By Joseph Myers, Review Staff Writer and Timothy Johnson, Review Intern
The Philadelphia Flyers’ June 23 decision to part with two significant pieces of last year’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals has caused so much discussion that I thought I would add my two cents and ask intern Timothy Johnson to give me his. We cannot lend anyone a nickel, but we hope we can calm anxious nerves and reaffirm that nothing can top sports for a look at exaggeration and the preservation of one’s you-know-what.
I will begin by saying I have followed the Flyers for 22 years. That means I have devoted more than two-thirds of my hope to hoping they will add a third banner to the rafters. I have seen tons of young talent traded away and had a nagging feeling Jeff Carter and Mike Richards would join the ranks one day. I simply did not expect them to share a day.
Carter was a massive goal scorer but a defensive liability. I enjoyed that Richards had a game that did not match his drab personality, but I never saw him as a star. Did I grimace when I learned they could call themselves ex-Flyers? Certainly, but I like the young talent the team acquired. Free agent season starts soon, so who knows which offer will appeal to which player? What I do know is that Paul Holmgren did not part with the second coming of Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. He jettisoned two solid players. I will miss them but will not mourn them. Their departure will further teach me that a sigh is about all I can offer when sports matters confuse me. I cannot let the pursuit of a puck by anyone let me lose sleep.
Take it away, Tim.
It is certainly an interesting life being a NHL General Manager.
Some days are spent sifting through QMJHL rosters (That’s
Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for those American hockey fans) looking for scrubs to fill the AHL team. The next may be spent crunching numbers to squeeze under the annually escalating salary cap.
Other days are spent trading away the two players that you
have drafted, groomed and watched carry your team to the Stanley Cup Finals just a year before, effectively changing the core and identity of your team.
And so goes the life of one of the NHL’s most daring and
creative GM’s; Paul Holmgren. Faced with an order from the man upstairs—that’s Ed Snider in the land of orange and black—Holmgren’s off-season task was to find his team the top-notch goaltender that had eluded the franchise’s grasp since Ron Hextall pulled a jersey over his head.
With Snider breathing over his shoulders, Holmgren knew that Ilya Bryzgalov was his man. An elite goaltender that single-handedly led the subpar Phoenix Coyotes to the playoffs the past two seasons in an extremely competitive Western Conference, Bryzgalov was destined to don the Flyers’
sweater from the moment of Snider’s edict.
But who would be sacrificed in order to fit Bryzgalov’s lofty
Matt Carle? Kris Versteeg? Scott Hartnell?
No, that would be too easy. After signing a large contract extension this past season with a no-trade clause kicking in next summer, top scorer Jeff Carter made a viable subject to a trade. Young and oozing with talent, Carter would net a large return in any trade and, with a few other roster moves, would clear enough space for Bryzgalov.
Holmgren did just that by trading Carter to the Columbus Blue
Jackets for a first-round pick (Sean Couturier, think Jeff Carter with two-way ability and more point production) a third-round pick
and former first-rounder Jakob Voracek— a small ransom for a very talented
Then the trade heard-round-the-Delaware-Valley came. Team captain and face of the franchise Mike Richards was given a ticket to Los Angeles for Wayne Simmonds, a second round pick and highly touted prospect Brayden Schenn. The shock wave was felt on every radio station and website in Philadelphia.
It isn’t often that a hockey team will dump its cornerstone players in the prime of their career for a wealth of young talent. Especially when that team is so close to winning it all. The Carter trade was some-what surprising yet it makes sense once you crunch the numbers. Trading Richards, however, showed that this was just as much about fixing the locker-room chemistry as it was about improving the team.
After the Boston Bruins swept the Flyers, media reports swirled around Mike Richards and his questionable leadership. There were whispers that coach Peter Laviolette and Richards weren’t on speaking terms and it was rumored that Richards did not show up for his end- of- the- season meeting. It all seemed like a media play caused by reporters with little to write about. But, once the trade went through, it became clear that these were real problems that were affecting the core of the team. No matter what the problem, it is a captain’s job to sort out issues with the coach and other players—not cause them. When it came time to sign Bryzgalov, Holmgren decided Carter and Richards must go, effectively handing the team over to young studs James Van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux.
Make no mistake, the Flyers gained a lot in these trades. They may not be a better team today than they were a month ago, but they have set themselves up with several extremely talented young players and obtained the most sought after goalie in free agency. They also now have the cap-room to re-sign Andreas Nodl and Ville Leino.
It will be sad to watch Richards and Carter go. From Richards’ epic goal in Game 5 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals to Carter’s signature wrist shot they both will be fondly remembered in this city.
But, there is little you can do when you’re an NHL general manager in Philadelphia. When the man up stairs wants something, you had better make it happen—-or you could be the next to go.