Flyers Get Major Facelift; Richards, Carter Dealt, Bryzgalov Signed

By David Strehle
ot Stove Creative Editor

They say big events come in threes and for the Philadelphia Flyers, that could not be any more true after this afternoon.  Within just a couple of hours, the very face of the Philadelphia franchise got a complete makeover.

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In a day that will live in infamy be one of the most memorable in the organization’s rich history, captain Mike Richards and leading goal-scorer Jeff Carter were each sent packing in separate trades within hours of each other, and the signing of UFA goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was officially announced.

I think probably what got the ball rolling for a lot of talk over the last 10 or 12 days was the acquisition of the negotiating rights for Ilya Bryzgalov,” GM Paul Holmgren said via conference call this afternoon.  ”That set the wheels in motion.  Most teams probably viewed us as trying to sign Ilya – we did come to an agreement today – and I think that got the ball rolling.  I know over the last few days, I spent a lot of time talking particularly with both Los Angeles and Columbus, and that culminated in what happened today.”

The first came when Carter was dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jakub Voracek, the eighth overall pick and a third rounder in tomorrow’s NHL Entry Draft.  For analysis of that deal, click here.

While most were letting the magnitude of the Carter deal sink in, the heads of those in Flyers’ Nation were further spun around when it was announced that Richards was sent to the Los Angeles Kings for forwards Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds.

Schenn, who will turn 20 in August and carries an annual price tag of $3.11 million for the next three seasons, has played in just nine NHL games.   The six-foot, one-inch, 190-pound fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft has two career assists.

Simmonds turns 23 in August.  The six-foot, two-inch, 183-pound right winger has played 240 games in three NHL seasons, scoring 39 goals and recording 93 points, while racking up 264 PIMs.  In 12 playoff games, Simmonds has three goals, six points, and 29 PIMs.

Just like Voracek, Simmonds is also a RFA and will have to negotiate a new deal with Holmgren.  Forwards Dan Carcillo, Darroll Powe, and Andreas Nodl are also RFAs.

If you look at raw numbers the Flyers traded away two big-time goal scorers in Carter (career-high of 46 goals) and Richards (31) heading into the prime years of their careers, for three forwards who collectively have never scored more than 16 in a single season – both Voracek and Simmonds have netted 16 as a season-high.  Schenn has never scored an NHL goal.

The Kings’ forwards should bring a great deal of energy, physicality, and make Philadelphia a tough team to face – especially in a grinding, seven-game playoff series.

Both Mike and Jeff were good players for our organization and did a lot of great things, and we wish them both well,” Holmgren said.  ”The players we acquired for those players are good players in their own right.  We looked at our team at the end of the year and felt we needed to get bigger on the wing.”

I think with the acquisition of Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds, both those guys are bigger wingers that can play in your top-nine mix of forwards,”the GM continued.  ”Perhaps the hidden gem in this whole thing is Brayden Schenn.  In our opinion, he’s one of the top, if not the top young player outside the NHL.”

When asked if he envisioned Schenn making the Flyers in the upcoming season, Holmgren said he will be given an opportunity.

The guy that’s really going to answer that is Brayden Schenn,” Holmgren surmised.  ”We view him as one of the top young players not playing in the league.  He’s had a little bit of a taste with Los Angeles over the last two years, and he went to the American league last year and played some games at the end of the season.  We’ll see how it goes.  He’s going to come to our development camp in early July and obviously will be at training camp.  I can easily say we think he’s capable of doing it, but as with any young player, you never know until you get to that point.  So he’s going to be given every opportunity to make our team, for sure.”

Like Carter, Richards is also 26 and was taken in the first round of the 2003 draft.  In six NHL seasons, Richards played in 453 games, scoring 133 goals and posting 349 points.  In 63 postseason contests, the man that wore the “C” since the 2009-10 campaign scored 16 goals and recorded 50 points.

Perhaps the defining moment in Richards’ time in Philadelphia was when he scored “The Goal” against the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Finals last year.  While on the penalty kill, Richards made a rink-long dash for a loose puck that he, then-Habs’ goalie Jaroslav Halak, and defenseman Roman Hamrlik converged on the puck at the same time.  All three fell to the ice, but Richards got up and arrived at the loose disc first.  He was able to tuck a shot into the vacated net for a memorable shorthanded goal on the way to leading the Flyers to a clinching win that put them in the Stanley Cup Finals.

There were likely some factors that went into Flyers management’s thinking before pulling the trigger on two of the biggest deals in the team’s recent years.

Richards had a no-movement clause that would have gone into affect starting next summer, so the timing may have played a key part in how everything played out regarding the native of Kenora, Ontario.

The development of Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk also played a part.

Certainly the emergence of Claude over the last few years has been a factor,” Holmgren said.  ”I think the ascension of James over the last part of the season and particularly the playoffs – I think we have two good young players there that are on the verge of doing even better things for our team.  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.  That really helped in that regard.”

Maybe most important were murmurs questioning Richards’ leadership abilites after Philadelphia was swept out of the playoffs by the Boston Bruins in the second round.  Many in the media pointed the finger squarely in the direction of the captain, even when it was announced after their premature exit that he was playing with an injured hand that required surgery.  Richards’ time with the Flyers was marked by a stormy relationship with certain journalists, especially when he took offense to a post-playoff article by one prominent member of the media and responded with a reactionary post on Twitter.

Captain, My Captain

Now that Richards is gone, it should fully be expected to see defenseman Chris Pronger named as the new team captain.  Pronger was the vocal leader of the team for much of the last two seasons, and was one of the few players that would speak up when the club’s bad habits contributed to a losing skid down the stretch this year.

But Holmgren said that hasn’t been discussed as of yet.

That’s a good question,” the GM said.  ”I can honestly say we have not once talked about that.  There’s some guys on our team that have been captain on previous teams they’ve been on.  So we have some guys that certainly we could talk about.  I haven’t even abroached the subject with Peter Laviolette and we haven’t talked about any of that internally.”

Salary and UFAs

In the salary department, Holmgren now has the most room under the limit that he’s had since taking over as GM.  At the moment, Philadelphia has 18 players under contract and just under $7.6 million left in cap space.   One thing is for certain, if Holmgren truly has intentions of re-signing pending UFA winger Ville Leino, he has the ability to do so now.

With the dust still settling from the enormity of those two moves, it was finally possible to announce that Bryzgalov had been inked to a 9-year, $51.5 million contract.  With the fact that he just turned 31 years old yesterday, the outspoken Russian netminder will finish his career as a Flyer.  Here’s a breakdown of the contract by TSN’s Bob McKenzie via Twitter.

As far as moves, it would appear that Holmgren isn’t done yet.  There are rumors that Holmgren may be shopping winger Kris Versteeg, and there might be something in the works with the Florida Panthers.  Philly’s GM may end up making a run at another Richards – UFA center Brad Richards, formerly of the Dallas Stars.

Any time you take out two 26-year-olds and you sprinkle in a 22, 23 and 20 year old, you’re younger for sure,” Holmgren assessed when asked if his club may not have enough experience at forward.  ”That’ll be something we talk about once we get past the draft leading up to the July 1st free agency period.”

Holmgren (FINALLY) Feeling a Draft

As far as the draft, Holmgren definitely upgraded his position.  Before today, the Flyers held just five picks, the first being in the third round – #84 overall.

Rumors persist that the Flyers will attempt to move up from the #8 spot and pick up one of the top three picks in hopes of landing Gabriel Landeskog.  The physical, six-foot, 200-pound Swedish-born forward that scored 36 goals and 66 points for the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers is said to be NHL-ready, and the way he plays the game fits in well with Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette’s style of play.

Coincidentally, the Florida Panthers – of whom Holmgren is reportedly speaking with regarding Versteeg – owns the number three overall pick.  Hmmm…smoke, meet fire.

But with a plethora of young forwards to build around and Pronger and Kimmo Timonen getting up in years, Holmgren may instead look to grab a defenseman.  After the top blue line prospect Adam Larsson (another Swedish-born prospect – 6′ 2′, 200 pounds), others include Duncan Siemens (6′ 3″, 192 pounds), Ryan Murphy (5′ 10″, 160 pounds), Dougie Hamilton (6′ 4″, 193 pounds), and Nathan Beaulieu (6′ 3″, 191 pounds).

The Net Result

It’s all about how Holmgren feels about his club, and right now he likes what he sees.

Today we’re a different team, and I really like this team, the way it’s structured right now,” he said.  ”Obviously, the ability to agree to terms today with Ilya was a big factor moving forward.  We’ve solidified that position.  Our defense remains intact, and we’ve made some changes up front where we have bigger wingers.  We’re ready to move forward.  We have a little bit of freedom left in terms of the salary cap, which is nice.  Right now we’re in a position where we have acquired a high draft pick in this year’s draft, so we’re busy preparing for tomorrow and the first round of the draft.”

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