By now, most Philadelphia Flyers fans have heard about the Dry Island controversy that unexpectedly emerged in yesterday's Philadelphia Daily News.
Mike Richards said "it wasn't a big deal." Peter Laviolette admitted that he meant to focus his new team on a deep playoff run (and it worked; the Flyers went to the Stanley Cup Finals). Paul Holmgren basically told everyone to shut the fuck up. And, as it often does, talk radio rumbled with a bevy of assorted opinions.
All this begs the question, "Who cares?" The 1993 Philadelphia Phillies were beloved for their partying ways, and the Flyers of the 1970s were a rowdy bunch that drank (heavily) with their own fans.
I think it's because, in the eyes of many, Richards and Carter never "earned" that kind of respect. Even after appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Finals, they were still seen as pretty-boy millionaires who cared more about the bar afterwards than they did about the game. While both became top NHL players, they never matured into superstars (and some would make the case that neither one wanted that kind of pressure).
Normally, I'd classify that kind of thinking as "beyond stupid." Carter was a 35-goal scorer in a league where those no longer grow on trees, and Richards was the kind of hard-nosed player that Philadelphia normally adores. Superstars? No. But incredibly valuable hockey players. It's the sort of rambling you'd expect from older, blue-collar hockey fans who can't really relate to the handsome, rich young men they're cheering for every night.
But after watching how the 2010-2011 Flyers ended their season -- with an epic collapse that still reminds me of the 2007 New York Mets -- I'm tempted to agree. Not because Richards and Carter personally ruined the team, not because their partying impacted their performance, but because there had to be scapegoats. Heads needed to roll, and it was time to blame the leaders.
The Flyers were unquestionably the best team in the league...and then they weren't. And rumors about that were what bothered me; no one really blamed Laviolette, no one really blamed Holmgren, no one even really blamed the Chris Pronger injury. Sure, the goalie controversy was a disaster, but where was the gritty play? Where was the forechecking, where were the pumping legs? Pretty much nonexistent for months on end, and that's what ultimately killed the Flyers. Either they totally ran out of steam...or it was something worse.
The mini-meltdown was embarrassing, and it wasn't unprecedented. The past few seasons of Flyers hockey have featured similarly painful slumps, just never on such a grand scale, in front of such a large audience. And with the arguably still-immature Richards and Carter about to be locked into gigantic contracts with no-trade clauses -- whether they were hurting their careers with drugs and alcohol or not -- was another disaster something you wanted to risk happening again? Were they the right guys to lead?
So now Richards and Carter ply their trades elsewhere, and we'll continue to learn about all the "horrible" things they did. They were apparently "drinking heavily on painkillers." A friend of a friend of a guy I know told me post-trade that the two "loved cocaine." Everyone with the Internet has seen photos like these.
None of it matters anymore, but it does make you wonder about what could have been. Do the Flyers win the Stanley Cup if Richards and Carter give up vodka? Will things be that much different without them? Only time, as they say, may tell.