Flyers defend captain after lackluster series

Could Mike Richards have played his final game as the Flyers' captain?

Could he have played his final game as a Flyer?

A year ago, those questions would have been considered preposterous, and even today they may draw the ire of Flyers' general manager Paul Holmgren and head coach Peter Laviolette.

But there is a quiet, growing concern about the leadership skills of the team's 26-year-old center, who last week completed his sixth season with the Flyers and third as captain.

It is no secret that with boisterous alternate captain Chris Pronger out of the lineup with a fractured hand, the Flyers stumbled down the stretch, winning just seven of their final 21 games (7-8-6).

They also came up empty in the playoffs, getting swept by the Boston Bruins after rallying to beat the Buffalo Sabres in seven games in the first round.

In those 11 playoff games, Richards managed only one goal and played much like the rest of his teammates -- uninspired.

The captain also spent much of the season quarreling with the local media, and on Monday he left the Skate Zone in Voorhees without talking to reporters. He then refused to participate in a conference call later in the day.

In his annual breakup scrum with reporters Monday, Laviolette spent nearly 40 minutes answering questions about his team, and many of them focused on his relationship with his captain.

"I think that all relationships are built," Laviolette said.

"You don't come in and put your hip on somebody's hip and say, "You and I are best friends.' Mike and I continue to work on our relationship. I respect him, I like Mike as a person and we continue to work on that."