PHILADELPHIA – The No. 17 Carter jerseys still hang in the window of the Philadelphia Flyers’ merchandise store.
Time to move them to the clearance aisle.
Wayne Simmonds owns that number now, and when he pulled on the sweater for the first time Tuesday, the reality of last week’s big, bold deals hit Philadelphia. Carter and Mike Richards are gone. It’s time to make room for the new guys.
They were part of the two biggest deals in recent Flyers history.
And now, Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Jakub Voracek say they’re ready to fill the void left by Richards and Carter. Wearing matching team polo shirts, the trio was introduced at the Wells Fargo Center, five days after being acquired by the Flyers in two separate blockbuster trades.
They believe they can win the Stanley Cup that Carter and Richards failed to do in six seasons with the Flyers.
“I don’t feel any added pressure,” Simmonds said. “I’m going to come in here and play my game. I’m a rough-and-tumble winger. I go up-and-down the wall, take pucks to the net. That’s what I’m going to stick to.”
The Flyers acquired Schenn and Simmonds from the Kings for Richards, their captain. Voracek came over from Columbus in the Carter deal. The Flyers also acquired a first-round pick from Columbus and drafted 18-year-old centre Sean Couturier.
The newest Flyer everyone really wants to see hasn’t hit town since his recruiting visit—goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryzgalov, signed last week to a US$51-million, nine-year deal, is expected to visit the Flyers within the next 10 days.
It’s hard to believe any of these three would have been in Philadelphia had the Flyers not landed Bryzgalov.
When the Flyers were swept out of the playoffs by eventual Stanley Cup-champion Boston in Round 2, management knew the triple-mess goaltending situation had to go. They just didn’t realize then that Richards and Carter would be discarded at Bryzgalov’s expense.
Once the Flyers traded for him, they needed the cash to sign him, making Carter and Richards attractive trade bait.
“I think teams called that normally wouldn’t,” Comcast-Spectacor COO Peter Luukko said. “They figured, OK, they’ve got to clear some cap space.”
Trading one of them would have cleared the space in one shot.
That wasn’t good enough.
“The idea was that both of these deals were very attractive to what we need to do in the future,” Luukko said.
General manager Paul Holmgren, the former Flyer, got misty-eyed last week when he announced the trades.
“Both those guys have been here a long time and you sometimes get emotionally attached to your players,” Holmgren said. “I don’t know if it’s good or bad. I believe it’s good.”
Luukko, Holmgren and chairman Ed Snider had come to a consensus it was time to move on from Carter and Richards.
“There could have been other moves made to clear the cap space,” Luukko said. “I just think these options presented themselves to Paul. And Paul, to his credit, had the guts to make these moves.”
Both players were signed to lengthy deals: Richards has nine years left on a 12-year extension he signed in 2007, and Carter agreed in November to a $58-million, 11-year pact.
Luukko said the Flyers will not shy away from signing players to similar deals just because they got rid of these two.
“We’re not in the business of developing players,” he said, “and watching them walk away.”
Luukko also flatly denied the players were traded because of their dealings with the media, chemistry issues in the locker-room or any nightlife activities.
“They’re men,” Luukko said.
In hindsight, Luukko admitted Richards might have been too young when he was named captain. The Flyers aren’t close to naming a replacement and don’t have to until training camp. Luukko even called the captaincy “overrated.”
But the Flyers are counting on the 19-year-old Schenn as the real deal. Holmgren called Schenn the top player outside the NHL. He had 315 points in 224 games in the Western Hockey League. Holmgren said Schenn will play in the NHL next year at some point, and will earn every opportunity in training camp to start the season with the Flyers.
“I feel ready,” Schenn said.
One year removed from a trip to the Stanley Cup finals, the new players are wildly optimistic they can help the Flyers get back there soon.
“We’re really close, actually,” Simmonds said. “The three of us were brought in here to help and I feel like all three of us can help. We’re just excited to get this started.”
Simmonds and Voracek are both restricted free agents. Holmgren said both players will get signed and he doesn’t expect either negotiation to be a long process.
The Flyers are actively trying to re-sign forward Ville Leino and a few unrestricted free agents—a reunion with Simon Gagne, perhaps?—are on their radar. It does not appear they can sign Tampa Bay restricted free agent Steven Stamkos.
“We have a lot of good pieces right now,” Holmgren said.
But are there enough to believe they can win a championship this season?