When Bobby Clarke retired in 1984, the Flyers started looking for his replacement from both a hockey and marketing perspective. After decades of coming close to the Cup with flashy trades and superstar signings, the franchise, whose obsession with its own past glories is its biggest Achilles ’ heel, seemed hell bent on bringing up “The Next Bobby Clarke” from within.
Enter: Mike Richards.
In 2003, the Flyers drafted Richards, and almost immediately, comparisons to Clarke
began. During the lockout season of 2004-05, Richards joined the Flyers’ farm club in time for the AHL playoffs. He dominated, scoring 15 points in 14 games as the Phantoms won the Calder Cup.
In 2005-06, he was fast tracked to the NHL and was introduced by team announcers and commentators as “The Future Captain of the Flyers”. The Flyers marketed him as the face of the franchise, signing him to a 12-year $69,000,000.00 contract in 2007 despite amassing less than 100 career regular season points and a whopping one career playoff point.
Richards never lived up to the lofty expectations or comparisons—or contract. From
day one, it was pounded into the fanbase that he was “the guy." Radio spots promoted “Mike Richards and the Philadelphia Flyers.” For the first time in team history, a coronation ceremony was held naming him captain. Beat writers, announcers and commentators referred to him only as “Captain Mike Richards” as if it was now his legal name.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown. As captain, Richards was atrocious as
the team’s representative in the press. He played hard—most of the time. One only need look at his and the team’s efforts during February through April of 2008-2011 to see that he took shifts, games, even months off and that his leadership was spotty at best. He routinely took “maintenance” days off from practice at the ripe old age of 25. His team’s playoff failures were excused by his youth despite the fact that younger captains like Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews hoisted the Stanley Cup.
Six seasons in as a Flyer, Clarke won two Stanley Cups, four major awards (including two league MVPs), appeared in six NHL All Star games, was named to two first All-Star teams, two second All-Star teams and amassed 497 points.
Richards, in his six year Flyer career, had one Finals appearance (which, if one is honest, one would credit that to the Montreal Canadiens upsetting both Washington and Pittsburgh in earlier rounds), one All Star-appearance and 148 less points.
Clarke exceeded all expectations thanks to his own determination, heart and passion that made him one of the game’s all-time greats. His play and devotion were as rare and as valuable as the Hope Diamond.
Richards is a decent two way forward who had the captaincy and its entitlements handed to him before he earned them. The team’s decision to bring in Chris Pronger to assist Richards in his leadership cements this.
Bobby Clarke didn’t need the Flyers to trade for Bobby Orr to teach him how to win; he beat Bobby Orr.
Comparing Richards to Clarke is like comparing the Monkees to the Beatles. One was prefabricated and one was organically great.