PHILADELPHIA – In 30 whirlwind minutes, the Philadelphia Flyers changed the face of the franchise—just not the course of it.
Jeff Carter and Mike Richards ran out of time to bring the Stanley Cup back to Philadelphia for the first time since 1975. Linked in the orange and black from 2003 when they were drafted together, Richards and Carter were shown the door together in a pair of franchise-shifting trades that were as stunning in their swiftness as they were in execution.
Here comes the hard part.
For all the questions and concerns about how they handled themselves in the locker room, with the media, and on the streets of Philadelphia, Carter and Richards did do a few things well—namely score and win. Carter had 115 goals the past three years, Richards, the team captain, had 84 and the Flyers fell only two wins shy in 2010 of winning it all.
That’s all history. Forwards James van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux now get their turn to carry the burden of keeping the Flyers in perennial contention for a championship.
Younger, cheaper, and maybe more talented, van Riemsdyk and Giroux gave a tantalizing taste this season of how they can anchor a franchise. Giroux led the Flyers with 76 points and was selected as an all-star. Van Riemsdyk scored four goals in a sizzling, albeit abbreviated, post-season run. Oh, and van Riemsdyk did so in the playoffs while Carter was out with an injury.
Van Riemsdyk knows it’s his time to fill the void left by the departed stars.
“I’m embracing this challenge,” he told The Associated Press. “This is the kind of stuff you live for as a player. You kind of live to be put in that role. You want to take it and run with it.”
That’s the kind of attitude that makes 20,000 fans want to roar and pound the boards at every home game.
Van Riemsdyk was no different from any other Flyer on Thursday when he got the news that general manager Paul Holmgren remade the core of the roster. Van Riemsdyk was napping when he was flooded with texts looking for the scoop. Defenceman Chris Pronger was fishing with his kids when he heard about the trades.
Pronger has been traded four times, most recently to the Flyers in 2009, and understands why the duo expressed feelings of shock and being hurt when told they were no longer wanted.
But moving forward, Pronger, a respected leader in the locker room, is a prime candidate to assume the captaincy. Richards never felt comfortable in the role, leaving Holmgren to scold the team, or Danny Briere to rally them like he did in the playoffs. Richards’ frosty relationship with the media never helped alter the perception that he was prematurely awarded the “C,” either.
“I think we just needed more life in the locker room,” Pronger said. “It all has to do with your play on the ice. If you’re playing well on the ice, there’s never any questions as to who’s doing what, or is there a rift, does this guy like that guy, and all of the rest of the stuff that gets thrown out.”
The Flyers faded down the stretch. And a sweep to eventual Stanley Cup-champion Boston in the second round was a signal to Holmgren that this nucleus wasn’t going to get it done.
Richards was traded to the Los Angles Kings for forwards Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and a second-round pick. Carter was sent to Columbus for forward Jake Voracek and the club’s first- and third-round picks from the Blue Jackets.
The Flyers went from not drafting Friday night until the third round to owning the eighth overall pick.
They used it to take 18-year-old centre Sean Couturier. The six-foot-four, 197-pound Couturier was the Flyers’ first first-round pick since they selected Luca Sbisa in 2008.
“I met them for the first time last night,” Couturier said. “It was a pretty good meeting. They seemed to have a lot of interest, but anything can happen in the draft. But now that the draft is over, I’m really glad to be a part of the Philadelphia Flyers.”
He’s not the only one happy to be playing in Philadelphia.
Holmgren also on Thursday signed No. 1 goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to a US$51-million, nine-year deal—a move that proves the Flyers still expect to chase the Cup even as the roster undergoes a makeover.
Bryzgalov is in Russia, but he posted on Twitter: Proud to be a Philadelphia Flyer)))
“I think when you make a move like that, to get a goalie and you’ve got to pay him, you’ve got to get the money somewhere,” Pronger said. “Time and again in the salary cap era, you’ve got to give to get. Unfortunately for us, those two guys were traded.”
The fallback plan has a soft landing: Giroux is only 23. Van Riemsdyk is 22.
“When a shakeup like this happens,” van Riemsdyk said, “I’m sure people are even itching more for the season to start.”
Flyers owner Ed Snider said the moves made them a more formidable championship contender. And Van Riemsdyk is eager to prove him right.
“They’ve made some great moves over the last few years, especially since I’ve been involved in the organization, to help put us in position to be a success,” he said. “There’s no reason to doubt them now.”
He’ll need some help from the new guys.
Simmonds is only 22, but had 30 points in 80 games. He 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.
The 19-year-old Schenn, the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft, could turn out to be a steal.
“I’m ready to compete for a spot next year,” he said Friday. “I do it all.”
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.
“It’s fun to go from a team that only make the playoffs one out of 10 years to a team that makes it basically every year,” he said. “It’s exciting and it’s something that’s new for me and I’m going to try and help as much as possible.”
So what’s next?
The Flyers have the salary flexibility to re-sign forward Ville Leino (53 points) and sign a veteran or two to strengthen some spots. Dan Carcillo, Andreas Nodl, and Darroll Powe are restricted free agents.
Just don’t expect another blockbuster deal of a day again this summer—or even again in team history.
“I hope we’re done,” Snider said. “I can’t take more days like this.”