Unlike his injury-plagued season, this time Chris Pronger saved his best for last.

In a wide-ranging conference call with reporters Thursday, Pronger addressed his long road to recovery from back surgery, the Flyers' disappointing second-round playoff collapse, and their desperate hunt for a goaltender.

But it wasn't until he was asked about Mike Richards' role as Flyers captain that the 36-year-old defenseman dropped the gloves with the media.

"I saw one headline (that read) "Should Mike Richards step away for a year from the C?' " Pronger said. "What good does that do? That is the most ridiculous thought I have heard yet.

"This is on-the-job training for Mike. I was brought in (two years ago) to help him be a captain and kind of help with my experiences.

"When I got here he was 24 and he's now 26. I think he's made some strides. Everybody does things their own way. I wasn't always this vocal with the media or this patient."

Like Richards, Pronger was 23 when Mike Keenan named him captain of the St. Louis Blues in 1997. He said it took him years to understand his role, both in the locker room and in the public. He said Richards has received more criticism than other teammates simply because he's the captain playing in a city that has waited 36 years for a Stanley Cup.

"I went through (similar criticisms) as a young captain; I went through them as a player," Pronger said. "Getting booed, getting mouthed off walking out of the rink and wanting to fight guys after games and all the rest of it.

"It's not easy, especially on a team when the expectations are this high and the fans are this passionate.

". . . I think as his career progresses, he is going to understand more and more what the media's job is, and just to give you guys just a little taste. Which is what I do, just give you a little taste. You don't have to give it all, just enough so you guys can do your job and leave him alone. That's all experience. It's a little ridiculous to be blaming one person. We win as a team and lose as a team. Period. End of story."