For years to come, Flyers fans will remember this date as a turning point in the franchise. Will fans rue this day? Or know that it was the turning point on the teams’ 35 year plus journey to win the Stanley Cup.
The wheels starting turning after the Flyers were eliminated by the Boston Bruins with ease due to some injuries but mostly inept goaltending. For fans, this was nothing new. For 15 years, the Flyers have had a carousel of goalies that have ultimately come up short each time. Fans had had enough of the disappointment, and ownership was fed up too.
Enter, Ilya Bryzgalov.
The Flyers traded for his rights and began negotiating with the goaltender. It became evident that in order to sign Bryzgalov and have space to sign some of their other players, cap space would be have to be cleared.
Exit, Jeff Carter.
The team’s leader scorer, who had just signed an 11-year deal in the fall, had been dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets for forward Jakub Voracek and the eighth overall pick of the upcoming draft. Rumors of this deal had transpired for a while but the Flyers had denied that any trade talks were happening for their star.
But the Flyers had changed their minds and pulled the trigger on the deal. As the thoughts of Carter leaving settled in, the Flyers made the real shocker deal.
Exit, Mike Richards.
In a matter of a half-hour, the Flyers traded away their cornerstone players and faces of the franchise. In a stunner, Richards was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and a second-round draft pick. Moments later, the Flyers announced the signing of Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million contract.
After the dust had settled, the question everyone wanted to know is why?
Why overhaul this team, which just over a year ago had come two wins from a Stanley Cup? Why trade away two of your best players after locking them up for the next decade?
Because at some point this off-season, Holmgren decided it was time for a change. The goaltending problems were obvious, but issues of leadership and inconsistency also surrounded the Flyers. Media relations with Richards were far from ideal during his captaincy and sometimes would not talk to reports for periods of time. Communications issues between Richards and coach Peter Laviolette were also rumored, but denied by both parties.
Regardless, Richards and Carter are star players in the NHL. Richards is a former Selke Trophy nominee and one of the best two-way players in the game. Carter is a natural-scoring center and has been among the league leaders in goals over the past several seasons.
For Holmgren, it was now or never. He had to make deals now or the value of his two star players would begin to fall. Once July 2012 arrived, their no-movement clauses would kick in and they would be Flyers for the next decade. Holmgren decided to pulled the trigger.
The return was nothing to write off about in the least. The Flyers acquired several young, skilled players in this deal. Schenn is a center with tremendous upside and could fill the void left by Richards down the road. Simmonds is a gritty winger who could find his scoring touch in Philadelphia. Voracek, whose issues in Columbus had been his conditioning and consistency, could flourish with a change of scenery and playing along side more skilled players.
There also is no question of who the leader of this team is now: Chris Pronger. He will likely wear the “C” for the Flyers and be asked to lead a team that lost some experience and is younger. This will be nothing new for the veteran defenseman, who captained the St. Louis Blues and Edmonton Oilers in previous years, to step up and lead the Flyers. His no-nonsense approach will be crucial to a roster that has several players under the age of 23.
With Richards and Carter gone, Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk are the new cornerstones of the franchise. Giroux is a budding star and van Riemsdyk had a breakout playoff run, Both will be asked to step up to fill the void created by the departure of Richards and Carter.
For years, the Flyers relied on a balanced offense and defense to off-set the issues in goal. With Bryzgalov signed, the Flyers gave up offense up the middle but built depth along the wings. The Flyers now have enough cap space to sign some of their RFA’s and can now offer a multi-year contract to Ville Leino. In a complete 180, the Flyers are now built from the back up. They have put their faith in Bryzgalov and Pronger to backstop the Flyers defensively and allow their young players to grow.
Holmgren bold moves are admirable. He has revamped a team that went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010 and changed the philosophy of a team in a matter of a day. It is a risk and reward situation that could result in a Stanley Cup or set the franchise back. There still could be more to come, but the moves of June 23 will always be remembered by fans.
For better or for worse.
Follow Erik Yost on Twitter at @ErikYost_