NHL fans are constantly debating the effectiveness of their team's captains.
Let's face it, unless you are in the city that wins the cup (and sometimes even that's not enough), you are likely to find a good number of people who will argue that the current team captain (--->insert your favorite whipping boy here<---) is not worthy of the title.
Team captain's have a tough job. They get elected or "chosen" as captain because they show leadership qualities that the coach/GM/team feels are worth following. Then, they are expected to show those capabilities and skills...24/7/365.
And, when they don't show these qualities as consistently as people think they should...or when the team loses games during the season...or even worse, a playoff series...the team captain is often times the first player singled out for comment...and often times, ridicule.
Last year when the Flyer's lost to the Penguins for a second straight year in the playoffs, a lot of criticism was pointed in the direction of the leaders of the team, and specifically, captain Mike Richards. Some of this criticism even came from the team's management office.
Many people debated Richard's legitimacy as the team captain and suggested that the team made a mistake in choosing him. It wasn't so much about Richard's performance on the ice, as it was about what he did and said when he wasn't playing.
The Flyers made a big free agency splash in the off season, acquiring veteran defenseman (and former NHL captain) Chris Pronger.
As much as the move seemed to be directed at the need for the Flyer's to improve defensively, it also seemed -- at least partly -- to be in response to what even team management viewed as a potential leadership problem. Pronger, known as a guy who doesn't take any garbage from anybody -- on or off the ice -- seemed like a good choice from all angles.
As the 2009-10 campaign headed toward the mid season mark, the Flyer's were in disarray.
Speculation about a rift in the locker room...between Pronger and Richards...surfaced.
But the problems were probably more to do with a team that wasn't following its coach anymore...and on December 4, 2009; Peter Laviolette replaced John Stevens as the head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Laviolette helped the Flyers turn their season around...and after just barely making the playoffs, the team is now on its way to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1997.
Watching this past series against the Canadiens, and in particular game 5, I couldn't help but be inspired by the performance of Flyer's captain Mike Richards. He performed in a way that every team captain wants to when the series is on the line. He showed he was willing to put forth the effort and that he was determined to push his team to the next level.
Surely, whatever questions there may have been about his leadership have, at least to some degree, been answered during this year's playoffs. What he has done, on the ice at least, leaves very little room for argument against his leadership capabilities.
What does the Flyer nation think of Richards now?
Has he turned a corner...and now knows what type of commitment...on and off the ice...is required to lead his team?
Was Chris Pronger a factor in any changes you see in Richards?
Looking for your thoughts...