The Philadelphia Flyers were expected to be contenders for the next decade with a team built around young stars Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Instead, general manager Paul Holmgren took the franchise in a different direction Thursday with a flurry of high-profile moves.
Holmgren traded away Richards and Carter away in separate blockbuster deals, then signed goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to a deal reportedly worth $51 million over nine years. The moves give the Flyers, a Stanley Cup Finalist last year before being swept out of the second round this past season, a drastically different look after unloading 20 years and more than $100 million in contracts before signing a goaltender to a long-term deal.
The Flyers sent Richards to Los Angeles along with minor-league forward Rob Bordson for elite prospect Brayden Schenn, rugged forward Wayne Simmonds and a second-round draft pick in the 2012 Entry Draft. Carter was dealt to Columbus for forward Jakub Voracek and the Nos. 8 and 68 overall picks in the 2011 Draft.
Carter and Richards joined the Philadelphia franchise on the same day -- both were first-round draft choices in 2003. After helping Philadelphia's AHL franchise win the Calder Cup in 2005, they've been fixtures in the Flyers' lineup for the past six seasons.
While Carter scored 181 goals in those six seasons, Richards became one of the top two-way centers in the League and was named Philadelphia's captain in September 2008. Both were signed to long-term contracts -- Carter's deal was 12 years and $69 million and Carter's was for 11 years and $58 million.
The Flyers have not had an elite goaltender since Ron Hextall, but losing to Boston in the second round of the playoffs spurred Holmgren to acquire the negotiating rights with Bryzgalov, who would have been an unrestricted free agent July 1, from Phoenix. Bryzgalov was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy two seasons ago, but has only won one postseason series as the No. 1 goaltender (for Anaheim against Colorado in the second round of the 2006 playoffs).
Holmgren appears to have received a considerable return for dealing Carter and Richards.
Voracek was the No. 7 overall pick in the 2007 Entry Draft and doesn't turn 22 until August. He could still blossom into a legitimate top-six forward. Schenn is considered among the best, if not the best, prospect in hockey -- and his star turn at the world junior championships this past season did little to dispel that notion. Simmonds has scored 30 goals during the past two seasons combined and has become a solid third-line player with the potential for more.
Philadelphia traded first- and third-round picks to Toronto during the season for forward Kris Versteeg, but the Flyers added better pick in each round in the Carter deal, as well as a second-round choice next year in the package for Richards.
The Flyers are now much younger at forward, but there is still plenty of talent. Claude Giroux, Daniel Briere, James van Riemsdyk and Scott Hartnell are still there, along with Voracek, Simmonds and probably Schenn. Ville Leino is an unrestricted free agent, but Holmgren still has more than $7 million in cap space to work with after these deals.
If Schenn, Voracek and the first-round pick become top-flight players, these trades could be a long-term victory for Holmgren and the Flyers. How this day will be remembered in the short term rests with the performance of Bryzgalov. Philadelphia now has its elite goaltender, and it will be up to him to prove he was worth altering the course of the franchise for him.