Ed. note: Eric T. writes for the excellent SB Nation blog Broad Street Hockey. Added to the front page because it brings valuable perspective from the Flyers mothership.
I figured I'd stop by with a write-up on Richards for you guys. This will be partly to inform you and partly as a farewell to him as I finally achieve closure with this move. Anyone who wants to stop by Broad Street Hockey to chat about Simmonds and/or Schenn would be welcomed.
I'll start with the off-ice stuff, since you're probably farther removed from that.
What's with all this chatter about him being a bad teammate and leader?
Who the hell knows, really.
What's definitely clear is that some members of the local media really disliked him, in no small part because he isn't very friendly with him. Those writers have trashed him at every opportunity; every time the Flyers went through a losing streak, you could count on an article or two (sometimes amplified by sports talk radio) about how Richards wasn't a good enough leader.
I'm not in the room, so I don't have any specific knowledge here. But if I had to guess, I'd guess that he can be a little moody and that it's not always great for the atmosphere but nowhere near the issue it's made out to be. He does play a style that projects effort and desire, which I would guess has more influence on his teammates than his mood after a game.
The real question is what really was going on between Richards and Laviolette. After the season, Laviolette said this:
"All relationships are built. You don't come in and put your hand on someone's hip and say, ‘you and I are best friends'. Mike and I continue to work on our relationship. I respect him as a person and we continue to work on that."
You can read this a lot of ways. One local writer -- one of the leading Richards-bashers -- wrote it up as an example of why Richards wasn't a good leader. Travis completely disagreed and wrote an article calling out what he saw as bias and editorialization. Later there was Twitter chatter that the coach and captain hadn't spoken in a month or something. I mostly ignored it at the time, but maybe there was something and that's why they were willing to trade him.
Richards later gave an interview with a local media member who had treated him more kindly over the years; the summary and a link are here.
One thing that is clear on the off-ice front is that a couple of years ago, he was part of a young party crew that probably embarrassed the team a little -- and all of those players are now gone, which may not be a coincidence.
Enough with the off-ice crap. What about his play?
I'll start with a Puck Prospectus article identifying the best heavy lifters -- the people who were most able to achieve positive results despite very tough assignments. Over the three year span ending in '09-10, Richards was behind only Datsyuk and Kesler. Then they changed their formula and moved Zetterberg ahead of him. Whatever, I'm not entirely thrilled with either way they calculated it, but the point is clear: he's among the elite at taking on difficult situations (in his own zone, against top competition) and moving the play forwards.
This year he shared the defensive zone work a little more with the Carter-Giroux line, but the two previous years he was really bearing the load. In 2009-2010 he was #1 in defensive zone starts and #3 in competition faced (by Corsi Rel QoC), while in '08-09 he was #2 in defensive zone starts and #1 in competition faced. Yet despite those tough situations, he kept the play in the opponents' end more than his teammates -- he had a positive Corsi Rel. This is always an impressive feat, but particularly on a team noted for its forward depth, outplaying your teammates from tougher positions really means something.
Although he is great at pushing the play forwards, starting in the defensive zone so much has meant that he has not been an elite point producer at 5 on 5. In '08-09 and '09-10, when he was doing that really heavy lifting, his league rank in ES points per minute was 99th and 205th, respectively. This year when the assignments got a bit easier (still tough, but a bit easier), that figure rose to 69th.
It's possible that he could be deployed more offensively and become a real scorer. His offensive talents are showcased on the power play, where he ranked 25th and 13th in points per minute the last two years. This year the Flyers power play was epically bad (28/30 at generating shots) and he slipped to 110th in the league -- the causality was probably mutual.
His role on the Flyers has been to shut down the opposition at 5-on-5 and score on the power play. He's been great at that, and I wouldn't change it, but I believe his skillset is flexible enough to take on any role you need from him.
I also haven't mentioned the penalty kill. He's been a very good penalty killer, helping the Flyers be among the best in the league at suppressing shots in recent years and generating a lot of shorthanded offense as well. Ask Montreal about his penalty killing -- you need to watch this video five or eleven times to get a sense for how much fun it's going to be rooting for this guy. And since you're supposed to be Flyers West, you must enjoy seeing the Rangers get humiliated too, right?
And that's it, in a nutshell. The media might not embrace him, but the fans sure as heck do. You're going to love having him.