Roundtable: Debating Mike Richards in his return to Philadelphia

Puck Daddy

It was all there for Mike Richards. He was going to be the face of the post-lockout Philadelphia Flyers; ascending to the captaincy, bordering on stardom, signing a 12-year contract and playing a brand of edgy two-way hockey that earned him Bobby Clarke 2.0 comparisons.

And now he's a member of the Los Angeles Kings, returning to Philadelphia for the first time since the June 23 trade that sent him and the rights to Rob Bordson to the Kings for Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and a second-round pick.

So what happened?

What will be the reaction from Flyers fans as Richards returns? What is his legacy with the franchise and the city? And is Philadelphia a better team having cleared Richards from its dressing room?

We asked some of the top Flyers bloggers what they think of the former captain's return to the City of Brotherly Love. Their answers are candid and surprising.

The bloggers/writers featured in this roundtable are Ryan from Flyers Goal Scored By …; Kyle Scott from Crossing Broad; Ryan Bright from Philadelphia Sports Daily; Eugene Markman of Broad Street Buzz; and Travis Hughes from Broad Street Hockey and SB Nation; and Matt P. from The 700 Level.

1. What do you expect the reaction from fans will be for Richards' first game back in Philadelphia?

RYAN (FGSB): Here's hoping we see a standing ovation similar to what Simon Gagne got when he came back last year with the Lightning.  Terry Murray should know his role and ice a Gagne-Richards-Justin Williams line to start the game so that Lou Nolan, the Flyers PA announcer, gets to introduce all three ex-Flyers. Richards will get a great ovation, a snowball, a couple batteries, and some boos.  This is Philly after all…

KYLE SCOTT: It should (and will) be a standing ovation. You can say what you want about him off the ice, but he played the way fans want and expect Flyers to play on the ice. He took the team closer to a Stanley Cup than anyone has in over 20 years (if Jeff Carter figured out how to lift the puck there would have been a Game 7). He loved the city, wanted to stay here, signed a contract which reflected that, and played his balls off on the ice. He should be welcome accordingly.

RYAN BRIGHT: He'll receive what most productive former fan favorites receive upon their return to Philly -- an excellent ovation, possibly standing, followed by light, almost sarcastic booing the rest of the contest. There is a minor contingent of fans who believe that Richards was whiny and questionable as a captain. But the majority of the fan base remembers him as the guy who willed them to multiple Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals.

EUGENE MARKMAN: For the most part, he was very loved by Flyer fans. The media painted a bad picture of him because they had a personal vendetta against him. Most fans will cheer, a few idiots whose opinion is easily swayed will boo. I'm just hoping he's in the starting lineup so we can get to cheer when his name is announced, in case he doesn't show up on the scoresheet. I wrote a blog post related to this topic today actually.

TRAVIS HUGHES: It's going to be mixed. Mike was loved here for a lot of obvious reasons -- his play on the ice kind of speaks for itself, and it didn't hurt that the organization claimed he was next Bobby Clarke from Day 1. But over the last few months, there's been the (in my opinion, largely incorrect) feeling in town that the drinking and the partying and whatever else was a real issue. And the whole "he was a bad captain" thing has resonated on sports talk radio, too. There are people that appreciate what he did as a Flyer, and there are plenty of people who feel he was a horrible captain who deserved to be traded. Which makes me sad.

[Related: Bruins, Canucks deal with Stanley Cup hangover]

MATT P.: I think it'll be pretty warm. We're hoping for a standing O, as we've given him that on plenty of occasions when he wore the Orange & Black, and he deserves another when he comes here for the first time as a visitor. There may be a boo or two, because there will always be the people who love to hate, but I doubt they'll be too audible.

2. What do you consider to be his legacy as a Flyer? Who, or what, do you blame for his demise in Philly?

RYAN (FGSB): Mike Richards legacy as a Flyer will be as a hard-hitting, excellent two-way player. Certain plays stand out in my memory, including the shift against the Habs in 2010 and breaking the shorthanded goal record against the Rangers. A guy brought up through the system, gave it his all, and unfortunately was prematurely crowned the next Bobby Clarke. To paraphrase Detective James Gordon, 'He is the hero Philly deserves, but not the one it needs right now.'

A soft spoken captain in an intense market, everyone wanted Richards to be as animated as other Philly sports stars. When he wasn't, and it appeared he never would be,  it didn't translate well.  I don't buy the partying excuse as the reason Richards is gone. In the 1970s, the team and fans would all gather at Rexy's in South Jersey to drink and smoke cigarettes and probably make fun of Bernie Parent.  Today there are stories and blogposts about every athletes social life and scapegoating the ones who go out on the town.  Richards played through injuries and was often paired with line mates who had rocks for hands. It wasn't his on ice performance, nor his off ice social life. At the end of the day, Ed Snider wanted this team going in a different direction. No matter what stories are out there, Richards demise in Philly was a business move meant to move an asset that could reap quality return.

KYLE SCOTT: Ultimately, his legacy is going to be neutral. While he will get the "welcome back" cheer he deserves, there are going to be people who, in the long-term, are unable to look past the reports (and photos) of partying and their own personal blind loyalty to Ed Snider.

On the other hand, some folks will remember "The Shift" and have some sympathy for the way he was seemingly backstabbed by the organization. Richards, depending on how the rest of his career plays out, will wind up somewhere between Bobby Abreu and Jeremy Roenick in Philly sports lore  -- not exactly the best place to be. He only has himself to blame for his demise, however. He was among the most beloved athletes in the city in the Spring of 2010... and a year later he was gone. The widespread reports of his partying and his attitude both carry weight. He was given the chance to grow up, and it - allegedly - never happened.

RYAN BRIGHT: As time passes, so will the stories of his off-ice attitude, partying and snarky demeanor. He will be remembered for the good things he did in Philadelphia, the winning, the hard work. However, he will also be remembered for how he lost his way -- the unfulfilled potential and crashing college parties.

Richards' demise was a direct result of the pressure cooker that is the Philly sports market. If you don't defuse the bomb when it's ticking, it will eventually go off -- which is what happened in the 2010-11 offseason, after the Flyers were eliminated. Richards often turned his nose up at the media and was dismissive of any issues or questions involving his personal life or ability to lead. This caused the media to push harder and many times assume information, which fueled Richards' disgust and hampered his morale and attitude.

EUGENE MARKMAN: He'll be remembered as a guy who gave it his all. He was a leader by example, rather than speech. A few might criticize him for not bringing the Cup home, and for disappearing in the Finals. But to be fair, his counterpart (Toews) didn't exactly light the lamp either. I felt he was dealt because of his contract rather than his play on the ice or any off ice issues. Maybe if he only had 3-4 more years left, or no [no trade clause], they would have held onto him longer. But because he was going to be locked in way past his prime, at a number that would eventually be much too high, they felt they'd better move him now. I wrote about this last week.

TRAVIS HUGHES: I think his legacy in Philly is one that's pretty unfortunate. If he could've won two more games in 2010, there's no doubt he'd be on his way toward having his number retired in the WFC rafters and a statue positioned outside the building; but a horrible concoction of unnecessary media scrutiny and an awkward relationship with his head coach led to a much different reality.

I'm not sure I blame anybody in particular -- it was really a perfect storm of underachievement in comparison to huge expectations and the false perception that he wasn't a well liked player in the locker room that ultimately led to his demise here.

MATT P.: When you don't win it all in Philly, you rarely get a legacy that is wholly positive. There will always be a mention of coming up short, followed by a listing of faults along with your positives. For Richards, his legacy will unfortunately include coming up short, being at odds with the local media, and a probably undeserved reputation for let's say, lack of dedication off the ice. But I hardly think that will be the final word on Richards the Flyer. Everyone knows he was just 26 when traded out of town against his wishes. Most of us were huge Richie fans over his six seasons in Philly, and few of us went into the off-season wanting him traded. He is an outstanding young player, and he gave us far more to cheer about than bitch about.

But even though his time as a Flyer is over, I'm don't think his legacy has fully been written in Philly. If the Flyers don't win a Cup in the course of his career, and Richards hoists one elsewhere, he'll be regarded as the one that got away, a mistake by the organization. If the Flyers do win a Cup in the next several years, he'll just be one of many respected gritty Flyers who came just short of getting it done.

As for his demise in Philly, I'm not even sure he had one. Most Flyers fans were Richards fans, and just about everyone everywhere was shocked when he was traded away. There were certainly bumps along the way, but this wasn't a Lindros situation by any stretch.

3. Now that the roster is set and you've seen this team in action, do you think removing Mike Richards from the roster is going to be something that moves the Flyers closer to a Stanley Cup or something they'll regret in the long run? Why or why not?

RYAN (FGSB): Three games is a small sampling to know for sure, but the early returns are promising. The Summer of 2011 will be graded not just by the return on Mike Richards but also about who Philly got in the Jeff Carter trade.

It's surprising, but one can argue that this current club is even deeper than the one from last year.  It's certainly younger and faster and with Chris Pronger holding court, intensity level should never be an issue this year. The playoffs are a strange beast, and it's improbably to think that the Flyers could be back in the Finals very quickly. That is not to say that there won't be regret. There will definitely be regret, similar to the way Philadelphians felt when they saw Rod Brind'Amour and Mark Recchi throughout the years. When we saw Rod the Bod lifting the Cup as a Hurricane, that stung. Same thing for Mark Recchi when he won his 175 Stanley Cups.

Both guys always felt like Flyers, ever after they left. Both guys are thought of fondly by the fanbase, and you can still see their jerseys on any given gameday.  Mike Richards is going to be the next member in our infamous "Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda Club."

KYLE SCOTT: At first I hated the trade. I understood the need to move Carter to clear cap space for Bryzgalov, but couldn't get my head around the notion of trading the captain after just a few disastrous months. As time went on, it became more apparent that there were chemistry issues which forced the organization to take advantage of the one chance they had to move Richie before his no-movement clause kicked in next year. His replacements, Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds, along with Jakub Voracek (acquired on same day in Carter trade), look extremely promising. In what is admittedly a very small sample size, the team looks to have gotten much quicker and perhaps more skilled.

They are younger, but have a good group of respected veterans (Briere, Timonen, and Pronger) to keep things running smoothly. Also, they don't look like they hate coming to the rink, the way they did at the end of last season.

The Flyers are more balanced than they have been in years. And they have an NHL-qualified goalie, something the city hasn't seen since I was like eight (I'm 28 now). I like their chances. Of course, after a horrible sports month in Philadelphia, I really have no other choice...

RYAN BRIGHT: It is the classic case of a step back for two forward and will work in the long run. Not only will the team be more popular, but will win on a more consistent basis. The Flyers received more overall skill, albeit young, for better players right now. More importantly, they earned cap space and depth, which should become a factor in replacing an aging blue line 1-2 years down the line.

As the Boston Bruins showed the world last season, a team, playing as a team, can be successful. Which is why the new Flyers' 2011-12 theme, "All About the Chemistry," is not only telling about the past but it's what they hope for in the future.

EUGENE MARKMAN: I still feel we were better off having him here in the short and long term. Some teams are built for regular season success, and some are built for deep playoff runs. If we'd kept Richards and hadn't signed Bryzgalov, I still felt the team would have been stronger suited to push for a Stanley Cup. I think we collapsed last year because of poor coaching, not goaltending. Bobrovsky is good enough to play behind this team because it is so deep. We have some pretty good talent now, but I felt the team was more talented before Richie was dealt.

I'm big on teams with center depth, and I feel like we've downgraded in that regard. Of course, if over the course of the season the rookies (Couturier and Schenn) really step up and contribute consistently, then that's a whole different story. But for now, I feel like this team will need to play shut down defense if they want to compete, because I don't think we have enough offense in the long run.

TRAVIS HUGHES: There's no doubt that this team on paper is not as good as last year's team. It's hard to debate that fact, really. A lot of that has to do with removing Richards from the lineup. He's one of the best two-way forwards in the game and when you take a player of his caliber out of the lineup, it's extremely difficult to come up with a replacement.

But that's the funny thing about hockey: They were the best team in the East for almost the entire year and they didn't win the Cup, did they? It's hard to say this current team is better positioned to win a Stanley Cup, but because it takes so much luck and good fortune to make that happen, it's also tough to say that they don't have a chance at winning a Cup this season.

If they do happen to win the Cup this year or next year, it'll be looked at as a slight to Mike Richards, even if that's not necessarily fair.

MATT P.: It certainly helps diffuse today's situation that the Flyers are undefeated and the new guys are playing very well. Brayden Schenn even had a hattie with the Phantoms last night and could join the Flyers soon. But it's way too early to know what we have with the current roster in terms of Cup contention. Hell, the Flyers had the best record midway through January last year, so who knows anything in October. The Flyers may have become a better Cup contender as a result of the sum total of moves, particularly if you're looking beyond just this season, but not simply as a result of removing Richards. They were two games short just two seasons ago, and it wasn't Richards holding them back then.

This player, when considered in a vacuum, gets an NHL team closer to a Cup, and I believe the Kings are closer today than they were last season. His abilities as a two-way player who can really do it all make any team stronger, and the Kings' top line will probably be even better as a result of the pressure Richards takes away from them. But, I think Holmgren did a great job getting a valuable return for Richards, and there is a good chance they are closer as a result of having Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and Ilya Bryzgalov (half of Bryz, anyway, since we have to count some of his cap hit against the Jeff Carter salary too).

Just three games into the season, the big story in Philly is no longer that Richards and Carter are gone. It's that the new guys are here, and they look pretty good.

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