Flyers: Retooling not Rebuilding
By: Brian McLaughlin
The Philadelphia Flyers shook the hockey world thursday by making three unprecedented moves that have completely revamped their roster. The first move came early thursday afternoon by trading 26-year-old top goal scorer Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets. There had been speculation that the team would look to move Carter to give them salary flexibility to sign a top-flight goaltender. Hours later, in a move that no one saw coming, especially after the Carter move, the Flyers dealt Captain Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings. Just hours after those moves the Flyers announced that they have indeed signed the goaltender that they have coveted for weeks, former Phoenix Coyote goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to a monster 9 year 51 million dollar contract.
Ok deep breath!
To the naked eye it looks as if the Flyers are in complete rebuilding mode and are giving up on a roster that went to the Stanley Cup finals just one year ago. They decided to trade their Captain and apparent leader in Mike Richards, as well as another team leader and top goal scorer Jeff Carter. Both Richards and Carter are only 26 years of age and are in the prime of their respective careers. Richards is a captain who has led his team to the brink of hoisting the Stanley Cup and has shown the heart that most teams covet. Carter is a proven scorer in this league and solid player in his own right. Carter scored 36 goals last season while adding 30 assists, and he went for 46 goals in the 08-09 season. I agree with the opinion that this does have the look of a complete overhaul.
However, the Flyers just spent 51 million dollars on a top 10 goalie and still have a lot of top-flight talent (Daniel Briere, Chris Pronger, Claude Giroux, James Van Riemsdyk) on their roster. One wouldn’t think that they are attempting a rebuilding process. So maybe they had another plan. Maybe they decided that an injury-prone, often labeled, as “soft” Jeff Carter was not worth the 6 million dollars that he was owed next season. Maybe the Flyer brass decided that a captain who has had issues with the media, not taken a complete leadership position, and did not show up for an entire postseason was also worth moving on from. It is not everyday that an NHL organization trades their top goal scorer and Captain on the same day. There has been speculation across Philadelphia that there may have been other issues beyond their play on the Ice that got these two top players moved. Whether its attitude, lack of leadership, lock room issues or whatever it might have been, clearly an organization that finished 2nd overall in the Eastern Conference, felt that it was in their best interest to go on without them. This may be a simple case of addition by subtraction
I personally am in favor of what the Flyers did on Thursday and believe that they are moving in the right direction. Richards is not the captain type and from all indications, never won over his locker room. He also was a captain that was virtually invisible in both playoff series this past postseason, and a captain who refused to talk to the media about those playoff woes. Jeff Carter, great goal scorer, but he is a player who is a bit over paid and was another guy who did not shine under the bright lights. I give the Flyers organization and especially general manager Paul Holmgren very high praise for making such strong moves and clear statements.
So lets move on from what the Flyers got rid of and look at what they received.
The big prize was Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryzgalov is known around the league as one of the top goalies in the game. He posted 7 shutouts last season and led the coyotes basically on his back to the playoffs. He is a big goal tender at 6’3 200lbs and will use that size to take up as much space as possible. Bryzgalov gives the Flyers the solution to their biggest problem,(seemingly forever) which was on full display for the world to see this past postseason. The shuffling of goalies in now over in Philadelphia and finally the Flyers have that top flight goalie in net.
They also picked up some nice pieces for Richards as well Carter. In the Richards deal they received Wayne Simmonds a 22-year-old right-winger who is known for his strong work ethic. They also received top prospect 19-year-old centre Brayden Schenn. Schenn is said to be extremely talented and was coveted by many teams around the league. Schenn was also the kings 5th overall pick in 2009. For Carter they acquired the Blue jackets former 7th overall pick in the 2007 draft, 21-year-old right-winger Jakub Voracek as well as the 8th overall pick and a 3rd round pick in tonight draft. So they clearly received some young talent the fits them financially and can bring something to the table in the future.
So could this have been rebuilding process?
I don’t believe so. The Philadelphia Flyers are a very aggressive organization as we saw with the pursuit and signing of Bryzgalov. I believe that the off-season has just begun for Paul Holmgren and he could be busy as early as today. The Flyers now own the 8th overall pick in the draft which is scheduled for later today, and they could very well deal that pick or others for a veteran scorer to replace what they have lost. If they do not make another trade they should have some flexibility to make a run at a free agent. Brad Richards and Jason Arnott would be names that the Flyer should have interest in. They also will now have the cap flexibility to sign one of their own impending free agents, Villie Leino, who has shown flashes of brilliance in his brief flyer career. This organization is not one that will sit on what they have done. They will be aggressive and will pursue every opportunity. I believe that Paul Holmgren may have another surprise up his sleeve, and he now has the chips to make something happen. So even after a day that they moved their Captain and top goal scorer, the flyers are still in a position to challenge Boston and the other top teams in the Eastern Conference.