On June 23rd, the Philadelphia Flyers made a historically significant collection of trades and roster moves. Perhaps the most significant was moving team captain Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, and a second-round draft pick.
Simmonds is a young, gritty forward who pairs his physical game play with an ability to produce points. He will fit perfectly into the orange and black uniform this fall.
His potential is regarded in such a light that Kings general manger had been reluctant to give him up until a player of Richards' stature became available.
While the fairness of the trade in terms of will be unknown until Schenn is seen playing full-time in the NHL, many are questioning how the captain of a team was traded in what seemingly may have been a salary dump of sorts.
Mike Richards earned his captaincy and became a fan favorite in Philadelphia through a relentless playing style.
A finalist for the 2009 Selke Trophy, Richards was known for being an excellent two-way forward who wasn't afraid to throw around his body.
"Richie" was also no stranger to dropping his gloves, having fought an average of six times per season until 2011.
Richards was a skilled, physical, hard-working captain of the Philadelphia Flyers, which drew unavoidable comparisons to hockey legend Bobby Clarke.
Richards was a fan favorite in Philadelphia; his jersey was one of the most popular dawned inside of the Wells Fargo Center, and the sixth-most sold of this past NHL season.
However, during this past season Richards showed signs of change, and seemed to play with less intensity.
Earlier in his career, Richards was willing to drop his gloves and swing hard against an experienced fighter in Arron Asham in order to wake up his team.
While fighting isn't the captain's job, it was his duty to inspire his team by whatever means necessary. Events like that were lacking this past season.
Before a game against the New York Rangers turned into a 7-0 blowout, Richards' half-attempted to fire up the Flyers by taking a run at Brandon Dubinsky, but failed to follow during the fight. Richards seemed disinterested as he looked and leaned away for most of the fight.
Other instances which showed lack of emotion included certain post-game interviews from this past season.
After an atrocious no-goal and penalty call during a game against the Calgary Flames on November 26, 2010, Richards' emotions contrasted those which a team leader would be expected to exude.
After a game against the New York Rangers on January 16, 2011 in which the Rangers' Sean Avery went after non-fighter Matt Carle during a scrum, fought him, and continued to hit him while Carle was down on the ice, Mike Richards said “I’m sure Matt (Carle) would take a couple of punches to get an important win.”
In other words, Richards didn't mind seeing a teammate get beat up. Clearly this is a different player than the one who used to care enough about his teammates to stick up for them.
Once again, it isn't Richards' job to fight. However, no captain of the Philadelphia Flyers should ever say anything resembling what he uttered after that game.
Another disgusting remark apparently made by the Flyers captain was a complaint during the 2011 playoffs.
In a pathetic statement, Richards cried to the referees regarding the Buffalo Sabers, "They're getting away with murder."
That is an awfully peculiar statement from a hockey player who had fought 53 times since the start of his 2001-2002 season in the OHL.
A physical player does not just stop hitting and fighting. After watching Richards play in more than 90 games this past season, it was clear to many Flyers fans that something was different about him.
It seemed that Richards was content with himself and did not feel the same drive to win that led to the historic image of him diving towards Jaroslav Halak of the Montreal Candiens during the clinching game of the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals.
Mike Richards was traded yesterday afternoon, but the captain Philadelphia loved had been missing long before that.
Danny Briere may have an idea of what sparked such a drastic day of trading which included moving another core player, Jeff Carter, to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Briere told NHL.com in an interview, "...the message that I got from that was … our goal is to win the Stanley Cup. The last two years, we had the team to win the Stanley Cup and we didn't succeed, we didn't reach our goal. This organization isn't going to sit back and let the parade go by. That's the message I got. Come next year everybody better be ready to go. They're not going to just sit back."