June 27, 2010 1 Comment
One of the most important leadership role in sports is being your team’s captain. Fans, teammates, coaches and the captain look to you to make the right decisions both on and off the field. In hockey particularly, the captain has the right to speak with the officials, takes part in ceremonious puck drops and leads the team through the season and often deep in the playoffs.
Hockey is also the only of the major sports in which the captain is awarded the trophy when the championship is won. Commissioner Gary Bettman awards the Stanley Cup to Jonathan Toews, not Joel Quenneville or Rocky Wirtz. Bettman gives it to Sidney Crosby, not Ray Shero.
The Philadelphia Flyers organization has had 16 captains through their 43-year history, averaging about 2.7 years of reign for each captain. What began with Lou Angotti in the fledgling expansion team’s first season has not come to Mike Richards, the franchise player and (eventually) long-tenured captain of the club.
As the captain, Richards has done what most Flyers captains have been unable to do – lead the team to the Stanley Cup final. In fact, just four captains before Richards have done this: Bob Clarke, Mel Bridgman, Dave Poulin and Eric Lindros.
But where does Richie rank among the esteemed group of Flyers captains. For that matter, where could he rank when his now-young career is over in a decade or so?
Richards has won a Memorial Cup, a Calder Cup, a World Junior gold medal and an Olympic gold medal, all before the age of 26. Richards is nearing his prime and with 283 points in 372 career NHL games (142 in the past two seasons), he is showing how well he can perform on the ice. There is no doubting his leadership off the ice, but with so many famous ones before him, how does Richards stack up against the likes of Bob Clarke, Eric Lindros and more
The lesser-tenured captains
Lou Angotti, Mel Bridgman, Bill Barber, Ron Sutter, Rick Tocchet, Kevin Dineen, Derian Hatcher, Peter Forsberg
These captains have a combined captaincy tenure of 10 seasons, which is longer than any one captain on the Flyers, but still not too long, considering other famous captains in NHL history: Steve Yzerman in Detroit, Wayne Gretzky in Edmonton, Ray Bourque in Boston and Daniel Alfredsson in Ottawa. Of these captains, only Mel Bridgman led the Flyers to a Stanley Cup final, but none were able to lead the team to the precious Stanley Cup. Although these players were all crucial in the development of the team and its performance, none were truly big-name captains that defined Flyers hockey.
Ed Van Impe
Originally taken with their second non-goaltender selection in the 1967 expansion draft, Van Impe originally was scared s**tless to play in Philadelphia. His first experience of Philadelphia sports came shortly after being drafted, at an Eagles game. The crowd began booing and harassing a member of the home team because he had a bad game the previous week. Van Impe’s thoughts? “Oh God, what are we getting ourselves into?”
But Van Impe’s stellar play on the blueline anchored a young Flyers team and helped lead them from a fledgling franchise to a hockey superpower in the mid-1970s. Although not an impressive offensive threat, Van Impe played in three NHL All-Star Games and won two Stanley Cups with the Flyers. His induction into the Flyers Hall of Fame in 1993 just shows how well-respected he was by his teammates and the entire city.
The words Bobby Clarke and Philadelphia are synonymous. Clarkie is arguably the most decorated athlete in Philadelphia sports history. Having dominated juniors with the Flin Flon Bombers (he scored 183 points in a 45-game season), teams were nervous to draft him because of his diabetes. The Flyers, however, were thrilled that he fell to them in the second round and they grabbed him before anyone else could.
“As soon as he got on the ice, you could see he was the real deal,” said a teammate at the time. Not only was Clarke the real deal, he was more. He surpassed the 100-point plateau six times in his career and finished his career with 1,210 points. He was elected to nine All-Star teams and won the league MVP three times. His two Stanley Cups with the team will most likely never be surpassed (at least in our lifetime).
Poulin was a tough guy but could also put the puck in the net. He scored at least 70 points three times in his NHL career and finished his playing das with 530 points in 724 games. He won the Selke Trophy as the top defensive forward in 1987 and was a Flyers captain for five seasons. During his tenure, he lead the Flyers to an incredible season, one that included a Stanley Cup final berth in 1980, ultimately falling to the New York Islanders.
Arguably the greatest player in Flyers history, Lindros was everything the Flyers hoped he’d be when they traded almost half the team for him in the early ‘90s. Lindros was fast, strong, skilled and had no problems running through people instead of the traditional way of going around them. He won the league’s MVP in 1995 when he scored 70 points in the shortened 46-game season. He even posted 115 points the next year. Leading the Flyers to the 1997 Stanley Cup final, Lindros was unable to win a Stanley Cup and often gets emotional remembering his failure to do so.
His off-ice debacle with Flyers management will forever taint his legacy in Philadelphia and make many Flyers fans red with anger. But there no denying his incredible talents and you could argue that his six years as captain were six of the greatest years in modern Flyers history.
Although he was only the captain for one season, Eric Desjardins was probably the best defenseman that ever played for the Flyers (taking into account longevity). Having won a Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1993, Desjardins came to Philadelphia with John LeClair in arguably the best trade the Flyers ever made. Though not an offensive defenseman, Desjardins could do it all – skate, pass, score, hit and defend. One member of the team at that time even said off the record that the team suffered more with Desjardins than they did without Lindros.
Though his seven record Flyers defenseman MVP awards will most likely never be broken, he will most likely be remembered for his play on the ice, as opposed to his captaincy.
A leading scorer in the Ontario League in 1990, Primeau was originally drafted by the Red Wings. After moving to Hartford (and subsequently, Carolina), he was traded to the Flyers in the Rod Brind’Amour trade. He immediately made an impact on the ice by both scoring and bashing bodies around. In 2001, he donned the “C” for the Flyers and was arguably the greatest captain in the team’s history. Constantly fighting through concussions and other injuries, nothing would stop Primeau from playing. He would fight through everything he could and lead the team on the ice, even bringing them to the brink of the Stanley Cup final in 2004 before losing in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. When he retired after the lockout due to injury, he was hailed by the Flyers faithful and still is to this day.
Yes, Jason Smith was only the Flyers’ captain for one season. But when you come to a new team, never having played in the organization and you’re named the captain before you’ve played one game, you know you’re a good leader. In his only season with the Flyers, he anchored the blueline like never before, leading the team to the Conference Final just one year after finishing last place in the league. Though he will never be remembered as the greatest Flyers captain, his success in his one season is duly noted.
So where does that bring us with Mike Richards? He was named the captain in 2008 and is presently the Flyers captain. There is no reason to assume he will not continue to be the captain while he is wearing the Orange and Black – and since he is signed through the 2019-2020 season, you can bet he’ll continue to stay in Philly.
Richards’ winning pedigree will shoot him up the chart of Flyers captains, but the only way he can truly be considered the Flyers’ best captain is if he wins a Stanley Cup. Leading his team to the final this past year will help his case (as a 25-year-old), but no one judges winning by how many Prince of Wales Trophies you win.
Though he talented and arguably the best forward on the Flyers, his skill will never be confused with Eric Lindros’. And though his leadership abilities are top-notch, he will never be confused with Keith Primeau. And though he’s won in the past and won recently, his winning pedigree will never be confused with Bob Clarke.
If he wins a Stanley Cup, Richards could be considered the best captain in Flyers history. If he doesn’t, he will drop down in the top five.
Don’t let that fool you, though. Regardless of the results, Richards is an incredible leader and is already one of the best in Flyers history.