal with people similarly," Fletcher said of his father. "I hope that's what I learned from him. I think if you talk to most people that worked for my dad, they would say he gave them a role, he valued their input, he treated them with respect."

Clarke believes Fletcher's strengths and personality fit the principles in which founder Ed Snider used as the foundation for the Flyers.

Whomever you work for, managing people is critical to any success. No matter what job it is, when you're the manager, you've got to use your people. You need those skills to do that, to get the best out of your people, to make them feel a part of what you're trying to do and make them feel good about working for the Flyers. That had gotten away a little bit and that wasn't how this organization was built by Mr. Snider and Keith Allen, which had made this organization great.

We've got to do what we can to get up into that level where you can compete honestly with these top teams. … There are lots of really good teams. But you can get there through our young players developing, through trades — whichever method it takes, you've got to try and get there. You can't just tread water. That's not fair to the players who played for you or the people who work for you — you have to try and get better.

Fletcher helped Clarke run the show in 1993-94. Now, Fletcher is in the GM seat and Clarke will watch.

The "longtime mentor" has Fletcher's back, but Clarke won't change. 

Once again, like he did in 1993, he'll trust Fletcher, as will the Flyers.

"I really like Chuck as a man and a person. I'm in Florida and he's working daily and I'm not in any way going to try and stick my nose in anywhere — I won't," Clarke said. "If he calls me, then I'll answer whatever questions he may have. Or if he calls just to socialize, I'll enjoy it. When I come back to Philly, I'll do like I've always done — sit in the office with him and bulls--t.

"If Hexy asked me a question, I would answer it, but I wasn't there to try and pretend I knew more than him and Chuck will be the same. I like talking to those guys, they're involved in the game and stuff.

"But I'm not interfering or trying to pretend I'm some hidden star or something — I'm not. I'm just a fan who happens to be friends with those guys, who likes sitting and bullsh--ting hockey."

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The Jakub Voracek balance doesn't have to be so complicated

The Jakub Voracek balance doesn't have to be so complicated

VOORHEES, N.J. — Jakub Voracek has the NHL’s seventh-most assists since the 2013-14 season.

His job description as a playmaker comes with a double-edged sword. Throughout his career, he has been tasked with creating offense. To do so, it requires pushing the envelope — taking risks, making bang-bang decisions and playing instinctually.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

When a facilitator like Voracek tries to make plays at a prolific clip, he’s bound to make mistakes. It’s no coincidence the year Voracek set career highs in assists (65) and points (85), he also had his most giveaways (65). That was 2017-18, the Flyers’ best season (42 wins, 98 points) since 2011-12, when the franchise last won a playoff series.

Voracek is in a new system with a new head coach. He and Alain Vigneault are still getting to know each other — from the player’s tendencies to the coach’s style. 

In the third game of the relationship, Voracek was demoted from the first line to the fourth unit during the third period and played his fewest minutes (14:30) since 2015-16. In the fifth game, Voracek climbed from the third line to the second unit alongside Kevin Hayes and Oskar Lindblom after scoring a goal during the first period. He ended up with two goals and an assist during the 6-3 loss to the Oilers, although his final two points came late in the third when the game was out of reach.

“That’s why I made that quick change after the first period where I put him with Haysey and Oskar,” Vigneault said Friday following practice. “I thought his first period was good. He had good vibes, good energy. He was protecting the puck well. For the most part, that for him was a step in the right direction.”

Ultimately, Voracek needs to be himself. The Flyers are better when he’s himself. Over the past five seasons, the Flyers went 59-18-10 when Voracek had a multi-point game. When he’s himself, he’s not overthinking, he’s playing freely — and, yes, he’s playing harder and smarter. Voracek understands there must be a balance between aggressiveness and conservativeness with his playmaking.

And he knows fans might struggle to grasp the intricacies of that balance.

Prior to his three-point effort against Edmonton, Voracek had gone scoreless through the first four games of the season for the first time in his career.

If I play good defense, nobody is going to see that because I don’t produce offensively. If I produce offensively and I still make a couple of mistakes, they’re going to say I’m sh---y defensively. It’s a no-win situation. 

But I think defensively, I was pretty good when you look at those games. But it’s not good enough for me and for the team. I expect more out of myself offensively. And that’s what it takes sometimes, you have to … not take chances, but you have to create more. Obviously with creating more, being on the puck more, there’s a bigger chance you’re going to f--- it up sometimes.

With me right now, I’m 30 years old, I think we’re focusing on helping the team to win the game. If it’s scoring goals, getting an assist, making a good defensive play, focusing on playing good defense — it doesn’t matter as long as we find a way to win.

Confidence often drives Voracek. An important play or big goal can lead to points in bunches from the winger. He has mentioned that word a lot in his time here. Vigneault, Voracek and the Flyers will have to find ways to boost confidence together.

“A lot of it has to do with confidence,” Voracek said. “If you go in, if you don’t produce and if you are careful, it’s hard to gain something. I could still end up with four of five points in the first four games, the chances were there — passing, couple of chances, but it didn’t. If it did, it would be a different story. If you get the goal, if you get an assist, that builds up your confidence little bit.

"Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t good [in those games], either. Especially during the seasons in the past, you can’t have four or five games and end up with one point [and say] your game could be at the top level.

"The funny thing is, when you play well, it’s easy to find the balance because you have confidence.”

As Voracek makes plays, he will also make mistakes.

Is it frustrating when the fans or media only see the mistakes?

“Obviously from upstairs, you see the different perspective of the ice,” Voracek said. “There are different lanes when you have the puck, you see different things. I got here the way I played before and the way I was, I think, doing the right things. But sometimes it’s hard to satisfy everybody, you know what I mean? Especially today, it’s really hard to satisfy everyone. It’s almost impossible in today’s society.”

That’s why Voracek just needs to be himself. There is no perfect balance.

Overthinking in search of it won’t help Voracek or the Flyers.

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Flyers loan Connor Bunnaman to Phantoms; is Nolan Patrick nearing a return?

Flyers loan Connor Bunnaman to Phantoms; is Nolan Patrick nearing a return?

Updated: 2:52 p.m.

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers on Friday loaned forward Connor Bunnaman to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

The move could mean center Nolan Patrick, who has been week to week with a migraine disorder, is nearing a return.

When Patrick does come back, there will be an odd man out of the lineup. Bunnaman, a 21-year-old rookie, was the likely candidate. Instead of having him sit and watch, the team signed veteran Chris Stewart, who can be the 13th forward, as Bunnaman continues his development with the Phantoms.

"We want the kid to play," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said after practice Friday. "I really think we’ve got a good, young player there. 

"He’s a 21-year-old player that got 19 goals last year in the American League, that’s pretty good. He needs to play, he needs to get some minutes, and then when he comes back here at some point, he’ll be a better player for us."

Stewart will play Saturday against the Stars at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m./NBCSP).

With Patrick not quite back yet, the Flyers could call up a forward from Lehigh Valley for some added offense. The candidates are Joel Farabee, German Rubtsov, Mikhail Vorobyev, Nicolas Aube-Kubel or possibly a veteran like Andy Andreoff. The Flyers currently have only 12 forwards and the roster is at 21 players. It can be at a maximum 23.

Patrick did more solo work Friday and took part in practice wearing a non-contact jersey.

"I see Nolan around, I really would tell you that when there’s feedback as far as where he is, I get it from our medical staff," Vigneault said. "I have been told that he’s been making some progress. Today I think was his longest practice, it was almost 30 minutes with us. So I think he’s on the right track."

The 21-year-old missed all of training camp and the preseason.

"We consulted a lot of different people and I think we feel we're in a good place medically," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said Sept. 26. "We'll hope for the best."

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