Five years ago today, Philadelphia Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren changed the complexion of the team within mere minutes by trading franchise cornerstones Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.
Trades of this magnitude hadn’t been seen since the pre-salary cap days and immediately grabbed the attention of hockey fans. Sites like HFBoards and HockeyBuzz couldn’t hold up to all the visitors as the two trades went down in less than 45 minutes of each other.
Carter was sent to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jake Voracek, the eighth overall pick and a third-rounder in the 2011 Draft. Richards returned a bigger haul with Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a second-round pick in the 2012 Draft.
Five years later, things have gone nowhere near as planned – for the teams and the players.
Leading Up To The Trades
A year after reaching the Stanley Cup Finals, the Flyers were swept in the second round of the 2011 Playoffs by the eventual Cup champs, the Boston Bruins. In those playoffs, Sergie Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher and the infamous Michael Leighton suited up for Philly in net.
Owner Ed Snider was not pleased with the play of the Flyers and called for a retooling, but more importantly, a change in net. In response, Holmgren did what Holmgren was known for and traded for the rights of the top goaltending UFA, Ilya Bryzgalov.
But the team was tight to the cap and the former Phoenix Coyote netminder was sure to command a salary worth north of $5 million. Someone had to be traded and it seemed obvious to most that Carter would be the one to go.
While a 40-goal scorer with the Flyers, Carter was criticized for being inconsistent at times and for not being a clutch player in big moments. This save by Antti Niemi in the dying minutes of Game 6 in the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals still haunts Flyers fans:
The only person that reported Richards could be on the trade block was WIP Radio host Howard Eskin:
Let me be clear on flyers poss trade. Some in frt office would rather trade richards, but better offers may b 4 carter. Would trade either
— Howard Eskin (@howardeskin) June 11, 2011
But even he didn’t believe the team was trading both superstars.
Columbus was seen as a possible destination for Carter and on the morning of June 23, 2011, the Flyers sent the center to the Blue Jackets for Voracek and two picks.
Less than an hour later, Philadelphia woke up the hockey world when the announcement came of Richards’ trade to the Kings. Flyers fans were reeling as the team sent its thought-to-be longtime captain to the West Coast.
The team make-up was strange. Veterans like Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen still led the defense, but Simmonds, Voracek and especially Schenn molded the offense into a much younger forward corps. There was still Claude Giroux and Danny Briere to lead the offense, but the team seemed more like playoff hopefuls than Stanley Cup contenders.
One thing was for sure though: the Flyers would have their man in net. Hours after the two deals, the team signed Bryzgalov to a nine-year/$51 million deal.
Over the rest of the summer, Philly began to rebuild its team by drafting Couturier, signing Max Talbot and Jaromir Jagr and dealing Kris Versteeg.
Five Years Later
Richards is no longer with the Kings. Carter didn’t last a full season with the Blue Jackets and the Flyers used an amnesty clause to buy out the rest of Bryzgalov’s contract in 2013. It’s safe to say nothing went as planned for any of the teams in any of those deals.
Carter was later acquired by the Kings and he helped the team to two Stanley Cups in three years. Ditto for Richards. Yet, Richards was also bought out by the Kings last summer after a couple of years of diminishing play and some off-ice issues.
Los Angeles has to be happy with the deals, but it probably also expected many more years of service from the former Flyers captain. Instead the team will carry a $1.3 million cap penalty from Richards’ buy out until 2020.
The Blue Jackets could never quite make Carter happy in Columbus and they shipped him out for Jack Johnson and a first-round draft pick. Despite only eight months since the Flyers deal, Carter’s stock had fallen quickly.
Since then, Carter has become a more all-around player and is part of the Kings’ core as they try to get back into Stanley Cup contention. Once thought of as living behind Richards’ shadow, Carter is now easily the better of the pair.
Bryzgalov was a bust for the Flyers and the team entered rebuilding/retooling mode in the past few years, but Philadelphia would still make both of those trades. The benefits of trading Richards for a 30-goal power forward and a 50-point player is obvious.
Carter as a second-line center would be a help, but Couturier is developing into that role and Voracek is a first-line winger. Plus, the third-round pick turned into Nick Cousins, who earned a third-line spot this past season.
The argument against the Flyers is that the Kings won two Cups, while Philly has won one playoff series since the trades. However, Los Angeles also had Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Drew Doughty, which the Flyers could never replicate.