Better With Popcorn

The Captain in Orange

The person that wears the number 18 in Philadelphia also wears a ‘C’ on the front of his sweater. His name won’t be mentioned here, because any prior perception of him should be left behind while reading this. Instead, an objective understanding of his position could help things.

Number 18 has won an Olympic gold medal and a Calder Cup. He’s been an NHL All Star, and finished close to winning a Selke trophy. Yet, he’s not fully embraced, and may never be by some fans that help pay his paycheck. Is it fair? It doesn’t matter if it is or not. It’s what comes with wearing that ‘C’. It’s what comes with wearing it in Philadelphia.

Last year, the man in 18 led his team to the Stanley Cup Finals. His play was above and beyond most anything that Flyers fans had ever seen from him before. Through three series of play, he was a candidate for the Conn Smythe award. This came after a season where his captaincy was consistently questioned. But, it was far from the first time that 18’s credentials as the team’s leader were questioned. That began long before last season.

Conventional wisdom would be that the questioning would stop after the young man helped the underdog Flyers accomplish so much in the postseason. Conventional wisdom would be wrong.

There’s always a bull’s-eye on18’s back, and the reason is really quite simple, although two-fold. First, he’s the captain in Philadelphia, and the natives love their hockey in the City of Brotherly Love. Since the team last hoisted the cup, they’ve watched every rival in the Atlantic Division raise it at least once. That creates a certain craving, an active craving.

That craving is for the Cup and nothing less will be acceptable. That’s a redeeming quality, and it’s one that has been rightly appreciated. The team in Orange hasn’t been able to get over the hump and that carries a great amount of pressure. That pressure comes to a head with the captain. In some type of unrealistic, yet understandable symbolism, HE is responsible for ending the drought.

And if he can’t, then he just simply isn’t good enough.

The second fold of the reason behind 18’s bull’s-eye is that he’s had more than his share of problems with the media. He cannot be absolved of sin in these problems; in fact, he has had more than his share of contributions to them. And, when the only face-to-face contact that fans have with players is through interviews, it would make sense that perception of personality would be heavily influenced by the interviews.

However, what do those problems with the media actually mean? Probably that he doesn’t like the way he is portrayed or was at some point. Or that he doesn’t enjoy the dog and pony show of answering questions for someone else’s interests. Many players use PR skills to their advantage, and that’s something that always paints their play in brighter colors. When other players don’t, the bull’s-eye is painted instead.

Those that feel that the captain of the team should set an example in all phases of the game paint the bull’s-eye. Emphasis on offense and defense should be similar to, if not the same as, public relations and work ethic. His play on the ice should be great, but he also shouldn’t make mistakes off of the ice and he should openly answer every question delivered by the press.

His level of play must be the highest, and his level of interest with the media must be the same, if not higher. No questions asked, no wiggle room. In a way, the captain’s critics are as stingy on public relations as the captain is in his refusal to participate in them. But what does that mean to the Flyers’ success on the ice?

In a hockey sense, it means absolutely nothing. 18 draws nothing but praise from his fellow teammates and his head coach. And contrary to what many may think, their support isn’t a part of some grandiose cover up to save his image. It’s quite clear when one sets foot in the locker room that the utmost respect is reserved for 18.

The respect is most likely a direct reflection of the way he plays. He’s a defensive-minded forward with a sixth sense for knowing where the puck is going. His penalty killing is efficient and at times, brilliant. He’s a dirt-under-the-fingernails-type player, without anything close to the skill that Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin possesses.

He’s not the most talented player in Orange, but he doesn’t try to be. He knows his limitations, and so too do his teammates and coaches. Yet, his ability to defend players like the aforementioned superstars makes him unique. And, that uniqueness doesn’t have a column on the score sheet.

Yet, his critics will roar with disapproval if he ever turns the puck over. They’ll die of delirium when his line fails to score for a few consecutive games. They’ll review his numbers of the past and wonder why they weren’t higher.

They’ll forget that he was paired with the likes of Andreas Nodl and Daniel Carcillo for long stretches of time. Or perhaps memory will fail that his premium winger of past years, Simon Gagne, had troubles remaining on the ice due to injury. His shorthanded goals will be the only thing tallied, not the amount of time killed per penalty as he threatens to score; something that happens nearly every game.

And then, they’ll love him when he raises his play in the playoffs. They’ll scream and shout, then buy his jersey. They won’t care when his answers are the same length as they were when the team lost in the regular season. They’ll view his words as meaningless, because he led them to victory. His answers will become inconsequential, closely resembling the inverse of how consequential they’re made out to be when they lose. It doesn’t seem to be too logical, but logic isn’t the bull’s-eye.

These things make the 18 in Orange and Black a fire-starter. Though, it’s rarely of his own doing. Rather, it’s of interpretation and perspective. It’s about how he measures up to personal preference and pre-established expectations. He’s being evaluated on a scale that doesn’t even exist.

The irony of the situation is that there’s a second baseman that plays in the same sports complex as 18 that is equally media-savvy. He doesn’t play a glamorous game, yet neither does 18. They are very similar characters on the Philadelphia sports stage. Except, one of them brought a championship to the city. The other one is expected to do the same.

It’s interesting how much weight that carries and how big that bull’s-eye can be without the ring. Whether it’s fair or not, that’s how it is. And unless the Flyers hoist the Stanley Cup, that’s how it will stay.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter or email me at mtrible@thecheckingline.com . Or, just browse over to http://www.blogtalkradio.com/flyerscorner to hear me talk Flyers hockey.

4 Comments

Matthew Brigidi's picture

You hit the bulls-eye with this one Mark, great job

Kyle Andrew Busch's picture

I didn't get this whole article. Who's number 18? Someone important?

LOL just kidding, great article Mark

Richards really is the focal point of the team, I like his leadership style and it's up to him to lead the Flyers to the Cup

Kim Pollock's picture

Echoing everyone else - this was a great read. Richards never seems to get as much credit as I think he deserves (sometimes; other times, not so much), and it's so frustrating when people turn on him when things aren't going well for the team. But he plays with a ton of heart and a ton of determination, and it's not easy being the captain of any team, and especially not a hockey team, and especially not a hockey team in Philly. I'd love to see those who are hating on him so much try to handle that kind of pressure.

George Prax's picture

You know, if you don't want us to read it using his name, you probably shouldn't use a pic that flagrantly flaunts that name on the back of his jersey Wink

And, what? A non game blog by Mark Trible? That's impossible!

But all trolling aside, great piece. I hate his guts because he's an asshole, but you can't deny his skill and his leadership abilities. The guy is a top player in the league. I can see him being the next Datsuyk when it's all said and done. Just at the cusp of "eliteness" if you will, likely handed the Selke trophy several times in a row to make up for not getting nominated for the Hart, haha