PHILADELPHIA – Exit Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.
Welcome to Ilya-delphia.
In a pair of separate shocking trades, the Philadelphia Flyers hit the reset button on a team only a year removed from a trip to the Stanley Cup finals, dealing forwards Richards and Carter, and signing goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year deal.
Gone is Richards, their team captain.
Out is Carter, their leading goal scorer.
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren cleaned house—and cleared needed salary cap space to sign Bryzgalov to a reported $51-million, nine-year deal. The Flyers acquired the rights to Bryzgalov, 31, earlier this month in a deal with the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Flyers shed over US$100 million in salary—and a combined 314 goals and 692 points from the duo—in Thursday’s deals that sent Richards to the Los Angeles Kings and Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“This had nothing to do with the financial (part) at all,” Holmgren said. “What we did today was make two good hockey trades.”
No one saw this Flyers Facelift coming. Richards said he was shocked. Carter declined comment and his agent said there was “total disappointment.”
Holmgren’s voice quivered and his eyes moistened talking about the departure of two key cogs to the franchise. This would be like the Phillies trading Ryan Howard and Chase Utley … on the same day.
Richards wasn’t on the market and the Flyers were going to have to be overwhelmed to trade Carter before acquiring Bryzgalov. Once the Flyers acquired the rights, though, they needed to get the cash, because they were pressed against the salary cap.
So the Flyers dangled the pair. And the Kings and Blue Jackets bit on the eve of the draft.
Flyers chairman, and founder, Ed Snider told The Associated Press the team is closer to winning a Stanley Cup now, rather than before the shakeup.
“Yes, I do,” he said. “I like our goaltending, I like our defence, I like our forwards. We moved things around a little bit. I really think we’re stronger.”
Richards, once viewed as the next Bobby Clarke, was traded for forwards Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and a second-round pick. Carter fetched forward Jake Voracek and the club’s first- and third-round picks from the Blue Jackets.
Before Thursday, the Flyers didn’t have a pick until the third round. Now, they’ll pick eighth overall on Friday night.
Richards said he had “no idea” why the Flyers traded him.
The reasons are more than monetarily based, though that played a factor. Richards and Carter still had plenty of years remaining on monster contracts—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.
Forwards James van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux have instantly become new cornerstones for the Atlantic Division champions, who were surprisingly swept in the second round by the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Boston Bruins.
“I think we have two good young players there that are on the verge of doing even better things for our team,” Holmgren said. “So that certainly was a factor, particularly Claude. I view Claude as sort of Mike Richards-like in his competitiveness and his ability to do a lot of things for us offensively and defensively.”
Giroux and van Riemsdyk combined for 13 points in the playoffs. Carter and Richards had seven, including just one goal.
“We’ve gotten younger and I think we’ve gotten stronger,” Snider said. “It will really help us tremendously. I think Giroux and JVR and some of our other players have an opportunity to have more ice time and, hopefully, prosper.”
While Giroux and van Riemsdyk produced in the playoffs, the Flyers’ post-season run was short-lived because of problems in net. In the 11-game post-season, Philadelphia used three goaltenders with little success: Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton. Bryzgalov would help to solve that three-pronged problem in net.
“He does give us stability,” Holmgren said.
A Vezina Trophy finalist in 2009-10, Bryzgalov went 36-20-10 with a 2.48 goals-against average and seven shutouts last season, but had some shaky moments as Phoenix was swept from the playoffs by Detroit in Round 1.
Bryzgalov and his agent, Ritch Winter, spent two days last week in Philadelphia hammering out details ofthe contract, and visiting the city. The lucrative deal is reportedly worth $10 million in 2011-12, then gradually decreases until it hits $1.25 million in 2019-20.
“When you get a goalie you view as an upper-echelon goalie,” Holmgren said, “you know you have to pay him.”
But Philadelphia paid a steep price to find some peace between those pipes.
Richards, 26, spent the last three seasons as team captain. He scored 133 goals and had 349 points in 453 games since making his debut with the Flyers in 2005.
“We felt, at this stage of the franchise, it was time to make a significant move for an impact player,” Kings president and general manager Dean Lombardi said. “Mike Richards is not only one of the top players in the league, he’s also universally recognized as one of the finer leaders in the game and one of its elite competitors.”
Richards had 66 points this season. A year ago, he led the Flyers in points (62) and was second in goals (31), while leading the Flyers within two victories of their first championship since 1975.
The news hit some of the Flyers hard.
“Speechless like everyone else about what happened today, but sometimes that’s the nature of the beast,” Philadelphia defenceman Matt Carle posted on Twitter. “Best of luck to both of those guys.”
Richards had no desire to leave. He grew up in the organization with Carter, they won big games together and the best friends talked often about winning Philadelphia’s first Stanley Cup since 1975. Richards said he never would have signed the massive contract had he known the Flyers ever wanted to trade him.
On deal day, he had a brief, emotional conversation with Holmgren.
“It wasn’t a long conversation,” he said, “but it was one I didn’t think I’d ever have to do.”
Carter, 26, instantly becomes the best centre to ever play for Columbus. The six-foot-three, 200-pounder agreed in November to a $58-million, 11-year contract. Beginning next season, Carter’s salary-cap hit will be $5.27 million.
Carter has 181 goals in his six full seasons in the NHL, all with the Flyers. He has had 46, 33 and 36 the last three seasons.
With Richards gone, forward Danny Briere, or defencemen Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen could wear the “C” on the sweater.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, meanwhile, refuted talk he had a falling out with Richards. He called it tough to lose the stalwarts.
“Jeff and Mike were terrific players for our organization. They’re elite players in our league,” he said. “We went and replaced them and went in a different direction with a goaltender and wingers up front, different pieces.
“Paul said it best: It should be a good team, but it’s a different team.”
They have plenty of new faces in the orange and black.
Columbus had tried to sign Voracek to a new contract a year ago but the two sides could not agree on terms. Now, Holmgren will have to work up a new deal for Voracek, who is a restricted free agent. Even though he doesn’t turn 22 until August, he still made $1.3 million last season, and is due for a substantial bump in pay.
The Carter-to-Columbus deal had been rumoured for two weeks but his agent, Rick Curran, said earlier this week, “It’s not happening.” He said he had been told by the Flyers’ front office that there was no chance that Carter would end up with the Blue Jackets.
Yet Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson said the two sides had been discussing players—Voracek in particular—for some time.
“I’ve been talking to Philadelphia on and off for six months, with a lot of names involved,” Howson said. “It’s not uncommon that those kinds of discussions happen and this, I think, crystalized over the last day or so.”
The 19-year-old Schenn was the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft. Simmonds is only 22 and had 30 points in 80 games. Simmonds was chosen by Los Angeles in the second round, the 61st pick overall, in the 2007 draft. He had 39 goals, 93 points, and 264 penalty minutes in 240 regular-season games.
“This is a huge day for our organization,” Holmgren said, “and it really changes a lot of things.”
The Flyers can only hope the biggest change is another championship banner hanging in the rafters.
AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell and Rusty Miller contributed to this report.