Clarke blames playoff exit on injuries, Olympics

Updated: May 4, 2006, 5:16 PM ET
Associated Press

VOORHEES, N.J. -- General manager Bob Clarke says injuries, not an inability to adapt to the new-look NHL, proved the biggest factor in the Philadelphia Flyers' early exit from the playoffs.

He also blamed the Olympics.

Flyers players missed a league-leading 388 games because of injuries. Clarke, speaking Thursday at the team's practice facility, said those missed games contributed greatly to a late-season nosedive and the team's first-round loss to Buffalo.

"Halfway through the year, we were at the top of the league, we were a good team," Clarke said. "We had so many serious injuries and I think if you look at the teams that sent the most players to the Olympics -- the Rangers, Detroit and us -- they are out in the first round.

"I know those are excuses but there is some reality to it," he said.

Clarke noted that only the line of Peter Forsberg, Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble and two defensemen -- Joni Pitkanen and Mike Rathje -- played together all year.

"We were a bunch of guys playing hockey, but it was difficult to play as a team when we got to the playoffs," Clarke said.

Clarke acknowledged there will be some rebuilding. He has five unrestricted free agents -- Eric Desjardins, Kim Johnsson, Donald Brashear, Brian Savage and Chris Therien.

Brashear and Savage definitely will not be back, Clarke said. He left up in the air the status of Johnsson, who was sidelined from Jan. 28 until the end of the season with post-concussion symptoms.

"I don't know if he will play next year," Clarke said. "This year was the first time we saw him as an inconsistent player. He had been solid, consistent. I don't know why he was inconsistent."

One area that will be addressed is defense. Over the next several years, the Flyers have about $10 million invested in Derian Hatcher and Rathje, two big defensemen who were not very effective in the NHL's revamped, skating-friendly game.

Clarke called stay-at-home defensemen almost obsolete and said, "We have to get quicker."

Coach Ken Hitchcock will be back next season, the final year of his contract. Clarke said he would discuss a contract extension with the coach.

"Even with all the injuries, he dragged a lot out of the players," he said.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press