In the space of less than one hour, the Philadelphia Flyers completely shook up their roster, trading Jeff Carter and Mike Richards in separate deals.
Carter was sent to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Jakub Voracek along with the eighth and 68th picks in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Shortly thereafter, Richards was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for top prospect Brayden Schenn, talented forward Wayne Simmonds and a 2012 second round pick.
The Carter deal had been rumored for quite some time, with it abundantly clear that the Flyers would need to clear cap space in order to make room for recent trade acquisition Ilya Bryzgalov. Carter has 11 years remaining on a contract that pays him an average of nearly $5.3 million per year, and his solid but unspectacular production (36 goals, 30 assists in 2010-11) made him expendable.
In Voracek, the Flyers get a very talented young forward whose potential wasn’t close to realized with the Blue Jackets. Of course, that holds true for the lion’s share of the team’s draft picks over the years, and it’s a key reason why they’ve participated in only one playoff round through their 10-year existence. Voracek tallied 14 goals and 32 assists in 80 games for the Blue Jackets in 2010-11, production almost identical to his 2009-10 output (16 goals and 34 assists), and it was becoming abundantly clear that a scenery change would probably be needed if he were to realize his immense potential.
It’s somewhat surprising that the Flyers didn’t try to procure Nikita Filatov in the deal, as the supremely talented underachieve – like Voracek – probably has a lot more value anywhere but Columbus. Though he wasn’t included in this particular deal, it will be quite surprising if Filatov is still Blue Jackets’ property when the 2011-12 season begins.
It’s also fair to wonder whether Carter is the right first line center to place alongside marooned star winger Rick Nash. A playmaking center capable of getting the most out of Nash’s goal-scoring ability would have made fine sense, but a goal-scoring center who looks to shoot first isn’t exactly going to help Nash reach his full potential.
Much like the rest of the roster machinations that have taken place in Columbus over the years, this one seems to leave more questions than answers. And by trading three assets for one, the perpetually depleted Blue Jackets have further reduced their margin for error. Unless Carter suddenly transforms into a consistent, selfless player, his albatross of a contract could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for the Blue Jackets where their tenuous relationship with a rightfully disgruntled fan base is concerned.
The Richards deal is a bit harder to evaluate, in that it removes the Flyers’ captain from their lineup and makes it likely that Daniel Briere and Claude Giroux will spend more time at center (unless more moves are forthcoming). Schenn should help immensely in time, but it’s a tremendous amount of pressure to place on a prospect if the Flyers are expecting him to step in and immediately replace Carter’s/Richards’ production for a Cup contender.
That said, Schenn is arguably the finest prospect in all of hockey (including those players available in the 2011 Draft), and over the long haul he projects to offer far more to the Flyers than they ever could have hoped for from Richards. Where Richards is a hard-working grinder who isn’t expected to ever top the 80-point mark, Schenn has the potential to be a consistent 90-100 point forward at the NHL level.
Simmonds should be a solid contributor on the Flyers’ third line, with the potential to possibly move up to the second line at some point. He tallied 30 points (14 goals, 16 assists) in 2010-11, but it’s unlikely that he’ll receive much more ice time in Philadelphia than he did in Los Angeles.
On the Kings’ side of the equation, Richards should provide some much-needed grit and leadership. There’s plenty of talent in Los Angeles, and pairing Richards up with the likes of Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar should give the Kings valuable firepower to help them compete with the likes of Anaheim and San Jose.
However, the price was quite steep, for they’ve taken on the nine remaining years of Richards’ substantial contract ($5.75 million per year) while at the same time giving up Schenn’s terrific potential right at the moment when he’s likely ready to start making a meaningful impact. They appear to have overpaid for Richards, an assertion that will only be proven false if his leadership helps take the Kings to an as-yet-unreached level of team success.
At the end of the day, the Flyers have managed to address their biggest need in goal with the addition of Bryzgalov, while at the same time making their forward corps both younger and cheaper. Trading Carter to make room for Bryzgalov (while adding Voracek and two draft picks) made great sense, and Schenn’s upside far surpasses that of Richards (to say nothing of what Simmonds might bring to the table). They should be able to pick up a terrific player with the eighth overall pick, and they’ve actually got a fair amount of cap space remaining with which to pull off some more deals (either via trade or free agency).
If Schenn can continue his rapid upward trajectory – he was arguably the best player at the 2011 World Junior Championships – then this pair of deals (along with the expected Bryzgalov signing) will enable the Flyers to indefinitely retain their status as legitimate Cup contenders.
Schenn is quite possibly the most talented player to arrive in Philadelphia (as a rookie) since Eric Lindros. If he lives up to his immense potential, this aggressive maneuvering will go down as an unmitigated success for GM Paul Holmgren.