When the Philadelphia Flyers sent franchise cornerstones Jeff Carter and Mike Richards to Columbus and Los Angeles, respectively, on NHL draft weekend in 2011, it was a questionable and confusing call by GM Paul Holmgren.
The Flyers were one year removed from an appearance in the Stanley Cup final and just that spring were eliminated in the second round by the Boston Bruins, who went on to win the thing.
The trouble was Philadelphia had fallen behind Boston in consecutive series 3-0 and though they managed to make history and recover from the first one, they were bit by inevitability the second time. Goaltending was still perceived to be a big problem in Philadelphia and free-agent-to-be Ilya Bryzgalov was still perceived to be the answer. So, the team needed to clear space to sign him to the infamous nine-year, $51 million deal. If the Flyers made a severe mistake anywhere, it was investing so much in the wannabe cosmonaut and later trading future Vezina winner, Sergei Bobrovsky, for draft picks.
If the Flyers didn’t intend to sign Bryzgalov to that mammoth contract, would they have ever traded Carter and Richards? We may never know. But whether or not the Flyers made these trades for the right reasons, it all worked out splendidly for them in the end (everything turned out rosy for the Kings, too).
Carter makes his first return trip to Philadelphia Monday night since being traded three years ago and he is expecting to hear the boos. Since leaving, he’s won a Cup and a gold medal, but here are five reasons why the Flyers are better off now than they would have been had they kept both Carter and Richards.
1. Four productive (and younger) players for the price of two
Combined, Carter and Richards account for $11.2 million against the salary cap. Meanwhile, the four current NHLers Philadelphia got directly in return for the two – Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier – account for $10.845 million against the cap. When Schenn is extended in the summer this total will rise above the two Kings, which is fitting, because…
2. Better production, better all-round play
Since being traded out of Philadelphia, Carter and Richards have combined for 228 points in 357 games for a .637 points per game average. Simmonds and Voracek – the two players who were already NHL contributors at the time of the trade – have combined for 282 points in 393 games with the Flyers for a .718 points per game rate. Adding in Schenn’s and Couturier’s totals pull the Flyers’ point per game rate below the two Kings, since they went through their rookie and sophomore seasons in this time. But the two have been developing. Schenn’s overall ice time has been rising as he’s proven himself a capable second line center, while Couturier is already the main forward penalty-killer who is out there for more than half of his team’s shorthanded minutes.
Carter and Richards both turned 29 this year and both have seen a decline in productivity since leaving Philadelphia. Part of this is likely due to the fact the Kings and the West in general demands a tighter checking system where offense doesn’t tend to flourish. However, even if they remained in the East, these two players have reached the heights of their potential. This isn’t to say they are in decline already, but they won’t be getting better anymore. Simmonds, Voracek, Couturier and Schenn, meanwhile, are between 21 and 25 years old and have seen their average ice times and point totals rise over three seasons. They will get better and become more rounded.
4. Claude Giroux
Another question we’ll never know the answer to is if Giroux would have developed any differently with Richards and Carter as the “face” stars of the roster. What we do know is the first year without the two, Giroux’s average ice time jumped by more than two minutes as he became the go-to player for the Flyers overnight. Now, Giroux was already pulling in greater minutes than Carter and Richards when they were on the roster, but the team had to lean on him even more in all situations and Giroux answered by smashing his career high in points by 17. He wasn’t a point per game player before, but he’s been better than one since.
5. Chris Pronger…what if?
When the Flyers went into this minor rebuild, they did it thinking Pronger was going to be the rock on the blueline who would cover up any holes because that’s what Pronger was best at. Little did they know that 13 games into the 2011-12 season, their prized defenseman would go down with a major concussion that would end his playing career. This wasn’t a curveball for management: it was a knuckleball. The loss of Pronger’s steady hand left a massive hole the team is still trying to fill. Had Pronger been healthy for these three years, the Flyers would surely have been a better team and we might be looking at them as serious Cup contenders today – if we weren’t already. Even without Pronger, the Flyers are slowly creeping back up to where they were in 2011.