It seems like everybody in the Flyers' locker room is convinced Mike Richards is ready to take over as captain of the team. Everybody, that is, except Richards.

"I don't think I'm ready right now," he said. "I'm still young. I've been in the league 3 years and I don't think I'm ready right now."

In fairness, Richards would rather eat a bag full of skate blades than talk about himself. When the subject of taking over as Flyers captain came up, his discomfort was palpable.

Richards pointed to his teammates, specifically current captain Jason Smith, former Dallas captain Derian Hatcher, former Nashville captain Kimmo Timonen and former Buffalo co-captain Danny Briere as better candidates.

"I'm still learning so much from everybody," said Richards, an alternate captain this past season. "[Jason Smith] is the best captain. The way he carries himself. He would do anything for a teammate. Then there's Hatch and Kimmo and Danny; I don't feel I'm ready right now. I feel I'm learning so much from different people and like the position I'm in as a little bit of a leader."

There is some question whether Smith, a 14-year NHL veteran and unrestricted free agent, will be back with the Flyers. Also, Hatcher isn't certain he wants (or is able) to subject himself to a 17th season. Both men endorsed the idea of Richards as captain. Ditto for general manager Paul Holmgren and coach John Stevens.

Yesterday was clean-out day at the Flyers' practice facility in Voorhees, N.J. It was a day of bittersweet reflection for a group of guys who just completed the most remarkable turnaround in the Flyers' 41-year history.

Richards was a key part of that turnaround. The 23-year-old center had career highs of 28 goals and 47 assists and was named team MVP by local media. The team leader among forwards in postseason ice time, Richards was given a 12-year, $69 million contract in December.

"It's flattering to hear you have the qualities to be captain. We have so many great leaders in the dressing room right now, you could [name] a dozen people," Richards said. "I think that's a good situation we're in."

Ice cubes

Among those not under contract for next season are restricted free agents Jeff Carter, R.J. Umberger and Randy Jones. Like Mike Richards, they are key components to the Flyers' future.

"I don't want to go anywhere," Carter said. "I love playing in Philadelphia and I want to be here a long time."

The Flyers would have the right to match any offer for their restricted free agents and Paul Holmgren said very confidently on Tuesday that deals will be made.

Carter, 23, set career highs with 29 goals and 24 assists and played his best hockey in the playoffs and when Richards missed nine games beginning in late February.

Umberger, 26, led the Flyers with 10 playoff goals and was a model citizen while coach John Stevens shuffled him up and down the lineup.

"Hopefully," Umberger said, "it gets done fast. I don't want this to drag out all summer. I'd like to just get ready for next season." *