Compare the Flyers to other top teams in the league that have gained elite status by identifying and nurturing young players and the disparity is clear.
Detroit had a dozen draft picks on its roster at the end of last season, and Colorado and Dallas each had seven. New Jersey had 16. Those teams have won the last five Stanley Cups.
During his first tour as Flyers general manager, from 1984 to 1989, Clarke also did not distinguish himself on draft day. Of the 38 players he picked in the three drafts before he was fired, just five played at least 70 career games in the National Hockey League.
Only one NHL club produced fewer players over the same period of time: Calgary, which had three. The average NHL club produced nine players from those three drafts.
The Flyers' draft history does not bode well for them, now that team officials say they are turning increasingly to the draft to build the club after two seasons of frenetic personnel shuffles in a quick-fix quest for the Stanley Cup that eluded them in 1997.
"It's true that we have used veterans to build our team in the past," said Ron Ryan, the team's chief operating officer. "But I think you can see we're moving toward developing players now through our system. We're taking the next step as an organization."
Clarke, a Hall of Fame player who captained the Flyers' only Stanley Cup winners in 1974 and 1975, made a dozen trades last season alone, when the Flyers had more players pass through their roster - 45 - than any other team in their history.
But the Flyers now say they are satisfied with their veterans and are seeking a more stable team, one that bleeds orange and black. They want a team that replenishes itself from its own ranks with drafted players nurtured by the Phantoms, the American Hockey League franchise that plays next door at the First Union Spectrum.
"With the Phantoms here now, we're trying to get into a mode where we develop our own players and get them into our lineup," Clarke said. "We'll soon see whether we've been successful."
Clarke said the club was committed to making either Brian Boucher or Jean-Marc Pelletier, both of whom played for the Phantoms last season, the Flyers' first homegrown, drafted, and developed goalie since Ron Hextall was selected a generation ago in 1982. Hextall was recently waived to make way for them.
"We've got some young kids who can possibly step in this year for the Flyers," said Phantoms coach Bill Barber, also a Hall of Famer and a teammate of Clarke's on the Cup-winning teams. "We probably have eight to 10 guys that are capable of playing in the NHL over the next several years."
Boucher was the team's top pick in 1995, as was Pelletier in 1997, and another goalie, Maxime Ouellet, this year - the first time in the draft's 36-year history that a team selected three goalies with a first pick over a five-year period.
"We hope that two of them will be our goalies of the future for a long time," Clarke said.
Given Clarke's recent stewardship of the team, the surprise is that all three are on the roster.
In recent years, the Flyers have been far more apt to trade their young talent for an established veteran, as they did when they sent 1996 first-round pick Dainius Zubrus to Montreal for right wing Mark Recchi last season.
Or they have signed an expensive free agent, as they did last summer when goalie John Vanbiesbrouck agreed to a two-year, $10.75 million deal with an additional option year.
Last month, however, Clarke said he fended off trade overtures from other clubs and signed Simon Gagne - the Flyers' top pick in 1998 and an explosive scorer in the junior ranks - to a three-year, $2.919 million contract. Gagne will be given a chance to make the team at age 19. (If he doesn't, he must return to his junior club, where he has eligibility remaining.)
"We tried to keep our kids, be patient with them, and develop them," Clarke said of his previous penchant for trading youth. "At the same time, that doesn't mean you're supposed to lose. I've seen too many organizations throw kids in there and say they are building for the future. You're supposed to try and win, and develop and get your kids into a winning atmosphere and used to winning when they get to the NHL."
Therien agreed. "Nowadays, free agency is so big, guys get traded," he said. "I think Clarkie made the team better through trades. Maybe it's bad luck they have not gotten the right players in the draft all these years. I remember a few years ago, they hadn't had a first-rounder make it until Zubie came along."
The pressure to win, always intense in Philadelphia, soared after the Flyers acquired budding superstar Eric Lindros in a 1992 megadeal with the Quebec Nordiques that involved trading away many of their young players.
Gone to Quebec were Kerry Huffman, the team's No. 1 pick in 1986; its first- and second-round picks in 1990 (Mike Ricci and Chris Simon); its 1991 top pick, Peter Forsberg, who has since developed into a superstar; as well as the team's first-round picks for 1993 and 1994.
"I think that trade is still affecting them," conceded Russ Farwell, who engineered it as the Flyers' general manager between Clarke's tenures and has since returned to the Western Hockey League's Seattle Thunderbirds.
But what made the Lindros deal even more devastating in terms of talent development was the dearth of prospects from Clarke's drafts of 1986, 1987 and 1988.
The Flyers also did a poor job of developing their remaining prospects after Lindros arrived. Farwell said: "You should also expect that some of their second- and third-round picks should be developing and playing right now."
One reason was that the Flyers, with Lindros on the ice, had to deal with fan expectations that they would rapidly contend for the Stanley Cup. So they tended to focus on finding established players to push the club over the top. The price was often young prospects.
"Not a lot of teams are very patient with their young players," Flyers right wing Mikael Renberg said. "They want to be on top immediately, so they trade them away. I don't think the Flyers are the only club that carries only a few of their own [drafted] players."
Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier sympathizes with Flyers management.
"The expectations each year are to win," he said. "Philadelphia is a bigger market. I have no doubt that Philadelphia has to expect more in that regard and has to expect the ability to spend more, and that also brings more pressure on them."
Once the Flyers were acquired in March 1996 by Comcast, a multibillion-dollar cable broadcasting company, a new pressure developed. The Flyers were viewed as attractive programming and entertainment, much as the rival New York Rangers are for Cablevision. And established stars, not youngsters, lure the viewers.
But the new owner also gave the Flyers considerable financial clout, and allowed them to afford a big-market payroll of $43.2 million.
"The Flyers have a lot of money," Renberg said. "So if I were Clarke, I'd probably be doing the same thing and going out and getting players."
While the Flyers have had little success with their own high draft picks in the last two decades, they are loaded with top selections from other clubs.
At the end of the 1997-98 season, 16 of 24 players - an amazing 66.6 percent of the Flyers' roster - was composed of other clubs' first- and second-round picks.
At the end of last season, after a club-record 12 in-season trades, that percentage diminished to 41.6 percent of the roster.
Clarke argued that he didn't write off the development process after the Lindros deal - even though the team's draft position wasn't advantageous.
"Unless you are picking real early in the draft, the top five or six each year, it's hard to guarantee that anyone will play for you," Clarke said.
One find was Dimitri Yushkevich, a Russian defenseman taken in the sixth round with the 122d overall pick in 1991. After he developed into a quality player, Clarke dealt him to Toronto for picks that produced Zubrus and prize goalie Pelletier, and he wasn't alone.
"We didn't get Mark Recchi for nothing," Clarke said. "We got him because we had a young player in Zubrus. We didn't get Sandy McCarthy for nothing. We developed Colin Forbes. We didn't get Dan McGillis for nothing. We developed [Janne] Niinimaa."
The Flyers think they have keepers in Boucher, 22, who has yet to play an NHL game, and Pelletier, 21, who was called up when Vanbiesbrouck hit a rough patch last season. Pelletier got one start, a 5-0 loss to Ottawa, before returning to the Phantoms.
By making them compete head-on, the team thinks it has readied the young goalies for the rigors of the NHL.
"I don't think there is anything wrong with competition," Barber said. "Their development in the last two years has been excellent."
Pelletier said: "I thought it helped me to have Boucher there. He was older, and just watching him during the playoffs and his composure was very helpful to me. When you have two young goalies competing, it helps your development and gives you motivation to succeed. It all comes down to whichever one of us stops the most pucks."
Another prime candidate to graduate from the Phantoms is former Notre Dame star Mark Eaton, a defenseman from Wilmington who was not drafted, but was signed as a free agent after talking to his college coach, former Flyers captain Dave Poulin.
"I felt for my hockey career that leaving school and playing professionally would help me develop quicker than staying in college," Eaton said.
Eaton has just one year of professional play with the Phantoms. Now the Flyers will see whether he can help shore up a defense unexpectedly depleted by the death of Tertyshny.
"Tertyshny was expected to play 80 games, and we would have carried one of our younger players from the Phantoms and have them play 60 games, like Tertyshny did last year," Clarke said. "We're still going to bring up one, but I don't think we will bring up two. We can't develop two at the same time."
When Clarke needed to bolster his defense last season, he reacted in familiar fashion by bringing in veterans from other clubs: Adam Burt, and two defenders who had had previous tours with the Flyers, Karl Dykhuis and Steve Duchesne.
Inside the organization, however, a debate waged over whether the club would have been wiser to promote Eaton and force him to learn on the job rather than continue to nurture him with the Phantoms.
"We talked specifically about bringing Eaton up," assistant general manager Paul Holmgren said. "The bottom line is, why bring him up and put him in a situation where, if he didn't do well, it hinders his development? I think we made the right decision. He played well in the AHL, came along nicely. Now we bring him into camp, play him in preseason, and see how he does. . . . We didn't hurt our future."
While improved goaltending and defense are clear needs, the Flyers will also look carefully at Gagne to see whether his physical tools will enable him to play immediately in the NHL.
Gagne, who is 6-foot-0 and weighs 175 pounds, is an agile skater who was superb last season in the junior ranks, with 50 goals and 70 assists in 61 games for the Quebec Remparts.
"He should have gone higher in the draft," Clarke said. "A lot of teams made a mistake on him."
"I don't know if I'll make this club this year," Gagne said. "I'll come to camp and stay with the big team as long as I can."
Perhaps the best example of building a balanced Cup contender is this year's Stanley Cup champion, the Dallas Stars. They're a blend of seven homegrown draftees (among them, Mike Modano, Derian Hatcher and Jamie Langenbrunner), seven free agents (including Brett Hull, Shawn Chambers and Ed Belfour), and 12 players obtained in trades (among them, Guy Carbonneau, Joe Nieuwendyk and Darryl Sydor).
Bob Gainey has done a remarkable job of transforming the Stars in just three full seasons as general manager. There was little wasted money and no bad deals. No Pat Falloons, Alexandre Daigles or Chris Grattons, three Flyers acquisitions who flopped.
"We always viewed free agency as a way to improve our team and a source for adding players to the roster, along with the draft and exchanging players in different ways so you can get a good player for a good player," Gainey said. "I think the players who have been here have made great contributions to our club. I can't think of one [deal] that hasn't turned out well for both the player and team."
In Dallas, the base is composed of drafted players such as Hatcher, Modano, Langenbrunner and Richard Matvichuk, who have been surrounded by carefully selected free agents and traded-for players.
In Philadelphia, there is a core group of traded-for players - Lindros, John LeClair, Eric Desjardins and Rod Brind'Amour - complemented by free agents. Many are other clubs' first- and second-round draft picks.
It's a philosophical difference, but the Flyers argue that it was born out of necessity in the post-Lindros trade era.
An alternate model is the team the Stars beat in the Cup finals: Buffalo, a successful small-market club that developed numerous young players, many with on-the-job training.
The Sabres had six players on the roster who were developed from the Rochester Americans' 1995 Calder Cup championship squad: Dixon Ward, Vaclav Varada, Jay McKee, Brian Holzinger, Steve Shields and Wayne Primeau.
But Buffalo also has the world's best goalie, Dominik Hasek, and that makes the Sabres a special case.
"He carried that team," Clarke said of Hasek. "They threw kids in there, but without Hasek, they wouldn't have made the playoffs. It looks like they have been great at developing players, but don't kid yourself."
Buffalo had no "name" players to trade and a small payroll ($28 million), forcing the Sabres to go with younger players instead of expensive free agents.
Regier, the Buffalo general manager, agreed with Clarke: "Dominik allows younger players to make mistakes and not have to pay the price of, say, demotion to the minors or being benched."
"If you think we're going to say we won't try to win the Cup and put seven or eight young players in our lineup and see what happens, that is not what we're going to do," Clarke said. "Sure, Buffalo did it. But they had Hasek."
The Flyers established their wholly owned Phantoms franchise as their top farm club for the 1996-97 season, paying roughly $1 million to the league and severing their 12-year affiliation with the Hershey Bears. While Comcast-Spectacor was looking for a tenant to fill the Spectrum, the Flyers' management benefited because it gained absolute control over player development on the Phantoms. Clarke and his staff had to take only a short stroll to keep an eye on their talent.
That hadn't been possible with Hershey, an independently owned franchise that was a 90-minute drive to the west, and was another reason why the Flyers' record for producing NHL-caliber players in the '90s was so bleak.
"The rules were different in what we could and couldn't do," Clarke said.
In the last season at Hershey, Flyers prospects made up three-quarters of the 24-man roster, but the six players owned by Hershey were dominant figures on the team. And that caused problems, Holmgren said.
"They [Hershey] had older players, we had some younger players, and coaches want to win," he said. "And a lot of times, the best way to win is with older guys, which they did."
Barber, who coached at Hershey before taking over the Phantoms, said his job often required him to be "diplomatic" about how players were handled.
"It was an obstacle," Barber said. "You had to make it work on player development. I had my hands full."
With the Phantoms, Barber still has to balance development with winning, something he's done particularly well. The Phantoms won the Calder Cup in 1998 and were a strong contender last season as the team set box-office records for minor-league hockey and helped broaden the fan base for the sport in the region.
Holmgren said he still had talks with Barber about giving more ice time to younger players.
"We talk about it all the time with Billy," Holmgren said. "His team is a winner. We understand that. But at the same time, his No. 1 job is to develop players for us. There is a fine line to walk."
Barber said he had told the Flyers he would walk the line, but he would not be forced to play younger players if he believed they did not deserve to play. Under AHL rules, he can play only six veterans with 260 or more pro games of experience every contest.
"It's a tough line, and I deal with it all the time, even now," Barber said. "I have deep feelings about player development. I like young players, but they have to understand there is a code on work ethic. I refuse to give jobs to younger kids unless they earn it."
At the end of last season, the Phantoms' roster included seven players who were actual Flyers draftees: Boucher, Pelletier, Mihail Chernov, Paul Healey, Francis Belanger and Dan Kordic, who is unsigned.
Another Phantom who could make the club this season, right wing Brian Wesenberg, was drafted by Anaheim and traded here in 1996 for Russian center Anatoli Semenov.
While the Flyers have decided to make the Phantoms their primary vehicle for developing talent, they are flexible, allowing some players to mature in junior ranks, on overseas clubs, or on national teams. It's an approach Therien, for one, endorses.
He said his growth as a player could not be traced to the 40 games he played for the Flyers' farm club in Hershey.
"My first taste of bigger players and actual speed was with the Canadian Olympic team and their national program," Therien said. "College [Providence] didn't help me as much as I thought it would. And I really didn't start to learn a lot until I got to the NHL and had to learn quick."
Jason Beckett, taken in the second round of the 1998 draft with a pick Clarke acquired when he dealt Niinimaa to Edmonton for McGillis, has been allowed to develop as a junior, ironically on Farwell's Seattle team. He also "played with the Canadian juniors and he's made some big strides," Holmgren said. "He's a defensive defenseman, a bit of a different player than Eaton."
European players are particularly difficult to gauge, as Clarke well knows. There is not only a cultural adjustment, but also the style of play is different.
Zubrus, a Lithuanian, had left Europe and was playing junior hockey in Canada before he was drafted and became the youngest Flyer ever at age 18 in 1996. In retrospect, Clarke said Zubrus should have spent time with the Phantoms to mature and strengthen his work habits.
By contrast, the Flyers let Niinimaa get his seasoning in Finland for three years before bringing him to the parent club, where it was thought his skill as a puck-skating defenseman would break the traps the Flyers regularly see in the Eastern Division.
When Niinimaa was traded, the move was interpreted in some quarters as Clarke giving up on a talented European. But Clarke said he had valued Niinimaa's talents so highly that he went out and traded for Paul Coffey to act as his mentor.
Niinimaa, he said, had forced the trade with his belligerent attitude toward the coaching staff.
"I didn't give up on him just because he was European," Clarke said. "What he was saying to our coaches was the reason. If we felt he was going to be a better player than McGillis, we would have kept him."
Clarke's careful treatment of Niinimaa stemmed, in part, from his memories of Jukka Pekka Seppo, a Finn whom Clarke drafted in 1986 and expected to be an impact player. But Seppo struggled to adjust to the physical play on smaller ice surfaces and to the harsh coaching style of then-Flyers coach Mike Keenan.
"He came over, we brought him to camp, and Mike Keenan destroyed him," Clarke said. "I couldn't get the kid to come back."
The Flyers have also turned warily to the college ranks, which have become a significant talent pool for the NHL in recent years. Young players such as Paul Kariya (Anaheim), Chris Drury (Colorado), Bill Muckalt (Vancouver)' and Brendan Morrison (New Jersey) are examples of sound college players in the NHL. The 1996 World Cup final between Team USA and Team Canada had 17 former collegians, among them LeClair, Chris Chelios, Rob Blake and Curtis Joseph.
This was why Clarke was willing to pull Eaton out of Notre Dame after his freshman year. And why he didn't shy away from drafting Pelletier, who was going into his junior year at Cornell.
"You look at the players coming out of college now and, granted, they are older. But they are more physically and mentally matured," Poulin said. "College is a great development ground for the NHL."
Now, after a year with the Phantoms, both Eaton and Pelletier are being given a chance to make the Flyers during this training camp, joining the seasoned team Clarke has assembled through trade and free agency.
If they succeed, they will reinforce his feeling that he has the Flyers on the right course.
"We're a team that we feel is pretty good and could have a chance to win the Cup," Clarke said.