- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2000

VOORHEES, N.J.

The Philadelphia Flyers aren't so much a hockey team as they are a daytime drama.

Their superstar, Eric Lindros, who has feuded with almost everyone in the organization except ailing coach Roger Neilson, was cleared to skate yesterday for the first time since March 4 when he was sidelined with a second concussion in two months. Lindros, who is at least two weeks away from practicing, charged then that the Flyers had risked his health by letting him play after a previous concussion.

General manager Bobby Clarke responded by relieving Lindros of his captaincy. Clarke said yesterday that he has no problem with Lindros returning to the team pending a meeting with him and owner Ed Snider.

Neilson has said that the Flyers can't win the Stanley Cup without Lindros, but everyone else agrees that the most heralded player to hit the NHL in the past 15 years is done in Philadelphia even if he manages to get back in uniform before the end of the playoffs.

Neilson has returned on schedule from treatment for bone marrow cancer, but at this point the doctors and the Flyers won't let him go back behind the bench as originally planned. After meeting with Clarke on April 10 less than three weeks after being released from the hospital Neilson said that an extension of his contract would be announced soon. Clarke responded by saying there wouldn't be any contract talks until after the season.

"I'm feeling good," Neilson said. "I'm getting stronger every day. I feel I can coach, but I have to respect the doctors' opinion. You're probably always feeling ready before the doctors want you to … The contract was discussed [before I was hospitalized]. They agreed to discuss it again when I got back. [My agent Rob Campbell] didn't get any encouragement [from Clarke or Flyers chief operating officer Ron Ryan on Monday] about an extension."

Neilson said his relationship with Lindros came up during that discussion. Yesterday, Neilson said he was kidding when he told a Toronto radio station, "I don't think [the Flyers] want a cancer patient who's a friend of Eric Lindros behind the bench right now."

Clarke, a Hall of Famer who is the Flyers' all-time leading scorer and a Philadelphia icon, downplayed Neilson's remarks.

"Roger says it was lighthearted so I believe it," Clarke said. "This is not the right time [to discuss who'll coach next season]. When the playoffs are over, everything will be out the way Roger wants it to be. This has nothing to do with Roger's relationship with Eric. It's about Roger's health."

For the rest of the season, Neilson will be on a headset in the press box and will break down game tapes.

"We're thrilled to have Roger back," said coach Craig Ramsay, who took over for his old boss on Feb. 20. "He has such an alert hockey mind. I'm sure he'll come up with some good stuff for us. Roger's disappointed but he handled himself like a true champion. A lot of things I do are based on things I've learned from Roger. I would be more than happy to be his assistant again. That said, I told Roger and Bobby [in February], 'When I take over, I'm taking over. I'm going to run this team.' They both said that's the way it should be."

The Flyers have responded to all of this turmoil with their best hockey of the season. Philadelphia, 29-17-11 when Ramsay replaced Neilson, is 20-9-1 since. That includes a 4-1 playoff series victory over defending Eastern Conference champion Buffalo which moved the Flyers into the second round for the first time in three years.

Second-seeded Philadelphia will open the conference semifinals tomorrow at home against No. 7 Pittsburgh which hasn't won in Philadelphia in 16 games dating to Feb. 13, 1994.

"We've dealt with the issues when we've had to, but we've just gone on with our business," said right wing Mark Recchi, who led the Flyers with 91 points and an NHL-best 63 assists this season. "I haven't put any more pressure on myself with Eric out of the lineup. We miss Eric and it would be nice to have him, but we've been playing well without him for a long time. It has been difficult to see Roger [stricken], but he has made it easy for us. It will be great to have him around again. Craig's our coach until they tell us differently. We understood the pressure of winning a playoff series because it had been a while, but we've dealt with a lot this year. We realized that if we play the way we're capable of playing, we'll be fine."

Ramsay, who played for Neilson in juniors and in Buffalo and was previously his assistant in Florida, has gone with four lines and shorter shifts more than his mentor. He also made the decision to go with rookie goalie Brian Boucher over veteran John Vanbiesbrouck. However, the low-key Ramsay gave the credit to the players.

"Adversity can destroy you or it can be a tool," Ramsay said. "Our guys rallied together, realized that it had to be done internally. No matter what was going on around them, the players stayed committed and focused to their game. They trusted themselves. We have wonderful leadership and they're all willing to work hard. The scorers have been backchecking like crazy. The grinders scored big goals down the stretch. It wasn't any single thing. It's the whole group being committed to each other. I just hang on for dear life."

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