Paul Holmgren rightly has been lauded for turning around the Philadelphia Flyers in what amounts to a heartbeat.
It did not hurt the Flyers general manager, however, that he had one of the brighter young minds in the NHL already on his roster.
Mike Richards, who endeared himself to hockey fans across Canada in the winter of 2005 when he was captain of Canada's gold-medal junior team, has found his stride in his third NHL season. Still a bit surprised at being given an associate captain's A by coach John Stevens on a full-time basis, Richards is tied for the Flyers scoring lead with Daniel Briere at 16 points.
"Last year we got about 10 games in and it became really frustrating," Richards said in a phone interview last night. "But Paul did a great job in the off-season, and now we're a tight-knit group. Having Danny here has taken the pressure of some other guys to produce, but at the same time it has made things come easier."
Eight months ago, mentioning the Flyers as Eastern Conference contenders would have been a joke. But with the arrivals of goalie Martin Biron, defencemen Jason Smith and Kimmo Timonen and forwards Briere, Joffrey Lupul and Scott Hartnell, the Flyers quickly have rebuilt without losing much sleep.
"Smith has been the best captain I have been with and with the respect he has, it's something that one day you hope for," Richards said. "I can't describe how good he has been in the room. And Martin has made the saves at points in the games when you need them."
ERIC THE DISAPPOINTING
Sticking with the Flyers, amid the Eric Lindros retirement discussion this week were some intriguing comments from Chris Therien, one of his former teammates.
"I like Eric and I'm trying to be fair to Eric, but he never lived up to that hype," Therien said. "He never delivered. Eric was a tragic case of an athlete in Philadelphia.
"He's the biggest 'what if' player I've ever seen.
"In 1997 I thought, 'This is Eric's calling in life.' He's going to lead us to a championship. And it just never happened."
The Florida Panthers have a red and yellow hero cape, given to one Panther by his teammates after every win at home or on the road. The cape was an idea of defenceman Steve Montador and players wear it in the dressing room, tying it around their necks ... Tampa Bay's announced crowd of 16,526 for Wednesday's game against the Panthers was the lowest at the St. Pete Times Forum since 15,644 on Feb. 12, 2004, against the Montreal Canadiens ... The St. Louis Blues soon will make a decision on forward David Perron and whether they send him back to Lewiston of the QMJHL. Perron, one of three 2007 NHL draft picks to play in the NHL this season (Patrick Kane and Sam Gagner), had appeared in six games before last night. Perron can play in nine games before his full NHL contract kicks in.