April 25, 2011
Clarke: Richards' critics just jealous
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
VOORHEES, NJ - In the span of one week, Mike Richards may have very well become Public Enemy No. 1 in Buffalo, usurping, in the process:
a) Former Miami Dolphins bad boy Bryan Cox, who once flipped the one-finger salute to 75,000 Bills fans at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
b) Scott Norwood (for obvious reasons).
c) The official who decided that the controversial lateral that led to Kevin Dyson's last-second touchdown return in Tennessee's famed Music City Miracle of 2000 was NOT an illegal forward pass.
d) The person who scribbled the secret memo that allowed Brett Hull's 1999 Stanley Cup-winning in-the-crease goal against the Sabres to stand up.
Now, a pair of controversial incidents involving Richards -- first with the Sabres Patrick Kaleta, then Tim Connolly -- have the Sabres and their fans seething, especially since, in each case, the league failed to follow up pleas to have the Philadelphia Flyers captain suspended.
Such was the case Monday, as the NHL decided that Richards would not be punished for his shove on Connolly in Game 6 of this heated first-round series. The same held true last week when no supplemental discipline was issued for his elbowing of the hard-charging Kaleta.
Being a lightning rod for criticism is nothing new to Richards, who was slagged for getting away with "mass murder" by Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. His questionable hit on David Booth last season left the Florida centre seriously concussed, igniting accusations right through to the 2010 Stanley Cup final that Richards hits to hurt.
"I don't mind taking the heat if it takes some of the pressure off my teammates," a candid Richards said Monday. "Some of (the criticism) does go right to my heart. But the people in this room, my family, my friends, they know what I'm really about. I can't control what is said about me on TV or what other people say."
Richards plays hard. Some would say too hard. He plays on the edge. Some would say over the edge, especially in the Kaleta and Connolly incidents.
But this is not Matt Cooke or Sean Avery or Dan Carcillo, players who too often turn into sideshows on skates. This is a hard-nosed player who earned a spot on the gold-medal winning 2010 Canadian Olympic team, one that Sabres bench boss Lindy Ruff helped coach.
So, why is Richards bashed so much, a trend that started long before this series did?
"The people that say that stuff are just jealous that they didn't draft him," Flyers senior VP Bob Clarke told QMI Agency Monday night. "He was drafted 24th overall (in 2003). Why didn't they draft him?
"This kid's a courageous warrior. Every team in the league would want this guy. And he's not dirty. It's not like he was trying to hurt Connolly the way Raffi Torres tried to hurt (Brent Seabrook)."
Yes, Clarke has a bias towards Richards. He should.
Eight years ago, when Richards was drafted, observers already were calling him "the future Flyers captain" and "the next Bobby Clarke." This is the same Bobby Clarke who himself was accused of crossing the line from time to time.
Clarke never won the Lady Byng. Only Stanley Cups. In Philly, that's all that matters.
Richards has not done that yet. And, at times, he might cross the line. But Clarke is dead on when he says the other 29 teams in this league, complain as they might about him, would love to have him.
"I was taught to play hard," the spindly 5-foot-11 Richards said. "My dad taught me to play that way. I'm not the biggest guy, so I have to make it tough for opponents to play against me.
"It was unfortunate (Connolly) was hurt. You never want that. We are skating on pieces of steel and sometimes, (bleep) happens.
"I'm not a dirty player."
Many would disagree.
Of course, it's nothing Mike Richards hasn't heard before.