By: Tim Brennan
June 23rd, 2011. This will go down as a historical day in the eyes of people who live and breath Flyers hockey.
During the early stages of the day, the Flyers traded forward Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for right wing Jakub Voracek, a 1st round pick (8th overall) in this year’s draft and a 3rd round pick (68th overall). This move was seen as a major salary dump to enable the Flyers to sign goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, whose rights they acquired June 7th. General Manager Paul Holmgren went ahead with a deal, signing the 31-year-old Russian netminder to a 9 year, $51 million contract that will put an annual cap hit of $5.67 million per season. Holmgren wasn’t finished however as he pulled the trigger on a trade that would send captain and franchise cornerstone Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings for hockey’s best prospect center Brayden Schenn, rugged winger Wayne Simmonds and a 2nd round pick in next year’s draft. When the dust settled, the Flyers had traded two centers earning close to $11 million combined and added a top rate goaltender.
What was Paul Holmgren thinking when he traded away two big names, signed a 31-year-old goaltender to a long-term, big money contract and basically altered the face of the franchise?
Although Holmgren was determined to land Bryzgalov, it comes as a shock that he traded both Carter and Richards. Ever since these two were selected in the first round of the 2003 draft (11th and 24th overall respectively), the Flyers brass have made it clear that these two were going to be their future stars and would become the face of the franchise. The team solidified their position by signing both to long-term deals; Richards to a 12 year deal in 2007 and Carter re-upped for 11 years in 2010.
The two were an important part of the Flyers AHL affiliate, the Phantoms, Calder Cup championship team in 2004 and joined the big club after the lockout. Richards drew comparisons to Flyers legend Bobby Clarke because of his ability to combine skill with a physical edge while Carter was deemed to be one of the team’s purest goal scorers in a long time. Both of them impacted the team immediately and proved the scouts right as Richards accumulated 133 goals and 216 points for 349 points in 453 games as a Flyer, including 23 shorthanded goals and made history by scoring 3 3-on-5 shorthanded goals for his career. Meanwhile Carter posted 181 goals and 343 points in 461 games, including two 30 goal seasons and a 40 goal season while becoming a league leader in shots year after year.
The only problem was all of this success didn’t always carry over to the post season. Richards, who has a reputation as a winner, won a championship at the junior level with the Kitchener Rangers along with a gold medal with Canada but hasn’t been as dynamic in the NHL playoffs. The past few years have shown that he hasn’t been able to step up as he pulled a disappearing act during the Stanley Cup Finals last year against Chicago, posting a measly 2 points in 6 games while recording a horrific -7 rating and did the same during this year’s semifinals versus the eventual Stanley Cup champs, the Boston Bruins. Carter has been just as unproductive during the post season, scoring 13 goals in 47 games which accounts to .28 goals per game, well below his regular season average of .40 goals per game.
Rumors have been circling Carter for close to three seasons now so it wasn’t a shock that the Flyers decided to move him. Due to the team’s strength down the middle, Carter has been moved around to all three forward positions so as to create a scoring balance. In a sense, it appeared that he was being pushed out while he was still on the team. With the emergence of Claude Giroux in the past few seasons and James van Riemsdyk’s impressive effort in this year’s playoffs, Carter was the odd man out. It also didn’t help that he goes through stretches of inconsistent play and has a propensity for turning over the puck and being lazy.
It came as a surprise that the team traded their team captain and playmaker Mike Richards, but people within the organization might have known this was coming. There were the stories about problems within the locker room between Richards and defenseman Chris Pronger, prior to the firing of head coach John Stevens. There was also the clashing between Richards and the media after they suggested that his partying lifestyle was affecting his performance as well as the team’s performance, which led to his refusal to talk with the media. His captaincy has been called into question numerous times and there were rumors that coach Peter Laviolette and Richards didn’t see eye to eye on how the team should be run. Due to his strong bond with Holmgren, the decision to trade him more than likely came from the top. It wouldn’t surprise me because Ed Snider has always been a critical part to major decisions the organization makes, such as the Lindros debacle in 2000-01.
Paul Holmgren did an excellent job of giving the other teams what they want and supplying the Flyers with what they needed. Carter provides the Blue Jackets with a number one center that they desperately needed to gel with star Rick Nash. Carter has the potential to continue scoring 30-40 goals a season, maybe even 50. Carter joins former teammates R.J. Umberger and Scottie Upshall on a Columbus roster that looks alot better while Richards will provide the Kings with a dynamic two-way game and give the team a great one two punch at center along with Anze Kopitar. Richards will be comfortable in L.A. with close friend and former coach John Stevens on the staff along with other people who have been associated with the Flyers organization in the past such as GM Dean Lombardi, assistant GM Ron Hextall and head coach Terry Murray.
The Flyers in the meantime got alot younger with the acquistions of Voracek, Schenn and Simmonds. Schenn is arguably the best prospect in hockey and will get a serious look during training camp this summer. The future looks great with Schenn being a projected superstar center with a knack for scoring goals, playing physical and being a force in both zones. Voracek is a big winger who has great hands and good vision of the ice. He wasn’t utilized that much on the Blue Jackets so coming to Philly to play as a top 6 forward will help his development. I’m excited to see what he can do playing on the same line with fellow youngsters Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk. Simmonds is a tough winger who is tailor-made to don the orange and black. His ability to use his size to his advantage and score goals means that he will be a nice fit with the Flyers system.
Only time will tell whether the moves made on this day will help push the Flyers over the edge to a Stanley Cup championship or just keep them wondering where have we gone wrong.