The Captain Returns
He was born to be a leader; the next Bobby Clarke they said.
They thought he’d lead the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup, surely bringing a parade back down Broad Street.
Those same words vanished this past summer when Mike Richards, the former
captain of the Flyers, was traded to Los Angeles.
Though the return for Richards included new fan favorite Wayne Simmonds, 23, top 20-year-old prospect Brayden Schenn and a draft pick, the parting of ways with a former captain still stings some of the Flyers faithful.
Saturday, that captain returns to Philadelphia in hopes to kindly remind the fans of the minutes-eating, hard-hitting, goal-scoring center that wore the orange and black jersey for seven seasons.
Richards is also hoping to come back and erase any ill feelings towards a player who was the top scape goat along with fellow 2003 first round pick Jeff Carter (traded to Columbus only hours before him). That includes the excessive partying and drinking, the “Dry Island” fiasco and his constant cold-shouldering of the media.
Was Richards named captain too soon? Was he too young to handle the pressures of being the face of a franchise? Or did he simply not want to play in Philadelphia, a city that puts the limelight on their star athletes 24/7 with the constant demand for success?
Whatever the reasons were, we will certainly find out in the coming seasons with the Kings. Nicknamed “Flyers West” for their similar style of play to the Flyers and coincidental collection of former Flyers, the Kings are a perfect fit for Richards, who won’t have to be the top dog in a team surrounded with young gritty super stars such as himself.
The trade breathes a breath of fresh air into the lungs of both teams. That new life could finally be that extra push to drive either team to hockey’s ultimate goal.
There will be no letter on the front of Richards’ jersey, just a crown representing the Kings logo. And the "C" that was once sewn onto the sweater of a #18 jersey in Philadelphia will now belong to Chris Pronger.
Kings fans are already falling in love fast with Richards, who tallied 349 points in 453 games with the Flyers (at least 62 points in each of his last four seasons). In his first game, he tallied the game-tying goal and primary assist on the game winning goal in the Kings 3-2 win over the New York Rangers.
Richards’ love affair in Philadelphia was just as fast. Drafted 24th overall in the 2003 draft, Richards immediately impacted the organization in an incredibly positive way when he helped lead the Philadelphia Phantoms to the 2004-05 Calder Cup championship, the second in it’s franchise’s history.
In the 2005-06 season, Richards made his debut on October 5, 2005 and scored in his first career game. Four months later into the season and he tallied his first career hat trick.
Two years later, Richards was named the youngest captain in Flyers history
at the start of the 2008-09 season. As the franchise’s 17th captain, his role as the next Bobby Clarke was nearly complete. All that stood in the way of the young Richards was a Stanley Cup.
As expected, the fan base chimed in with their opinions of their new captain.
There was the half who supported the move, saying it will be the biggest step towards Richards’ growth and maturing process as an NHL super star. But others felt he was too young to take the role, favoring towards naming wingers Danny Briere or Simon Gagne captains.
But the decision was made and the Flyers stuck with their gut. Richards did lead the team to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance, the first for the Flyers since being swept out of the 1997 Finals by the Russian-fueled Red Wings.
The Flyers lost in six games to the Blackhawks, bringing a disappointing
close to a miraculous playoff run that included the miracle in Boston.
The following season proved to be disastrous. The Flyers were named the team to beat in the East by many experts, and with the way they were playing through February, things started to look as if the Flyers were ready to end the 35-year championship drought.
But something happened. The team imploded from the inside, played inconsistent hockey heading into the playoffs and played goalie roulette through the first two rounds. This lead to their elimination against the eventual Cup-hoisting Bruins.
One month later, Richards was exiled with a handful of their partying counterparts to different teams.
That leads to Saturday. How will Mike Richards be received in Philadelphia?
There will be a lot of #18 orange jerseys in the stands that night with the “C” on front. If he’s announced in the starting line up, the fans will get on their feet and cheer.
But much like every opposing city Richards has visited in his career, something says that he will be hearing a lot more boos by the end of the night.
You can follow John Russo on Twitter (@Roose_TTB)