Paul Holmgren did not mince words.
After perusing the Flyers' daily newspaper clippings, Holmgren knew the questions were coming - about his plans for the offseason, his team's injuries, and, most importantly, his team's mental makeup and leadership.
Holmgren tried to set the record straight yesterday at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J., in his annual breakup meeting with reporters. The only problem was that his subject, captain Mike Richards, remained radio silent for the second day in a row.
One day after coach Peter Laviolette said his relationship with Richards still "needs developing," Holmgren fervently defended his captain.
"I don't know where this [stuff] is coming from," Holmgren said. "You guys [reporters] all know Mike. He's a quiet kid, he's a reserved kid. I think we all are in our own way, I don't want to say we have communication issues, but he's a hard guy to talk to sometimes - probably even to his closest friends.
"He's just a quiet guy. But there is no issue in terms of Mike's relationship with Peter [Laviolette] or Mike's relationship with any of his teammates. That's all a bunch of crap. I don't know why it keeps coming up, but it's ridiculous."
A year ago, as Richards was leading the Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals, it would have been outrageous to think that this topic would come up again.
Still, the fire was fueled when the Flyers were swept by Boston last Friday night, when the Flyers nearly floundered to fourth place in the Eastern Conference after leading it for 54 straight days during a 170-day season, and when they needed seven games against a Buffalo team that squeaked into the playoffs.
Through a Flyers spokesman, Richards declined to address the media yesterday. He announced on his Twitter feed (@MRichie18) that he will undergo surgery this morning to repair a torn ligament in his wrist.
Holmgren said yesterday that the mental makeup of this team in its current state - a team that seemingly enjoyed the sadism of backing itself into a corner and playing its way out of it - did not concern him at all.
"I think Mike Richards is a good captain for our team," Holmgren said. "I think he's a tremendous player in our league. And trust me, there are 29 other teams that would love to have Mike Richards.
"For the most part, I think we had a good year. We ended up with a bad 10 or 11 days, or whatever that took. That's the unfortunate part of our business; now we get to sit around all summer here and reflect on that."
The Flyers already have more than $58 million committed to 18 players for next season, with the salary cap expected to rise to nearly $62.5 million. That number won't be finalized until late June.
Wholesale changes are probably not in the works, just based on the simple salary-cap economics. And that probably includes the leadership department.
"I think we are a good team," Holmgren said. "Do we need major changes? I would say no. I can't tell you that we will have the same team next year, whether I like it or not. Change comes with the salary cap. That's just the way it is. We got slapped around, and that was a little harder to take. I think we have to take a look at some things and see where we are going."