While the hockey world tries to wrap it's skull around whatever just happened in Philadelphia, one thing is pretty clear: something was amiss in that dressing room. Coming to the rink everyday when you know things aren't quite right isn't fun and can make winning an even tougher battle. Something had to be done.
Few of us thought that "something" would be trading the very names you associate with the present-day Philadelphia Flyers, but Paul Holmgren clearly felt that the core of his team was rotten. His full-scale roster renovation means that Chris Pronger(notes) officially gets the keys to the new-look Flyers.
I believe it was Dr. Evil who once said "oh ... it's a power struggle." I'm not sure if he was referring to the relationship between Pronger and Richards, but he might as well have been. It's no secret throughout the hockey world that these guys were oil and water and that would've left their teammates to side with one guy or the other given that they couldn't work together.
That must've lead to uncomfortable situations in the team's biggest moments - when one guy stood up to speak in a big game were there guys rolling their eyes because it wasn't "their" leader speaking up?
I have a little experience with a bad dressing room, on one team in particular, and it makes for a really uncomfortable daily grind.
As a general tone, the room is quieter ... until something goes wrong. Think of Will Ferrell's "I DRIVE A DODGE STRATUS!" SNL skit — if nobody talks, nothing can go wrong. Then after the silence, things start to feel like maybe you can be civil, someone speaks up, and then kaboom, "I CAN DO 100 PUSHUPS IN 20 MINUTES."
In practice, things can escalate from verbal to physical. Hockey is a contact sport, and that means sometimes you have to practice that way too. When you're locked in a battle drill and find a guy you dislike bringing game-like intensity, the situation isn't about to get any better. The odd in-practice tussle can help the guys blow off steam and temporarily relieve some pressure, but it doesn't fix the root of the problem.
When teams have good chemistry, they can call each other out in a productive manner. When they don't, everything comes off as a slight, a personal assault on one's character — you just can't get ahead when the dressing room floor is covered in eggshells.
There's just no way for players who don't mesh to avoid each other either. You spend way, way too much time together between the travel, the hotels, the rinks, the promos and beyond. And while it's nearly impossible to have 23 players like each other, they can usually at least get along, especially if they have different roles on the team. But when it's your two leaders, your biggest names, your biggest personalities ... you can see why it doesn't work long-term.
A "bad dressing room" doesn't even have to mean yelling and fighting — as long as those top dogs are undermining each other, even if it's just in passing at lunch with teammates, it kills team direction. People would be surprised how much being on a hockey team can be like middle school when you're away from the rink. Players do nothing but eat, drink and sleep hockey, so it comes up (along with that negativity) when you're hanging out with your buddies. Cliques form, and the dressing room grows even more divided.
Philly obviously did things a certain way before Sheriff Pronger came to town, and we've seen that he likes to do things his way in the past. His inability to bite his tongue (or even compromise) combined with Richards stubbornness must've caused a few early blowups, followed by a couple years of forced co-existence. You can only pretend there's not a problem for so long, and the Flyers were done pretending.
Holmgren freed the room to have one guy to follow, which is something they needed. Whether he picked the right horse to ride or not, well, only time will tell.
The new-look Flyers, if nothing else, finally have direction. The Carter-Richards era is over, and it's time for a new one to begin.