While the general consensus seems to be that the captain of a professional sports team should be someone who is public relations savvy, I prefer to believe that a captain should be someone who is capable of leading his team on the ice. If he’s great in front of a microphone, well then that’s just icing on the cake.
The way I see it, for every smooth orator like Julius Caesar, there is a Genghis Khan. Each has very different skill sets but both were great leaders.
After Richards’ most recent outburst on Twitter, it’s probably time that discuss the prospect of removing the “C” from his sweater, which is not to say I’m advocating it.
Will it benefit the team if there was a different captain?
Philadelphia is stacked with leaders, including three former captains (Kimmo Timonen, Danny Briere, and Chris Pronger) and a few former alternates (Blair Betts, Ian Laperriere*). Leadership should not be an issue.
If anything, there should be an abundance of voices being heard in the dressing room. Even if you were to go about changing captains, how would you do it without disrupting chemistry any further? Timonen already had a rough time dealing with the fact that he was no longer the number one defender in Philly. Would he be upset if he was passed over again? Would giving the captaincy to Pronger actually change anything? He’s going to be a vocal leader no matter what. Would Briere be any more vocal in the locker room than Richards? I doubt it. While Briere may be better at handling the media than Richards, giving the “C” to him seems like a lateral move.
In my opinion, the benefit of changing captains would be negligible.
*OK, I guess he doesn’t count anymore.
But what about how the captain handles the media?
It’s not uncommon for all of the aforementioned players to be interviewed after a game. If Richards gave up the letter on his sweater, it wouldn’t prevent reporters from asking him questions. It also wouldn’t change how he handles the media or how the media perceives him. The conversation might be slightly more muted. That’s it.
Is Richards a bad leader?
He helped the Kitchener Rangers win the Memorial Cup in 2003 and was later a captain of the team. He quickly helped the Philadelphia Phantoms to their second Calder Cup championship in 2005. He was also Canada’s captain at World Juniors and helped them win a gold medal in 2005. He was a key member of Canada’s Gold medal winners at the Vancouver Olympics.
A former coach once said that success followed Richards everywhere and that he had no doubt Richards would lead a team to a Stanley Cup championship. The point is, he leads by example.
He’s the same player that dominated in the ’10 NHL postseason, scoring the memorable berserker short-handed goal on Jaroslav Halak to tie up Game 5 against the Montreal Canadiens. As pointed out by Broad Street Hockey, he’s still the guy who dove head first to prevent an empty net goal with 35 seconds left in the unsalvageable ’11 season.
He’s also the same guy who, though he was called “emotionally detached”, was crying during his postgame interview after the Bruins swept the Flyers to end their season.
Would it help him if he was no longer the captain?
Yes. Absolutely. Richards is going to play the same game no matter what.
Removing that letter from his sweater would simply remove the pressure he is facing from the media and the fan base and allow him to focus solely on his game. I believe that the captaincy issue is a media-generated story that was fueled by the frustrations of a disappointing and premature postseason exit. If you separate the timing of these two issues or remove one entirely from the equation, then this would be a non-story. The problem exists now, though, and it might need to be dealt with if it doesn’t go away.
What other benefits are there to changing captains?
Well, from a public relations standpoint, the Flyers could stand to benefit from having a different captain. Whenever there’s a new round of the media vs. Richards bout, it creeps into the local press and eventually works its way into national stories. It’s a bit of a black eye for the organization.
He is also hurting his case by taking shots at Tim Panaccio, Steve Simmons, and even his employer, Comcast, on Twitter. Mostly, though, a change of captains would just quell the fans temporarily and that alone is probably not a strong enough reason to make such a change.
Was Richards named the captain prematurely?
Yes. Admittedly, it’s become fashionable to say this now but I was in the camp that believed Timonen should have been named captain. I was in the minority then, though. There was a groundswell of support for Richards as the future of the Flyers, the captain of the team, and the face of the franchise.
Now, it seems, his undying legions of supporters have dwindled in number. So it goes.
That’s what happens in a tough sports town like Philly. As a result, Richards has had some — OK, a lot — of growing pains along the way and it’s likely that he’s just not there yet. He’s getting there, it seems, though his recent posts on Twitter may show that he’s in a two-steps-back phase.
Should he voluntarily give up the C?
Yes, but only if he believes it is interfering with his play and the productivity of the team. If he feels that he would be better off just focusing on his game and removing the distraction of any potential feuds with the media from the locker room, then it would be in everyone’s best interest for him to do so.
Still, I can’t help but wonder why we question Richards for speaking his mind but absolve the reporters of blame for writing themselves into the season’s storyline.