Carter and Richards, Flyers No More
Wow, I'm speechless.
If you didn't believe the Flyers could let go of their top goal-scorer in an attempt to burn salary, how about their captain too?
Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, who signed contract extensions amounting to a combined 26 years with the Flyers just three years ago, have both left the organization in the same afternoon.
Carter went first, for winger Jakub Voracek, a first-round (eighth overall) and a third-round 2011 draft pick from Columbus. Richards followed him out, for RW Wayne Simmonds, center Brayden Schenn and a second-round 2012 pick.
Clearly these are massive trades, and not ones that will necessarily be popular with all the fans on Broad Street. I'm not here to trash or praise Paul Holmgren. History (by way of a Stanley Cup) will be the judge on whether this move is genius or insanity. But it has clear implications for next year's roster which may be more tangible.
So if you want to know what this means for how the Flyers lineup at the beginning of the season, read on.
Like it or loathe it, you're going to have to lump it.
You don't trade away two stud centers without good reason, and I would've been shocked if the deal with Ilya Bryzgalov was not pretty much sealed up when Holmgren pulled the trigger on the Carter and Richards deals.
Lo and behold, as I write it is being reported that Bryzgalov has been signed this evening to a mega 9-year, $51 million deal.
Even those in favor of Bryzgalov coming to town might jump at that contract. I think it's time that the Flyers invested in a bona fide No. 1 goalie, but there were cheaper alternatives on the market, and he could turn out to be a mammoth-sized regret.
Also, that contract doesn't say to me "Sergei Bobrovsky's mentor." Nine years is an awful long time to wait in the wings. Bryzgalov is here to be No. 1 and is here to stay. Compatriots they might be, but it seems like the only thing Bryz will be saying to Bob is "pack your bags" for a lengthy spell in the minors, or more likely, another team.
Bobrovsky may have started the Flyer's season opener last time around, but I wouldn't count on him repeating the trick now the Bryzgalov circus has rolled into town.
Chris Pronger and Mike Richards
The town wasn't big enough for the two of them.
Given the extent to which the media can blow this sort of thing out of proportion, the Richards trade is doubly-shocking because it appears like the media hype may have been spot on.
Richards claimed the captaincy at the age of 23, having signed a 12-year contract the year before, and I don't think anyone expected he'd be gone within three years.
Even with the reported chemistry issues with Chris Pronger, it may come as a surprise that Richards was the sheriff who had to leave town, rather than the aging, injury-prone Pronger.
The thing is, when healthy, Pronger is still dominant. Richards on the other hand, has been accused of going missing in the big games. Even without Pronger in the locker room, questions may have been asked about Richards leadership, but with him there, the scrutiny was always going to be magnified.
Trading your 26-year-old captain is not a decision one makes lightly, and it seems farcical to suggest that this tension was the driving influence behind the trade.
But surely it was a factor.
As for what this means for next season, I wouldn't necessarily bet that Pronger will wear the "C." It wouldn't demonstrate that much respect for the former Flyer talisman, and it would be a potentially inflammatory move. However you can bet that as long as Pronger is in town, no one else will wear it. He's done more to earn it than say, Jason Smith.
Richards may now be a King, but Pronger rules the roost in Philadelphia.
Scott Hartnell, Ville Leino and Danny Briere
It looked like Briere may have been the last man standing. Now, the line of Danny Briere, Ville Leino and Scott Hartnell may remain intact for at least another season.
Through the 2011-12 season, Richards and Carter will make a combined $12.6 million. Burn that from your roster, and that's a lot of cap room. Bryzgalov stands to make $5.6 million next season, and so, with the cap rising to $64.3 million, there's over $7.5 million cap space to play with.
Leino must surely be odds on to sign. Much has been made of the importance of re-signing Leino (although perhaps if fans and analysts had realized that it might cost Mike Richards to get him re-signed, perhaps they would have re-evaluated their opinion).
With Richards and Carter gone, Leino becomes all the more important, unless Holmgren wants to truly blow up the roster. In which case, he probably shouldn't have sunk $50 million-plus into a marquee goaltender for nine years. Just saying.
Re-signing Leino may not be all that easy though, as Darroll Powe, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and Andreas Nodl are all RFAs (and that's assuming that the Flyers don't want to keep Daniel Carcillo, Nikolay Zherdev, Brian Boucher, Sean O'Donnell and Nick Boynton). It's do-able, but Holmgren may need to get inventive, and one of the RFAs may have to walk.
*Cap details taken from capgeek.com
Alternatively, Hartnell may have to find a new home.
He's been given a reprieve with today's trades but the patience of the Flyers and their fans is starting to wear thin. He's not worth $4.2 million and if the Flyers could find a home for him, I'm sure he'd be sent on his way.
I'm also dubious as to the value of the Briere/Leino/Hartnell line, as if they're worth all that money, you'd hope they'd have the skill to play with other people.
Briere and Leino certainly do, but Voracek or Simmonds could be a good fit in Hartnell's place.
As it is, the Flyers have freed up cap space and signed Bryzgalov without Hartnell needing to leave, so don't be surprised if he's still there when the puck drops in October.
49 points and four in the playoffs won't cut it for much longer, and if Holmgren wants to keep his RFAs and someone wants Hartnell for his upside, then watch this space.
Kris Versteeg with the erstwhile Richards
Like many Flyers fans, I was delighted when Philadelphia signed Kris Versteeg.
Like many, I was underwhelmed thereafter.
Versteeg has yet to work out in Philly, but with the Flyers' salary concerns eased somewhat, I'd be inclined to give him another chance.
He is in a similar situation to Hartnell, and while he's more tradeable because of his cheaper price tag, he also hasn't had the time that Hartnell has to really contribute to the Flyers.
It's worth bearing in mind that Richards was a superb penalty killer, and Versteeg can help fill that void, with Giroux, on a secondary PK line, in a way that the other Flyer offensive studs can't.
I'm still convinced he has good upside and needs a bit of time. If the right trade comes along then it might be better for both parties to part ways, but I do think he can really contribute to the Flyers.
You know, it's not just Carter and Richards who've gone. We've got something in return.
I'm going to start with the Richards trade, because that has the most impact on next year's lineup.
In Wayne Simmonds the Flyers have picked up a young and solid goal scorer, who has the potential to really develop into a solid second or top-line winger. He did stall last year, dropping from 40 to 30 points while playing two more games, and from an impressive plus-22 to an underwhelming minus-2. He has skill and hustle. Worst comes to the worst, he'll be a fine replacement for Andreas Nodl, and hopefully he can break out as a Flyer and achieve substantially more than that.
Brayden Schenn is a truly exciting prospect and one who may be able to pin down a roster spot this year. He has offensive upside with good size and lots of determination, and he's responsible enough in his own end to be a third-line center behind Briere and Giroux.
Jakub Voracek is often described as "enigmatic," and he has a reputation for going missing in Columbus. Sounds a bit like another European winger that the Flyers gambled on in the season just past. Unlike Nikolay Zherdev, however, Voracek is known for his passing, and could prove a handy set-up man for someone like James van Riemsdyk.
The eighth-overall pick is projected to be Ryan Murphy or Sean Couturier, although clearly the Flyers can pick whomever they please (although perhaps not Nugent-Hopkins). Murphy is a talented offensive defenseman, and perhaps a natural replacement for sometimes-maligned Matt Carle (and his D-zone turnovers) in the long term.
Couturier is a skilled center, and while the Flyers are usually oversubscribed at that position, the departure of Richards and Carter may mean they feel compelled to restock. I don't want to speculate too much, as whoever is chosen is unlikely to make the squad straight out of camp. My point is that the eighth-overall pick is worth having.
So, each trade can be broken down into one fairly young and under-performing forward (Simmonds, Voracek) and one potentially awesome prospect (Schenn, eighth-overall) and another draft pick. Clearly the Flyers management has taken on a lot of risk, but you get what you pay for, and the Flyers needed to stay cheap.
Simon Gagne, with Carter and Richards
We can dream.
If the Flyers let some RFAs walk, then there might be space. $5.25 million is expensive, but as a UFA he may take a pay cut to return home. And let's face it, this is his home.
If we did get him back cheaper, then there would be some irony, as he was the original "Lifetime-Flyer-cum-Salary-Cap-Victim." Maybe we'll get Carter and Richards back for peanuts when their contracts run out. In a gazillion years time.
Seriously, there may be a spot on the wings to be filled if Voracek/Simmonds don't re-sign, or Hartnell or Versteeg get traded. But we're not at that scenario just yet.
The season opens in Boston, but Lauren's there in spirit
So, where does that leave the Flyers for opening night?
Maybe the forwards will line up something like this:
First line: van Riemsdyk, Giroux, Voracek
Second line: Hartnell, Briere, Leino
Third line: Versteeg, Schenn, Simmonds
Fourth line: Powe, Betts, Nodl/Shelley
(with Gagne potentially inserted on the top line. We can hope.)
Clearly the Flyers have downgraded their offense—when you shed as much salary as that in an afternoon, in exchange for an upgrade at goalie, it's likely to happen. But there's a lot of potential in that group of forwards. Often we've gone for a proven set of forwards and gambled on the goalie. This time it's the other way around.
Sometimes in Philly we take for granted the amazing depth we had at offense. We may be taking more "risks" in the offense but the core of Giroux, Leino, Briere and hopefully JVR (if he builds on his postseason) is one that most other franchises would drool over.
Given the demands for a No. 1 goalie after the shocking postseason the Flyers had in net, you can't blame Holmgren for these moves. I love Carter and Richards, but Carter had issues with his health, and Richards with his consistency and leadership.
Bryzgalov has his issues, and I certainly have reservations about the contract's length, and whether he can deliver in Philly, but this is a brave move. If you demand a first-class goalie, you can't turn around a start complaining when you get one.
Besides, maybe Bryzgalov isn't such a risk after all. I mean, nine years left on a contract doesn't mean anything. Am I right, Mike?