Flyers

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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One Flyer was reportedly a hot trade target, but Chuck Fletcher shut it down

One Flyer was reportedly a hot trade target, but Chuck Fletcher shut it down

The suddenly-ascendant Flyers pieced together a somewhat busy trade deadline, acquiring a pair of depth forwards in Derek Grant and Nate Thompson to pad a playoff run, but things could've been much busier if rival executives had their way Monday.

One young Flyers player not named Shayne Gostisbehere was attracting a lot of attention as general managers circled the wagons before the deadline, according to a report from Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman.

That player? Scott Laughton:

Another player I heard a lot of teams liked: Philadelphia’s Scott Laughton.

'Chuck (Fletcher) couldn’t hang up fast enough,' another exec joked.

That's a great quote. I can see Fletcher laughing to himself, and quietly hitting "end call," when Laughton's name came up.

And it makes plenty of sense for Fletcher to shut down Laughton talks, on two fronts — both of which should excite Flyers fans.

For one, Fletcher avoiding temptation at the deadline means he has his eyes on the postseason prize. The Flyers, after Tuesday night's win (see story), are just five points behind Metro-leading Washington, with 19 games left before the playoffs. It would take a serious meltdown to miss the postseason, and it seems Fletcher feels like the Flyers can make noise in April (and May, and maybe even June?) so he stood pat.

Also, and this is probably a little more obvious: Laughton has turned into a young, sought-after talent in the eyes of league execs this season.

It's no secret that the 2019-20 season has been the best of Laughton's young career. He's already tied his career high in goals with 12, he's averaging a point every two games, and he's just 25 years old. The hard-nosed 2012 first-round pick is officially coming into his own this year, and he's still under contract through the end of the 2020-21 season. Really, it's an ideal development for the Flyers.

Is Laughton currently the kind of player who defines your team? Not just yet.

But he's become the kind of player other teams want, which is always a good sign.

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With newcomers, Flyers keep on humming in NHL playoff race, have Penguins in their sights

With newcomers, Flyers keep on humming in NHL playoff race, have Penguins in their sights

BOX SCORE

A day after the NHL trade deadline, the Flyers showed off their new look and didn't miss a beat.

With reinforcements Derek Grant and Nate Thompson, the Flyers defeated the Sharks, 4-2, Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Flyers (36-20-7) have won four straight games, their longest win streak since Dec. 17-23, when they also won four in a row.

Not many in the league have been better than the Flyers over their last 20 games. The Flyers are 14-5-1 with an NHL-high 72 goals since Jan. 8. Over that stretch, only one club has more points than the Flyers' 29 — the Lightning with 31.

The Sharks (26-33-4), who have a number of injuries and traded away Barclay Goodrow and Patrick Marleau before Monday's deadline, have lost five straight.

• Good work by the Flyers handling a lesser opponent.

Tuesday was a big night in the playoff race as the Islanders, Blue Jackets and Hurricanes were all in action

The Flyers are still in third place of the Metropolitan Division and climbed to within one point of the second-place Penguins.

• The new line of Scott Laughton, Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny sure was fun to watch.

During the second period, Hayes and Konecny scored goals to help the Flyers restore order with a 3-1 lead at intermission.

Hayes tacked on another in the third period, giving him 21 markers this season. The 27-year-old is projected to break his career high of 25 set in 2017-18 and he might flirt with 30.

On Hayes' first goal, the 6-foot-5 center used his impressive reach to snag Laughton's pass and bury the shot. The Flyers are 17-0-1 when Hayes scores a goal.

Meanwhile, Konecny finished with his third three-point effort over the last four games. He had two three-point games over his first three NHL seasons.

Laughton continued his always reliable play with two assists and a plus-3 mark.

• Grant and Thompson, both acquired by the Flyers Monday, were eased into duty.

Both went scoreless as Grant committed a penalty and was solid in the faceoff circle, while Thompson centered the fourth line.

Here's how they're getting acclimated (see story).

• At home, Carter Hart has been an absolute nightmare for opponents.

With 26 saves, he improved his home mark to 17-2-2.

The 21-year-old has yielded two or fewer goals in 17 of his 21 home games. He is a must-see ticket in Philly.

• Defensemen Matt Niskanen and Travis Sanheim made clutch third-period plays to break up juicy scoring chances for the Sharks.

• Nicolas Aube-Kubel has six goals this season. He has turned into one of the biggest surprises since his mid-December call-up.

Last season, he went scoreless over nine outings, playing just 5:35 minutes per game.

• A beautiful job by the Flyers.

• The Flyers are off Wednesday and practice Thursday at 11:30 a.m. in Voorhees, New Jersey, before hosting the Rangers Friday night (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

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