The Philadelphia Flyers had better be pretty sure that Ilya Bryzgalov is the superstar goalie the franchise has been lacking for 15 years, because GM Paul Holmgren just gutted the team to carve out enough money to sign him.
First the Flyers dealt Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets for the eighth pick in tomorrow’s draft, 21-year-old right winger Jakub Voracek and a third-round pick. Then, minutes later Philadelphia dealt captain Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings for über prospect Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and a second-round pick.
The deal with the Blue Jackets had been rumored since the Flyers acquired the rights to Bryzgalov as Philadelphia needed to clear enough salary cap space to accommodate Bryzgalov’s hefty contract demands. Carter, 26, had scored 33+ goals in three straight seasons but was signed through 2021 at an unmanageable $5.27 million cap hit. The performance of James Van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux in the playoffs made Carter expendable, so the Flyers pulled the trigger.
The Richards deal, on the other hand, shook the hockey world. Richards’ relations with the Philadelphia media had long been tense, but the Flyers’ captain was still an integral part of the team. With enough salary cap space already free to sign Bryzgalov, the Flyers could have hung onto Richards and been fine financially. However, Philadelphia felt the need to make major changes and was obviously enticed by the chance to acquire Schenn, considered by many to be the best prospect in hockey.
In making the deals, the Flyers shed two of hockey’s enormous contracts – amounting to $110 million in total – in an afternoon and once again got younger and deeper, but not necessarily better.
Carter and Richards combined for 132 points last season and 692 since entering the league together in 2005-2006. Their long-term contracts were burdensome for Philadelphia, but they are two of the better forwards in hockey and dealing both of them arguably set the Flyers back a couple years. Philadelphia picked up several intriguing young players and should be set to make another splash or two at the draft this weekend, but there’s no guarantee any of the forwards heading Philly’s way approaches the production of either Carter or Richards.
Voracek has yet to fully break out, but he could become a solid second-line player. Schenn has yet to play in the NHL, but he might become the Flyers’ top center in short order. Simmonds will also be a nice addition on the Flyers’ third line and he should quickly become a fan favorite in Philadelphia. If Schenn reaches his full potential, Voracek continues to improve and the Flyers turn one of those draft picks into a good player, the deals will look a lot better in a few years, but right now the trades seem like questionable decisions.
The key here is that while the trades on their own are significant moves, their consequences reach even farther.
Philadelphia was left with plenty of money to sign Bryzgalov and may now even be able to retain UFA left winger Ville Leino. If the actual return for moving Richards and Carter is first, second, and third-round picks plus Schenn, Simmonds, Voracek, Bryzgalov and Leino, then the Flyers come out looking like winners of the day.
But once again the big question for the Flyers is in net. If Bryzgalov – already 31-years-old – plays at an All-Star level for the next few seasons, Philadelphia, already set along the blue line and deep up front, could win a Stanley Cup or two. But if Bryzgalov is anything less than spectacular – and he hasn’t been good in the playoffs the last two years – Flyers fans may rue this day when two superstars were traded for unproven players.