When it comes to pointing to reasons for the resurgence of the Philadelphia Flyers, you can point your finger in numerous directions.
Start first with the brilliant and ballsy job GM Paul Holmgren has done since taking over from Bob Clarke. The Peter Forsberg trade, the acquisition of veteran and leader Jason Smith and goaltender Martin Biron and, of course, the free agent signing of Daniel Briere have all been significant.
Then there is the performance of Biron, who gives the Flyers their first dependable starting goaltending in too long to remember, as well as the nice start to Briere’s season.
But in the midst of a 6-1-0 start, the contributions of third-year pros Mike Richards and Jeff Carter should not be overlooked.
In fact, you could make the case their re-emergence as bona fide front line NHL talent has every bit as much to do with the Flyers becoming a force as anything else. Through seven games, Richards had five goals and nine points and was plus-4 while Carter had four goals, five points and was plus-6.
After disastrous sophomore seasons, it is safe to conclude they are back.
“The day after last season ended, I immediately started focusing all my attention on this year,” says Richards. “Once things started going badly for me last year it was like there was no stopping it. It was very, very frustrating. I didn’t want to spend all summer thinking about what happened last season; I wanted to look ahead.”
Richards and Carter burst onto the scene like saviors of the franchise. After brilliant junior careers, they each joined Philadelphia’s American League affiliate and helped the Phantoms win the Calder Cup in 2004-05. Both had successful NHL rookie campaigns, Carter scoring 23 goals and 42 points in 81 games; Richards 11 goals and 34 points in 79 games.
But last season the team struggled and they both battled significant injuries – Carter missed 20 games with a fractured foot and Richards 23 games with a sports hernia and separated shoulder. Their numbers, not surprisingly, dipped.
Holmgren points to a number of reasons why Richards and Carter struggled – injuries to themselves, as well as injuries to others being most significant.
“Perhaps we thought they were further along than they really were,” Holmgren says, “but at the same time, when we lost players to injury, we had to use those guys more than we intended to. Maybe they were set up for failure because of the circumstances.”
For his part, Richards doesn’t like to make excuses.
“There were high expectations, but I don’t think they were unrealistic,” Richards says. “Jeff and I both put a lot of pressure on ourselves to succeed. It was a year that I think you can learn a lot from. Having success in the NHL is not easy to come by; you have to go out and earn your victories.”
One thing is certain, now safely into their third NHL seasons, both Mike Richards and Jeff Carter are back to being high-flying Flyers.
Mike Brophy’s Double OT appears regularly on The Hockey News.com.
One of THN’s senior writers, Mike Brophy gives you insight and opinion on the world of hockey like no one else. Subscribe to The Hockey News to get Mike’s expertise and read his magazine column, Overtime, in every issue.