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Clarke Addresses Media on State of the Team

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers General Manager Bob Clarke on Thursday met with the media at the Sovereign Bank Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey. Below are excerpts of his press conference.

Bob Clarke: "Obviously there are going to be some changes, but there are changes every year. We'll put some more young players into our lineup. But I think there's a bit of a bigger picture here. Halfway through the year we were at the top of the league. We were a good team, playing real good, and we had so many serious injuries. If you look the teams that sent the most players to the Olympics they are out: the Rangers, Detroit and us. We're all out in the first round. I know those are excuses, but there is some reality to it. We went into the playoffs with one line that had played together most of the year. That was Forsberg, Gagne, and Knuble, and Forsberg had missed 20 games. We had two defensemen, Rathje and Pitkanen, who had played together for most of the year, other than the fact that Pitkanen missed 20 or 30 games. We were a bunch of guys playing hockey and trying. But it was pretty difficult to call us a real team, when there wasn't even any lines or defense pairings who were used to each other by the time we got to the playoffs.

"Up until halfway into the year, we didn't have any problems. Do we have some problems that need to be addressed? Of course, but most teams will. Buffalo was one of the teams that could easily win the Stanley Cup with their team, but they also missed the [playoffs] five years in a row. They drafted early and drafted well. They knew nothing more than we did until they got the letter in training camp, like we did, about how the game was going to be called. We certainly didn't have time to make adjustments then. We do this summer, and we will."

On the defensive situation:
BC: "The defensive defenseman is becoming an almost obsolete player now because you can't touch the forward who throws the puck in. If you're not quick on defense, you can't get back and get the puck. The forward throws it in and goes and gets it because you can't touch him. You've got to rely on quickness and positioning now more than ever.

"The league took out all the defensive methods that defensive defensemen used forever. Actually, in my opinion, they started calling penalties that weren't even penalties up until this year. Some defensemen are going to be able to make the adjustment and some won't be. If you can't you'll have a tough time playing, obviously."

On the Flyers' defense:
BC: "Rathje played from January until the end of the year with his back shot full of needles every game. He probably shouldn't have been playing, but he played. He'll be fine. We have to get some speed. You can't have all speed. There aren't that many defensemen around like that, that we can get anyway. Pitkanen has got to pick his play up. Meyer and those guys are fast guys. We can use them better. We've got a couple kids from the Phantoms we're going to give a shot to."

On the Buffalo series:
BC: "We were certainly beaten by a better team. When you look at the series, we certainly could have won Game One, and then who knows what happens. But also, they could have won Games Three and Four, too. They were a better team than we were this year."

On Kim Johnsson:
BC: "Before he can even go back to Sweden, he needs to be cleared by our doctors. This is the game he excelled at. To lose a guy like that, I don't know. I don't know if he'll play next year or what."

On Johnsson's play before he got hurt:
BC: "It was the first time we'd seen Kim as an inconsistent player. Since we got him from the Rangers he's been very solid, very consistent in his game. Whatever happened this year, he had games where he was outstanding, and then games where he was below his average play. I don't know why."

On the state of the team going into next season:
BC: "I think it's still a good team that needs some fixing. We played 14 rookies this year at different times. Our young players will have that year's experience and we'll bring in some young players next year. With Forsberg, Gagne, and Knuble, I think there will be two young lines and two veteran lines. The defense, there will be a few changes. A couple kids with the Phantoms now, we may have to bring them along a little quicker than we wanted to. But every team in the league is similar to that.

"We'll be good next year. We have good goaltending; we have a lot of good players. We've got to stay healthy, at least healthier than this year. We're strong down the middle. We have lots of centers. That's a priority in the league. So if we decide to move one, we can do that.

"We can go into the free-agent market if we want to. Desjardins, we'll see what we can do there. We're assuming Keith Primeau is going to play, but what if he doesn't? In some ways our hands are tied in what we can do."

On Johnsson and Primeau in regards to the salary cap:
BC: "I don't think there's a date necessarily. The problem is, if Keith isn't healthy, and we don't find out until the start of the year, it doesn't go against you. You have the money, but you don't have the players. Even with Johnsson, I don't know what to do with Johnsson. It's been two or two and a half months. How much do you pay him? What do you do with a player like this? Sign him, and he takes up cap money. Then the first day of practice he gets hit and he's done again. That's a problem we have to face and address."

On Hitchcock:
BC: "We'll sit down with Hitch. It may not be for a while. We have players to sign. He's still under contract, so it's not urgent. He'll be okay.

"The teams that had lots of injuries in our league this year, like we did, all missed the playoffs. We still had over 100 points. Give credit to the players, but a lot of it had to do with the coaching. They dragged a lot out of these players."

On Hatcher and Brashear:
BC: "[Hatcher] was pretty good in the playoffs. He was pretty good for the first half of the year. The second half of the year was not very good. We'll sit and talk with Hatch. He can still play in the league, but he has to change his game obviously. The game he was so good at has pretty much been taken out of hockey. Donald Brashear has the same problem. Here's a guy that fought for our team, and Vancouver and Montreal. He made himself into a pretty good player. All of a sudden the role that was so important with teams for so long, they just scratched it right out. You want that guy on your team. The players want him in the locker room. Donald can at least skate. But a lot of these guys are right out of work."

On the league's rule changes and the state of the game:
BC: "I think they have to really look at what went on this year and what their intent is. We lost three guys to head injuries. The hitting is down, but the violent hits are up. When you look at three players with major head injuries, and we're not the only team, you've got to really look at what they're doing with the game. To me that's the biggest thing. It's without a doubt a better game. It's faster and there is more scoring chances."

On the goalie situation:
BC: "They both want to be number one goalies. I think they are both good enough to deserve to be. I don't think we'll address it this summer."

On the team's unrestricted free-agents:
BC: "We won't bring [Brashear] back. We won't bring Savage back. We're going to put younger guys in. I think both were good for us. I like Brashear a lot. I like him as a person. I like what he did to earn his way into the NHL and what he did to stay here. We'll talk to Eric, and Kim I'm undecided on until we get the final doctor's report. He tried to skate the other day and he's still getting dizzy spells."
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