NHL: O Captain, My Captain: Why Mike Richards Will Continue as Leader of Flyers

Victor FiloromoCorrespondent IMay 25, 2011

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 12:  Mike Richards #18 of the Philadelphia Flyers skates against the Atlanta Thrashers on March 12, 2011 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Sweeps are pretty awful things in sports. They're embarrassing, frustrating and painful all at the same time.

Just less than three weeks ago, the Boston Bruins finished off a sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers, which led to a thorough probing by fans and media members, attempting to figure out what went wrong.

Along with goaltending problems, many believed that one main issue was the team's leadership and that captain Mike Richards was not getting the job done.

Patience is always tough, especially when you have not won a Stanley Cup since 1975. But patience is also important when a season ends, so that no rash judgments are made that will alter the long-term success of a team.

To be honest, I was prepared for the Flyers to strip the "C" right away from Richards and give it to either Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen or Daniel Briere.

And not only was I prepared for it, but it's what I wanted.

Thankfully, levelheadedness won out again. In a long-form interview with Courier Post writer Chuck Gormley, Richards talked about the season and what was expected of the team heading into the future. More importantly, he answered some of the questions that had been lingering about his ongoing battle between the Philadelphia media and himself.

Maybe I should have given Richards more credit from the start. Maybe we should have given him the benefit of the doubt for playing through a wrist injury that appeared to bother him to some varying degree for all 82 games plus the playoffs.

However, it was not in my best interest to offer dramatic changes to the team that centered around Richards. Yes, the Flyers still may look to trade Jeff Carter this off-season, and there may be a new goaltender come October. But, the Flyers already have their captain in place and he should not be questioned.

"Maybe I need to take about five or ten minutes to calm myself and gather my thoughts and then go in there and choose my words wiser," Richards said of his long-term battle with the media.

At times, Richards showed up to the post-game press conferences with an attitude not fit for the moment. He often acted as though he was doing the media a favor by answering their questions.

We need to remember, however, that the media is not correct 100 percent of the time. Stupid questions will be asked and they have been asked to Richards. He should be able to respond appropriately and not allow himself to be pushed over by the men with the tape recorders and pens.

Richards was not bashful to Gormley about the captaincy.

"I think I’m the right man for the job to tell you the truth. You guys aren’t around to see everything that happens, so I think it’s tough for media people to say stuff about not being the right man for the job when they only see us on the ice and ten minutes after a skate," Richards said.

In numerous articles thus far to come out this summer, players such as Briere, Timonen and Scott Hartnell have been quick to back up their captain, calling him a quiet leader.

Every captain is different. Some are loud on the ice and not in the locker room. Some are loud in both places. Some prefer to be quiet. Richards appears to be the quiet type, letting his play on the ice do the talking.

It's easy to bash Richards. Many might forget (or not have even seen) Richards do a full-body dive to prevent a Boston empty-net goal in Game 4 that would have put them up by four. They later picked up a goal, but it's certain proof that Richards will fight until the end.

Richards said in his interview that he has already met with General Manager Paul Holmgren to talk about what went wrong, and that the issue of the captaincy was not even discussed. Just 26 years of age, it appears Richards will be in Orange and Black for a long time to come.

That may disgust some, and please others.

Richards is building some sort of negative following amongst fans and media alike for his handling of things publicly. That's fine. He will be questioned for what he says in press conference and meetings with the press.

However, where Richards should not be questioned is in the private portions of his life. Plenty of stories have attacked Richards for being some sort of party animal in the offseason; poor conduct by select members of the Philadelphia media looking to write sensationalist pieces to get readership.

More specifically, CSNPhilly.com's Tim Panaccio apparently has some sort of vendetta against Richards, and has chosen to write articles that are simply untrue, such as the fact that he was not on speaking terms with coach Peter Laviolette towards the end of the season.

Ask the man himself, and he says this is completely untrue. Wonder how that happened? On his own Twitter, Richards said "Tim Panaccio thinks I'm moody and withdrawn with him. Maybe because he writes articles that are no where close to being true".

This may be a peril of the new world of social media, with players taking on media members on the Internet instead of face-to-face.

However, in his interview with Gormley, Richards seemed more than willing to talk about things.

Maybe the unprofessional nature from Panaccio says a lot, since it appears that few in the organization seem to respect him, from Richards to Holmgren to defenseman Chris Pronger, who often plays around sarcastically with Panaccio and the rest of the generally unprepared Philadelphia hockey press.

Richards is right. He can choose his words better. He could be better about giving interviews and not act like it's the end of the world that he has to do so.

Fans just want to see a winner. They got pretty close last season, when Richards put the team on his shoulders and led them to the Stanley Cup against Chicago.

This year, amnesia appeared to kick in amongst fans and media members.

What matters is what the organization thinks. The organization thinks Mike Richards will be their captain come next year. That's fine. After all, what goes on behind closed doors is nobody's business.

If nobody wanted Richards as captain, the players certainly would have spoken up by now.

He will get another chance next year, and deservedly so. There's a long way to go for the 26-year-old to become a winner in this city, but at the very least, a blank slate in 2012 will help.


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