Leadership Issues as Much a Part of Trades as “Dry Island”

By David Strehle
ot Stove Creative Editor

A article from Dan Gross of The Philadelphia Daily News / Philly.com was published yesterday insinuating that the Philadelphia Flyers dealt both captain Mike Richards and Jeff Carter due to their partying lifestyles

Two unnamed Flyers reportedly told Gross that Richards and Carter refused to join in on head coach Peter Laviolette’s challenge to his players.  The substance of the “Dry Island” invitation was for the players to commit to not drinking alcohol for a full month.

Paul Bereswill / Getty Images

According to Gross, the players were to write their numbers on a board in the locker room to dedicate themselves to the cause – and in affect, also to their teammates.

It is estimated that there were six different occasions in which Laviolette implemented the initiative since his arrival as coach midway through the 2009-10 season.  

Curiously, numbers 17 (Carter) and 18 (Richards) were absent from the board on every one of those requests.  In a position to show a real and true leadership – even in an off-ice situation – both failed the test.

The local media’s long-standing view from the microscope into the social lives of the pair dates back to the days when Scottie Upshall and Joffrey Lupul still played in the City of Brotherly Love.  When Upshall and Lupul were eventually sent packing, team management had to have hoped that Carter and (especially) Richards would mature into the leaders they had envisioned.

While the “Dry Island” situation in itself seems like a great story, the crux of the respective depatures of both Richards and Carter is the lack of direction exhibited by the duo.  

The unnamed players claimed that the decision to not participate in Laviolette’s appeals disenchanted the front office regarding the pair, as well as worrying teammates about their drinking habits.

After such a promising start to the campaign - in which the Orange-and-Black battled the Vancouver Canucks for the overall NHL points lead - the year came to an abrupt and disquieting conclusion.

There was obviously something askew in the locker room as the Flyers struggled during the latter portion of the regular season and playoffs.  During player interviews you would get the standard “We just have to do this better and that better”, but the feeling was that of attempting to cover up deeper problems in the room that were the real difficulties.

Don’t expect Flyers’ management to ever admit just how much the skipping of the “Dry Island” opportunities played a part in the dealing of both Richards and Carter.

GM Paul Holmgren maintained yesterday that the trades were just good hockey moves, and gave Gross the following quote:

“As far as Mike and Jeff are concerned, we made two good hockey trades that will better suit us now and for the future.  Columbus is happy, L.A. is happy, and the Flyers are happy with the deal.”

From every report, all of upper team management (yes, Ed Snider included) met and was involved in the decision to move Richards and Carter.

As a matter of fact, it’s kind of a funny coincidence that Laviolette’s challenge was called “Dry Island” by the players.  It’s almost as if the pair was “voted off the island”, akin to a reality show like “Survivor”.

Defenseman Chris Pronger, who is likely to be named the next Flyers’ captain, gave this quote two weeks ago on the “Mac and Noodles Show” (Scott MacArthur and Jamie McLennan)  on Toronto’s TSN Radio 1050:

With the way we exited the playoffs last year, and our owner coming out and asking to get a goalie, that puts a little bit of cash restraints on the team with respect to the salary cap.  Moves have to be made.  In order to free up money, you have to give up good players, and we obviously did that in both Mike (Richards) and Jeff (Carter).

Both of those guys are obviously going to be sorely missed.  They were a big part of the Flyers for a number of years, and hopefully we don’t miss them too much this year.”

Pronger is correct, the talents of both Richards and Carter will be missed.  But in the long run - as well as the short - it may just facilitate a team growth that could push Philadelphia over the top.

A Second Chance for Richards?

As the organization patiently awaited Richards’ metamorphosis into a modern-day Bobby Clarke, it became more evident as time passed that he would never be comfortable in that role.

Nick Laham / Getty Images North America

The move to Los Angeles for Richards could actually be a blessing in disguise.  It appeared that his development as both a player and leader had hit a wall here in Philadelphia, so a change of scenery may be a good thing.

Despite playing in 81 games – much with a wrist injury that required surgery following the season – Richards finished with the least amount of goals (23) since the 2006-07 campaign.  In 11 playoff contests, he managed just a single goal and seven points.

He seemed bored during post-game interviews, often murmuring under his breath about the “same old questions” while the team he was supposed to be guiding continued in a tailspin toward its ultimate destruction.  Richards appeared to long for that one bloated silent pause when the questions stopped for but a brief moment, so that he could make a quick getaway from the inquiries.

Richards’ relationship with the Philly media was tenuous, at best, so it may not be a fluke in the timing of the release of Gross’ story.  There is a press conference scheduled for tomorrow to introduce the Kenora, Ontario-native to the Los Angeles media.

The City of Angels does have its share of temptations, and some on a much grander scale than what is found here.  At just 26 it’s hard to say if this is a make-or-break stage of Richards’ career as he heads into what should be his most-productive years. 

But needless to say it would bode well for him to concentrate on hockey. 

Helping an ever-improving Kings’ squad attain the next level of success may assist in repairing his somewhat damaged reputation.

L.A. can sometimes be an unforgiving town, but hockey does not garner the large-scale interest seen in Philly.  It is not the most-popular professional sport in the city, but hockey’s popularity would be on an even lesser scale in Los Angeles. 

With the Lakers, Dodgers, the beach, the ocean, and some of the afore-mentioned other temptations to sidetrack interest, the Kings are much lower on their city’s measure of adoration.

The Kings are also blessed with a very good captain in Dustin Brown – as well as a nice cast of forwards which includes Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, Simon Gagne, and Dustin Penner - Richards may not see the same amount of all-encompassing attention that he received from the media in Philadelphia.

There will be some familiar faces for Richards in L.A. in which to help him get acclimated.  The Kings are affectionately called ”Flyers West” in the Philadelphia area:  

  • GM Dean Lombardi and his assistant, legendary Flyers’ goaltender Ron Hextall, came from Philly to help rebuild the Kings.  They are doing a fantastic job in turning the franchise around. 
  • Head coach Terry Murray is a former Flyer and Flyers’ coach, and assistant John Stevens was Richards’ head coach with the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms (when they won a Calder Cup championship in 2005), as well as with the Flyers.  
  • Gagne is a former teammate in Philadelphia, and Williams played for the Flyers, as well.  

Star defenseman Drew Doughty was even a teammate during Team Canada’s Gold Medal run at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.

The dealing of Richards was one of the more surprising moments in a summer of Holmgren’s overhauling of Philadelphia roster, providing something of a second chance for the now former-Flyers’ captain to prove the club wrong for giving up on him.

Maybe the perfect ending for a script of the 2011-12 campaign would be a Flyers-Kings meeting in the Stanley Cup Finals.  In that scenario, the absolute opportunity to deliver the last and decisive word would be hanging in the balance. 

Far-fetched?  Just remember, we are talking about Richards going to a team that plays in Hollywood.

If you have any comments or questions, you can email the author at dstrehle@nhlhotstove.com.  You can also follow him on Twitter – @David_Strehle