I’m a little nervous about Saturday.
Sure, the Flyers have won all three games this season, and the team looks just great. But it still seems like only days ago that Mike Richards was our team captain, leading us into the playoffs and past the Devils, Bruins and Canadiens to get so close to a Stanley Cup.
Yet instead, he’s all settled into L.A. He’s traded his No. 18 for No. 10. He’s out of Olde City and into the City of Angels. His Flyers days are in the past and he has become the future of the Kings.
I still remember the day he was traded. Only hours earlier, I had read on Twitter that Jeff Carter had been dealt. While it felt a little surreal, losing Carter wasn’t a total surprise.
What knocked me off my feet was a text message I received a short time later, telling me that Richards was gone too.
I had heard rumors a few days beforehand, but I didn’t believe them. And with Carter traded, certainly that meant Richards was safe, right?
How wrong I was. And how upset.
All of the media rumors about Richards’ issues with Coach Laviolette and the late-night partying, and maybe his last season in Philly wasn’t quite up to snuff. But he had been the face of Philly hockey, playing both ends of the ice, the power play, the penalty kill. He was a Renaissance Man in a city that has needed to feel reborn in the hockey world since the days of Bobby Clarke and Fred Shero.
And Mike Richards was special. In a city whose fans and media turn on players quickly, it’s not uncommon for the players to resent the sports culture.
But Richards didn’t resent it. He embraced it. Even after being traded, he was genuinely sad to go.
Most players—even captains—would be relieved.
For all the questions the media has asked about his attitude, it strikes me as a little ironic that he was one of the few stars this city has seen that had such a good attitude toward playing sports in Philadelphia.
Those are the thoughts and feelings that will be stirred up as I watch from the stands this Saturday. Feelings of appreciation, feelings of nostalgia. Not regret, not longing for something different. Just remembering the good.
It will not be easy to see Richards in a new uniform, skating on the ice at the Wells Fargo Center.
I will feel remorseful for the fact that this city could not quite build a team around him that would allow him to hoist the Cup. I’m sure he feels similarly sorrowful that he could not bring the Cup to the city he loved.
I will feel proud of him in his new role in Los Angeles, knowing that the NHL has already dubbed the Kings a Stanley Cup contender, simply by his addition. Maybe there, the fans and media will appreciate Richie without being absurdly critical.
I will feel happy that our new-look team seems to have a new energy and a new focus that have gotten me excited for hockey all over again. Perhaps this is the same optimism I felt when Richie was a rising star in Philly only a few years ago.
Most of all, I will feel melancholy, knowing that the trade that shocked me so much in June is turning out to be the best, painful decision the Flyers have made in a long time.
The Flyers are a new, better team for having brought fresh faces and a goalie into the city. The Kings are a top contender in the league thanks to Richie’s veteran presence on their offense.
And, of special importance for this Richards fan, one of my favorite players in finally playing in a city that not only gives him a chance to win the Stanley Cup, but will not put the pressure and blame on him that Philadelphia did.
I am proud to be a Flyers fan. I am proud to be among the most loud, obnoxious, hated fans in sports.
But I can admit that Mike Richards deserved better than us.
I’ll be cheering at the beginning of the game to welcome Richards back.
But I believe I will be cheering at the end of the game because this Flyers team is good enough to start the year with four straight wins.
Even without The Captain.
Diary of a Flyers Fan is compiled by the author based upon interactions with passionate Flyers fans that occur before games, after games, and in day-to-day conversation. The thoughts and opinions presented above do not necessarily reflect the thoughts and opinions of the author. The author encourages input from readers for future installments of the series via the Bleacher Report private messaging system.