The former Faces of thee Franchise will soon return, beginning with Mike Richards on Saturday 10/15
Thursday June 23, 2011—a date which will live in infamy—the Philadelphia Flyers suddenly and deliberately traded its Captain and leading goal-scorer to the Los Angeles Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets, respectively.
Maybe it was not quite as dramatic as Pearl Harbor, but the Flyers' off season was the most shocking in recent memory.
It saw team captain Mike Richards and assistant captain Jeff Carter, both drafted by Philadelphia in the first round of the 2003 draft were sent packing to different Western Conference teams.
Since then, Mike Richards was anointed the "next captain" of the Flyers. His workman-like playing style and lead by example mentality reminded the city and scouts of Bobby Clarke.
Richards lead the team in points in 2007-08, a season in which he was signed to a 12-year $69 million contract extension.
In 2008, the prophecy was realized when Mike Richards was named team captain. In 2009-10 Richards lead Philadelphia to the Stanley Cup Finals and was recognized as one of the best young leaders in hockey.
Carter experienced similar success in Philadelphia, scoring 181 goals in 461 games, including totals of 46, 33 and 36 over the past three seasons.
Less than a year ago Carter signed an 11-year $58 million contract extension to stay with the Flyers through the 2021-22 season.
Throughout their tenures in Philadelphia the two were tied together. Drafted in the same year, lived together, same position, same expectations.
There had always been talk of Richards, Carter and a few other hard-partying teammates shirking their perceived responsibilities as leaders and stars of a beloved Philadelphia institution.
But overall the team was producing, so the rumors were believed but pushed aside as exaggerations of an over zealous fan base.
Then came the collapse of 2011.
After fighting through the first half of the season in the race for the Presidents' Trophy the Flyers lost their substantial lead atop the Eastern Conference to the Washington Capitals and limped into the playoffs.
Then all hell broke out.
Richards, Carter, Ville Leino, Kris Versteeg, Brian Boucher, Sean O'Donnell, Dan Carcillo and Nikolai Zherdev were all gone, replaced by a bunch of youngsters and a Russian goalie.
Oh yeah, and Jaromir Jagr.
Hockey in Philly was turned upside down, seemingly in one day.
Since, the team talked about locker room chemistry being better than ever. Through the first two games of the season, it looks like trading Captain Morgan and his first mate weren't that crazy of moves after all.
But the season is just beginning. Saturday October 15 marks the first return of a once beloved son.
Richards comes back with the Los Angeles Kings. Next month Carter makes his first appearance since Rick Nash tracked him down on the Sea Isle boardwalk and took him to beautiful Columbus.
So now this feels like the perfect time to reflect on how the Flyers may end up regretting the two stars, despite early season success without them.
Philadelphia's castoffs always kill them. From Vinny Prospal to Steve Downie, Mark Recchi to Dainius Zubrus.
When Mike Richards and Jeff Carter make their returns to Philadelphia the Wells Fargo Center will be on an emotional roller coaster.
Do we cheer or boo? How about booing every time they touch the puck? Should we just be indifferent and move on?
Richards and Carter will make it tougher for fans by putting on good performances in front of their former home.
The home opener Wednesday against a dangerous Vancouver Canucks team will be a tough victory.
If the Flyers were to drop the home opener and an impressive performance by Richards and the Los Angeles Kings set the Flyers to 0-2 at home last week's optimism would become this week's uncertainty in Philadelphia.
Making Richards and Carter's returns more complicated are the facts that Richards will be accompanied by former Flyer Simon Gagne. Carter has re-joined forces with another line mate from a past life, RJ Umberger.
Four players who once made up the core of this Flyers team could raise questions in fans' minds about the decisions being made by Philadelphia's management if they are to come into Philly on October 15th and November 5th and beat their former team.
The Flyers look good right now. 2-0, only one goal against.
The young guys are holding their own. Jagr looks like he has not lost a step.
Giroux appears to be on his way to becoming an elite superstar and the defense is more or less healthy.
But this is a young team depending on a lot of players not familiar with the rigors of an 82-game (potentially 110) schedule.
Sean Couturier, Matt Read, Zac Rinaldo and Brayden Schenn have never played a full NHL season. Andreas Nodl only dressed for 67 games last season.
Jaromir Jagr, at 39-years old, averaged about 52 games a year over his 3-year stint in Russia's KHL.
This is a deep team with strong veteran leadership.
But when you're playing the Ottawa Senators on a random Wednesday in the middle of the winter and your shoulder hurts and you haven't been scoring for a week or two, a young player can hit a bit of a wall, and if the division or home-ice comes down to a few points, most fans would like to have those in hand.
The loss of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter means the loss of two players familiar with and successful at overcoming the doldrums of a long NHL year.
The Flyers' success over the past four seasons has depended on depth.
If the young players are not able to contribute and produce, that will result in far too much ice-time for veterans like Danny Briere and Jaromir Jagr.
Without the relative health of the veterans the Flyers have no chance at a deep playoff run.
With Richards and Carter the depth was guaranteed, and making the playoffs was an afterthought.
Now, the new-look Flyers need to prove they have not taken a step backwards in the "culture changing" trades.
Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were the faces of the Philadelphia Flyers.
The captain and assistant, All-Stars, fan favorites, first round draft picks who have seen the ups and downs of the greatest hockey city in the United States.
Then, after one disappointing season they were sent packing.
Richards signed a 12-year, $69 million contract in 2007. Carter signed an 11-year $58 million pact early last season.
Both were traded for players everybody knew were good, but nobody thought they were better than Richards or Carter.
One must wonder if the disloyalty shown to Richards and Carter will make Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn apprehensive about signing long-term deals, especially before testing the free agents markets.
They are two of the four players acquired in the Flyers' separate blockbusters,
Carter claimed to have taken a "hometown discount" to stay with the team that drafted him.
Young players in similar situations may look at Philadelphia as a place where they cannot have the stability and security every pro athlete looks for.
Signing a long term contract would not be worth the expectations and perceived consequences of one disappointing season.
Philadelphia has always been a destination city for NHL free agents. The Flyers have money to spend, they are always contenders and play in a full building every night.
But if Paul Holmgren is perceived as disloyal? That could all end.
The Richards and Carter trades could have long-term effects that extend beyond the six players involved. It will be interesting to see the rest of the league's attitude towards the Philly franchise in the future.
I couldn't resist using a picture of my all-time favorite Flyer
After watching the Philadelphia Phillies get bounced out of playoffs in the Division Series, and seeing the Philadelphia Eagles "Dream Team" sitting at 1-4, I have decided 2008 was a cosmic mistake.
This city will never get another championship.
I know it's a terrible realization, but I feel it is a reality with which we all must come to grips.
If 2011-12 ends with anything but a Stanley Cup championship it will be tough for the Flyers to come up with an excuse. They have the coach and the system.
They have the goalie and the defense. They have the captain and veterans. They have enough youth and depth to keep the team fresh through the season.
Every disappointing Flyers team has had a scapegoat.
A linesman's missed offsides call, Terry Murray, Eric Lindros, Bill Barber, every goalie for the last 30 years, Dan Carcillo and a mistimed fight, a drunken captain and leading goal scorer who formed their own locker room clique...
But it seems this team, as chemistry grows throughout the season, might be the most solid and complete Flyers team of the past decade.
This only begs the question, without Richards and Carter to kick around anymore, who will get blamed when this season ends, as every one has since 1975, without a Stanley Cup?
This one is more why I regret the Richards and Carter trades.
Last season's Winter Classic was accompanied by an HBO documentary series Capitals-Penguins 24/7.
It was an unprecedented look into the locker room and lives of two of the NHL's best teams and their players.
This year's Winter Classic in Philadelphia will also be promoted through the HBO series.
Like the NFL Hard Knocks series, I feel it is important the NHL attempts to top it's previous season's output. While last year's 24/7 was entertaining, the Flyers could have made it better.
Sidney Crosby was represented as a responsible young athlete, staying in on game nights (on a road trip to Philly, no less) and dedicating himself to the task at hand.
Compare that persona to the rumors (or first hand knowledge) about Richards and Carter. Olde City on game nights; Sea Isle when they get a chance. This series could have been a real life modernization of Slap Shot.
But those two are gone, along with their partying cohort Car Bomb Carillo, replaced by a few guys not yet old enough to drink, and Jaromir Jagr, who seems to spend the majority of his waking hours working out.
Certainly a dedicated teammate I'm proud to call a member of the team I root for, but not exactly someone I'm tuning in to see an HBO special about.
The league depend on Philadelphia's lovers and haters for ratings.
Without the boisterous personalities fans love or hate, the Flyers could become just another team, and not one of the "money franchises" consistently tabbed to appear on national television, and in Winter Classics.
And, that's really what I want, to see the Flyers in the Winter Classic once every three or four years.
That's what I think, but how about you? Is it possible the Flyers regret trading Richards or Carter down the line? Let me know what you think, and thanks for reading.