Type "Mike Richards" and "leadership" into the search bar, and you'll get a ridiculously schizophrenic view from Philadelphia: first, an article where his teammates and coach praise his inspirational lead-by-example style; next, an article trumpeting that his leadership is in question.
Yes, those articles were written two months apart.
The third article on the list dates back to the Eastern Conference Final one year prior: "Mike Richards' leadership carries Flyers to clinching victory." Ian Laperriere testifies: "He doesn't say much, but he goes out there and goes through everyone. You want to follow a guy like that."
While some reporters in Philadelphia are still tying themselves in knots over what their former captain did or didn't do at the helm, more people should know the Los Angeles Kings specifically acquired Richards for his style of leadership."We all know what this guy stands for," said Dean Lombardi at the time of the trade. "You’ve just got to watch him play. This goes back to his juniors. Everywhere this guy has gone, he has won."
This idea was echoed again during the playoffs, when Hextall called him an extraordinarily competitive, team-first player:
"The reason we were so attracted to Mike Richards was his leadership and his professionalism. I think we all know the hockey player," said Hextall. "That was the one thing we thought we needed injected into this organization and he's brought it. Mike, they way he plays, demands respect. People want to follow him. He's done a great job."
Praise for his intensity dates back to his early days -- and the rival coach in the SCF, Peter DeBoer, never forgot it:
"He grew up as a player and as a young man in the organization I was running in Kitchener," DeBoer said today. "Winning follows him around. We won a Memorial Cup together. We won a World Junior Championship together. So, he’s obviously a special kid. I’m very happy to see what he’s done. I’m not surprised.
"But I also know Mike Richards would run you over with his car to win a Stanley Cup. He’d visit you in the hospital after."
Richards has won the Memorial Cup, Calder Cup, a World Junior Championship, and Olympic gold. He can add the Cup to his lengthy resume.
Despite a rough season after his concussion -- an injury Sutter doesn't think he fully recovered from until March -- he pushed through to set the tone in Game 1 against Vancouver. The Kings needed a 1-2 punch at center, and he provided that depth.
I think a lot of people who write about leadership in locker rooms have no idea what happens there. But it doesn't matter. He's admired and respected by his coaches and teammates for being who he is.
Darryl Sutter said this about Richards in the middle of the season:
"The game is such that leadership is defined a lot of times by star players or (being in the) public eye or popular players or guys that are well-spoken.
But at the end of the day, it's about actual performance in big situations. That's really how it's always measured. Everything else is just sort of smoke."
It's hard to argue with results.