Are Flyers party-happy?

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

The Flyers will have to go a long way to knock the Phillies off the front page, but the ball team's success has distracted from a battle between captain Mike Richards and the Philly media.

The root of the conflict is concerns by senior club personnel last season that some of its young stars were enjoying the good life too much after a core group that included Richards, Joffrey Lupul, Scottie Upshall, Scott Hartnell and Riley Cote moved downtown from the club's traditional base in New Jersey.

Lupul and Upshall were eventually traded, Lupul for the big defenceman and towering dressing-room presence of Chris Pronger, although general manager Paul Holmgren mentioned no names when he said in pre-season: "The issue has been raised by (coach) John Stevens and myself with all the players. I think this all falls under the umbrella of discipline ... it's off-ice discipline, it's the night before a game, taking better care of ourselves.

"That's a natural maturation process that a lot of our younger players are still going through. We've addressed that. So am I concerned about it? We'll see how it goes this year."

In his first game back with the Ducks on Oct. 10, Lupul said he believed his prior association with the group had nothing to do with his trade and the players involved would never put their social lives ahead of the team.

But angry that the subject was raised, Richards asked the team media relations department to ensure reporters not ask Flyers about the downtown clique, even though it was a visiting player who had been questioned.

Mediation failed, as did an apparent attempt by Richards to stage a media boycott. When Richards resorted to blunt answers to game-related questions after a big win over the Bruins on Thursday snapped a three-game losing skid, there was plenty of public criticism of his actions, which likely were detected by upper management.

Penning a new chapter

Dustin Penner still can't get used to hearing the cheers in Edmonton this year after the fans booed him off the ice after he managed just 40 goals in his first two seasons of a big-ticket deal. On Thursday, he had a career five-point night against Columbus, giving him 14 points in nine games.

"It felt like skyrockets in flight," Penner said of the reception.

Asked if this was his best NHL performance, he quipped "I don't have a lot of others to compare to."

Penguin migration?

Pittsburgh might have to get used to life without Sergei Gonchar long-term. Now sidelined with a broken wrist, he's in the last year of his deal and nothing will be done about an extension until January when GM Ray Shero expects to know more about 2010-11 cap room.

The Pens still want Gonchar for his point production, more than 200 in four-plus seasons, as well as his role in righting the ship after last year's bad start and his positive influence on countryman Evgeni Malkin. But already down to their last $1.4 million in cap room, it will be a squeeze with Kris Letang's contract up, too.

Chelly goes Manhattan?

The Rangers offered Chris Chelios an AHL contract with their Hartford team, but for now has chosen the AHL's Chicago Wolves to be near his family, while keeping an eye on New York's thin blueline depth situation. If he ever played for the Rangers, they'd be his fourth Original Six team after Montreal, Chicago and Detroit. Chelios, a few months shy of 48, also spoke briefly to the Leafs in the summer.

Ice chips

It's 15 games with no goals and counting for Tampa's Vincent Lecavalier going back to last season, but he's not paired with Martin St. Louis much and as long as he can tie up centres such as Sharks' Joe Thornton as he did Thursday, no one is complaining ... Matt Duchene is living with senior Colorado Avalanche Adam Foote, keeping his kids active with nightly mini-stick hockey games ... Also staying in the NHL by the look of it is Florida's 18-year-old defender Dmitry Kulikov, who reaches the 10-game mark on Wednesday against Ottawa.

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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