Friday, 24 June 2011

Imploding The Flyers

I'm not sure what GM Paul Holmgren was thinking, but I'm quite certain that if I were him, I'd have resigned and walked away from the desk yesterday. I have never understood why some owners have to be hands-on when it comes to their teams. I mean, I understand that the owner is spending a lot of money on trying to build a winner, but if he's never actually built anything but an also-ran in his many years of ownership, why would the people running the ship allow him to steer? Word trickled out of Philadelphia a few days ago that owner Ed Snider was convinced that the Flyers were one goaltender away from a Stanley Cup parade, and that he told GM Paul Holmgren to get a Stanley Cup-calibre goalie at any cost. So I have to ask: is sacrificing your two best offensive players over the last three years for a goaltender who has a losing record in the playoffs the best way to get your parade?

In two separate trades that went down in about an hour, the Flyers traded away Jeff Carter and Mike Richards so that they could go out and sign Ilya Bryzgalov and have a little cap space left over. The Flyers traded away 23% of their offence last season to sign a goaltender who is 12-13 in his career in the playoffs including a dismantling by the Detroit Red Wings this season. The only time Bryzgalov has ever advanced past the first round is when Anaheim won their Stanley Cup in 2006-07. Is this really the man who will replace 23% of Philadelphia's offence?

In a word, no.

Both Carter and Richards signed long-term deals with the Flyers in the hopes that they could lead the Flyers back to the promised land. And they came close one year ago as they fell to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in the Stanley Cup Final. Fast forward to this season, and the Flyers fell to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final. In both cases, the Flyers weren't that far off from their goal. And while they didn't achieve that goal, it was felt that acquiring a goaltender with a decent playoff track record would help the team immensely.

I think that Paul Holmgren's reaction at the press conference was generally the thought for the vast majority of Flyers fans: what do we do next?

"Today was obviously a very busy day and a huge day for our franchise," Holmgren stated. "We’re busy preparing for the draft tomorrow. We have a high first round pick along with some other picks we didn’t have 24 hours ago, so we’ve got our work to do over the next two days here in St. Paul, and we’ll get together on our roster after that. But you’re right in saying that we are younger up front. Any time you take out two 26-year-olds and you sprinkle in a 22, 23 and 20 year-old, you’re younger for sure. That’ll be something we talk about once we get past the draft leading up to the July 1 free agency period."

There's no doubt that this trade will have a major impact on the Flyers for years to come. Flyers defenceman Chris Pronger thinks this trade will be hard on the Flyers, but life must go on.

"I think when you make a move like that to get a goalie, you got to pay him and you have to find the money somewhere," Pronger said to Mike Brophy of "We’ve seen it time and again in the salary cap era; you’ve got to give to get. Unfortunately for us, those two guys were traded. It sucks. As a teammate you hate to see those two guys go.

"They were, for all intents and purposes, the face of the franchise for four of the six years, if not the whole six years they were here. I’m sure it’s tough for them. This is the Philadelphia Flyers; all they really know. I’ve gone through it a few times and sometimes a move is healthy for you."

While Pronger is right in that you have to give to get sometimes, this isn't just a straight him-for-him exchange. Richards and Carter, as Pronger alluded to, were the faces of this franchise and the potential cornerstones through the next decade. They could score, they could hit, they could play defence, and they were loved by the fans. So moving Carter and Richards should have, on the surface anyway, brought back some sort of scoring threat from either the Columbus Blue Jackets or the Los Angeles Kings.

From the Blue Jackets, the Flyers acquired Jakub Voracek, the eighth overall pick in this year's draft, and Columbus' third-round pick for Jeff Carter. Carter will now be the centerman that Columbus GM Scott Howson coveted for so long. Howson can have Carter play with superstar Rick Nash, and the Blue Jackets immediately become a much better team offensively.

From the Kings, the Flyers acquired Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, and LA's second-round pick in the NHL Entry Draft. Richards will allow Los Angeles to roll out two complete offensive forward lines with Kopitar and Richards down the middle. Not only does Los Angeles become a more complete team and a better defensive team with Richards in the line-up, but Richards' contract will ensure that he is a centerpiece in LA for a long time.

In the Columbus deal, the Flyers ship out 36 goals and 66 points in Carter for a winger in Voracek who scored 14 goals and 46 points. In the Los Angeles deal, the Flyers ship out Richards' 23 goals and 66 points for Simmonds' 14 goals and 30 points. Yes, they will add Schenn - a dynamic forward who is still a little raw - and a number of draft picks that they didn't have prior to these trades, but the reduction in offence in the Flyers lineup will make this a dramatically different team next season regardless of who they have in net.

Daniel Briere and Claude Giroux will still be counted on for offence next season, so that won't change. But coach Peter Laviolette may be forced to go more defensive in his approach as players like James van Riemsdyk, Darroll Powe, and Ville Leino - who is an unrestricted free agent - are asked to pick up the difference in goal-scoring that the two trades left in Philadelphia. Wayne Simmonds will be a great foot soldier, and there is hope that Voracek will be able to step into a scoring role as well, but neither has shown a consistent offensive flair thus far in their short careers.

I guess the entire ordeal of blowing up the Flyers comes down to one thing: are the Flyers stronger after the deal? Personally, I say they are not. They gave up a large chunk of their scoring and brought back players who aren't known for their offensive games, but I'm not the guy handing out bundles of money to players. Does Ed Snider think the Flyers are stronger?

"Yes, I do," Snider told The Associated Press. "I like our goaltending, I like our defence, I like our forwards. We moved things around a little bit. I really think we're stronger."

The Flyers had a solid blueline last season, and that will remain the same. In comparison, Ilya Bryzgalov is an upgrade in the blue paint over the three-headed monster known as Leighton, Boucher, and Bobrovsky. But up front, the Flyers will be a significantly different team. They'll be a little grittier with Simmonds, but they will need van Riemsdyk, Leino, and a host of other guys, including Voracek and Simmonds, to step up and fill the void that were left by Richards and Carter.

Are they stronger? In some cases, yes.
Could they win the Atlantic Division next season? Yes, they can.
Will they score more than last season? It's very unlikely.

In one of the most ultra-competitive divisions in hockey, the moves by the Flyers yesterday afternoon, in my opinion, will make the battle to win the Atlantic Division a lot harder than before. Regardless of what Ed Snider does with his new salary cap flexibility, Philadelphia, in the short term, got a lot weaker up front, and bought themselves nine years of an unproven playoff goaltender in Ilya Bryzgalov. Two men who bled black-and-orange will now do everything they can to try to derail the Flyers' chances in winning a Stanley Cup.

In short, the Flyers traded away two players who were the heart and soul of the Flyers team and who combined for 59 goals and 132 points for three players who had 28 goals and 76 points and a goaltender who is north of 30 years-old for the next nine years with a save percentage just .006 better than Sergei Bobrovsky and finished the playoffs one round earlier this season than the Flyers did. Even if Brayden Schenn can outperform Richards or Carter in Philadelphia, the only thing that will appease fans when it comes to these deals is a Stanley Cup.

Whenever you find yourself in a Stanley Cup-or-bust situation after a trade, there's a pretty good chance that you came out on the wrong end of the deal.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Deanna Reads Books said...

I don't think any Flyers fans are happy about these trades right now.

Anonymous said...

While I think these trades are completely idiotic it couldn't have happened to a better team. Well, maybe Pittsburgh. In any case, you don't trade away your best offensive players for a goalie. Flyers fans have a right to be angry.