Richards should drop the 'C'

Flyers captain Mike Richards and coach Peter Laviolette, talking at practice early this month, say their relationship is fine. Not everyone agrees.
Flyers captain Mike Richards and coach Peter Laviolette, talking at practice early this month, say their relationship is fine. Not everyone agrees. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 16, 2011

It seemed like things couldn't possibly get worse for Mike Richards. Not after the Flyers captain scored just one goal in 11 disappointing playoff games. Not after he hurt his wrist and struggled to overcome the injury. And certainly not after he was forced to have surgery following the Flyers' inglorious postseason.

That's a lot, but it's also just a portion of his troubles these days. Depending on which of the many recent media reports you believe, Richards may or may not have issues with his coach, some of his teammates (including, possibly, Chris Pronger) and, naturally, the dastardly media. There are battle rappers and competitive eaters who couldn't handle that much beef.

There hasn't been this much discussion about a local superstar's personality and leadership (or lack thereof) since we had Donovan McNabb to kick around. In an entertaining and ironic twist, the Flyers brass spent much of the last week denying the existence of any Richards-related problems by repeatedly discussing certain Richards-related problems.

When asked whether there are chemistry issues in the locker room or between himself and Richards, Peter Laviolette said everything is just fine.

"We have a good group of guys in here," Laviolette said. "There's not a lot of difficult people to manage. I think in a team concept, part of being a coach is understanding that it takes all types of people to make the world go 'round. You try to manage those people to the best of your ability. You know, really, for the most part, these guys are not a problem to manage. They're good guys."

General manager Paul Holmgren said he's "not concerned at all" with Richards or his potentially strained relationships, and chairman Ed Snider told me he doesn't "stress or worry about" the team getting along. It was nice execution of the old move-on/nothing-to-see-here PR strategy. I kept waiting for a Flyers employee to block off the Wells Fargo Center with yellow (orange?) caution tape.

Part of the issue with Richards, according to people who regularly observe, write and talk about these things, is his personality and whether it has become a detriment to him or the team. He's been described as awkward and aloof, but no one has accused him of vomiting at the Super Bowl yet so maybe there's still hope for him.

"I don't know where this [stuff] is coming from," Holmgren said. "You guys [reporters] all know Mike. He's a quiet kid, he's a reserved kid. I think we all are in our own way, I don't want to say we have communication issues, but he's a hard guy to talk to sometimes - probably even to his closest friends.

"He's a quiet guy. But there is no issue in terms of Mike's relationship with Peter [Laviolette], Mike's relationship with any of his teammates. That's all a bunch of crap. I don't know why it keeps coming up. It's ridiculous."

Crap. Ridiculous crap. Got it.

And yet, despite the Flyers trying to push people off the story, it doesn't look like the Richards saga will fade or improve any time soon. Richards also has a notoriously icy relationship with the no-good media.

History and the old GI Joe cartoons have taught us that there are only so many fights you can pick and wage at one time. You have to wonder how he has the strength to war with so many people simultaneously. Maybe he should hire a few mercenaries to help with his numerous ongoing battles. He has the money, and it would save a lot of time.

As if all that wasn't enough, there have been stories published and questions asked about whether Richards should have the captain's "C" ripped off his chest. Holmgren said he thinks Richards is "a good captain for our team," but I'm not sure why it really matters. Unless you're a kid picking teams on the playground at recess, being a captain is a largely ceremonial role. Real leadership has nothing to do with sewing a letter onto a sweater, and it's unlikely that any professional athlete would follow someone simply because he holds an honorary title.

If Richards was smart, he'd volunteer to give up the captaincy before the jackals close in tighter and help themselves to more of his flesh. Being a captain comes with unfair expectations, and no matter how well he performs he'll never live up to the high standards set by other, better captains who came before him. On the list of great all-time captains, Richards ranks well behind such luminaries as Cap'n Crunch, Captain Hook, Captain Kangaroo, Captain Caveman, Captain America, Captain Kirk, Captain Lou Albano and, perhaps the most distinguished of the lot, Captain Morgan.

Considering all the drama swirling around Richards, he might want to spend some time with that last one.

Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or

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