To be considered the Flyers' best player, it seems you've got to
be able to put the puck into the net, and you've got to carry a
little baggage. Last spring the oft-prostrate Eric Lindros, who
played the role of Philly's top gun for the past eight years,
ripped the organization's treatment of the chronic concussions
that caused him to miss the last 14 games of the regular season
and all but two postseason matches. In turn, general manager
Bobby Clarke proclaimed that Lindros owed the team an apology and
stripped him of his captain's C.
With Lindros all but certain to be traded whenever he's well
enough to play (expected to be about New Year's), his successor
as the Flyers' go-to guy is left wing John LeClair, a three-time
50-goal man whose inability to strike a long-term extension has
led to rumors that he, also, may be traded. So will LeClair be
too distracted to perform at his best? "We don't see that," says
coach Craig Ramsay. "He scored two goals in the first preseason
game and one in the next."
In fact, the whole team appears to play better with distractions.
While the Lindros saga played out, the team won 16 of its final
25 games to surpass the Devils for the best record in the Eastern
Conference, then rode the hot goaltending of rookie Brian Boucher
to within a game of the Stanley Cup finals. Losing Lindros's
goal-scoring punch will hurt, but his replacement is another
towering burly fellow, 6'5", 230-pound Keith Primeau, who arrived
in a trade with Carolina last January after sitting out the first
four months of the season in a contract dispute. He and LeClair
didn't always gel last year, but now that they have some time
together they should be a formidable pair.
They are joined on the first line by 19-year-old rookie Justin
Williams, a skilled right wing. Another 19-year-old upstart is
first-year goalie Maxime Ouellet, who is considered by some NHL
observers to be the best netminding prospect in the league.
"This kid wants to be the guy," says Ramsay. Of course, Boucher,
23, was the guy last season, and his 1.91 goals-against average
was the lowest by a rookie in 50 years. Add bulked-up
second-year center Simon Gagne, and there's no reason to think
the new Flyers are anything but better than last year's model,
even if the Lindros situation doesn't get resolved for a while.
"We're a team that only thinks about the players we've got,"
says Ramsay. "I only coach the guys who are here, and we like
them a lot."
Last season Brian Boucher became the first rookie netminder to
lead the NHL in goals-against average (1.91) since 1992-93, when
the Maple Leafs' Felix Potvin had a 2.50 GAA.
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
FORWARDS 12 Recchi, LeClair, Gagne will light it up
DEFENSE 11 Desjardins & Therien are among league's
GOALTENDING 17 Can Boucher build off outstanding
SPECIAL TEAMS 5 Addition of Ranheim helps penalty-killing
MANAGEMENT 13 Under Clarke, Flyers always seem to be in