Philadelphia Flyers have blockbuster day, but did they improve?
Take a deep breath and read those lines again.
No. Longer. Flyers.
For Jeff Carter, this is the conclusion of an epic saga that has lasted over two full seasons. Long criticized by fans for his supposed one-dimensional play and tendency to shoot high-and-wide, Carter was consistently the focus of trade rumors. Today simply feels like the culmination of that never-ending chatter.
But Mike Richards? The captain of the team? Arguably the face of the franchise?
Gone as well.
Lost in the departure of the team's high-profile stars was the signing of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who inked a nine year, $51 million dollar contract. No longer will league observers be able to legitimately argue that the Flyers have overlooked the goalie position. No longer will the Flyers be a league joke when it comes to the man between the pipes.
But at what cost?
There are two ways to look at these deals: each deal in a vacuum, and the deals as a whole. First, we'll break down each deal.
Flyers trade Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jakub Voracek, a 2011 1st Round Pick (8th overall), and a 2011 3rd Round Pick.
The first domino to fall in this day of deals was the trade of Jeff Carter. A three-time 30 goal scorer, Carter has established himself as one of the NHL's elite snipers. In addition, despite the howls of critics, Carter quietly became a very strong two-way forward, facing the toughest competition of any Flyers' forward in 2010-11 while still putting up 36 goals and 66 points.
But the Flyers chose to move Carter now, for three reasons.
First, Carter's $5.27 million cap hit would kick in at the start of the 2011-12 season. GM Paul Holmgren saw a salary dump of Jeff Carter to be an efficient way to afford a goaltending upgrade.
Second, Carter lacked both a no-trade clause and a no-movement clause at this moment. However, his NTC would kick in next season, making Carter a much more difficult asset to move. Holmgren likely felt that this would be the best opportunity to receive full value in a trade for Carter.
Which leads to the third reason Carter was chosen to be the salary dump: value. For a forward that has proven that he will be a yearly threat to exceed 35 goals, a $5.27 million cap hit is fairly reasonable. Therefore, a team with a need for a goal-scoring center would be willing to offer an attractive package to the Flyers for Carter.
The Columbus Blue Jackets obliged.
The key piece of the deal was 21-year old RW Jakub Voracek. Voracek, taken 7th overall by the Blue Jackets in 2007, already has played three full seasons in the NHL, and has amassed 39 goals and 95 assists in 241 games. Considering his young age, Voracek likely has untapped scoring potential - and is already a legitimate NHL forward with the ability to score 45 points in a season.
So why was Voracek dealt?
The Blue Jackets felt his play stagnated in 2010-11, as he regressed from 50 points in 09-10 to 46 in 10-11. In addition, Voracek's entry level contract expired, making him an restricted free agent (RFA).
Still, Voracek has plenty of value. Think of Voracek as Ville Leino, except six years younger and with tons more potential, both offensively and defensively. He'll likely garner a contract from the Flyers in the range of $2.0 - $2.5 million, making him a reasonably priced asset as a borderline top-six forward with the potential to eventually develop into a top line option.
The Flyers also received two draft picks in the deal. First, they gained Columbus' 1st round pick in tomorrow night's NHL Draft. The pick is 8th overall, giving the Flyers the ability to select a top prospect in the draft. Prior to the trade, the Flyers had not possessed a first round pick in this draft, due to their acquisition of Kris Versteeg at midseason. The Flyers also received a third round pick in the deal.
Verdict of the Carter Trade
When viewed on its own, the Carter trade provided very solid value for the Flyers. While Voracek is obviously not a 35+ goal scorer, the fact that he will be only 22 years old at the start of the 2011-12 season and already an established 45 point scorer makes him extremely valuable.
He will likely garner a cap hit less than half of Jeff Carter's current number, saving the Flyers valuable space.
In addition, the 8th overall selection will be the first 1st rounder that the Flyers have had since 2008, when they selected Luca Sbisa. With this pick, the Flyers could choose to restock their depth at center, or use the pick to move up, possibly in an attempt to select top defenseman prospect Adam Larsson or forward prospect Gabriel Landeskog. Landeskog, ironically, has been called by scouting services "a Mike Richards clone."
While Jeff Carter has always been underrated by the Flyers' fanbase, this is a strong return. Voracek will deliver top-six forward point totals with the potential for further improvement at a reasonable price, while the 1st round draft pick will give the Flyers an opportunity to replenish their farm system with a top prospect. The third round pick is an added bonus, and hopefully will be used wisely.
Flyers trade Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, and a 2012 2nd Round Pick.
Now here's the unexpected one.
Mike Richards, captain of the Philadelphia Flyers since 2008, and arguably the face of the franchise, became the second casualty of the events of June 23, 2011.
But just because Richards was a casualty does not mean he was a cap casualty.
With Ilya Bryzgalov signed and Jeff Carter removed from the roster, the Flyers would have had $7.6 million in cap space to sign six players, including the newly acquired Voracek.
Difficult? Sure. Impossible? Of course not, especially after taking into account the fact that Andreas Nodl and Darroll Powe are restricted free agents and will likely sign for less than one million dollars a piece.
So if the Richards trade was not a cap-induced deal, why was the Flyers captain moved today?
The most likely explanation: attitude and off-the-ice antics.
Richards has long been criticized by the media and fans alike for his partying lifestyle, and his apparent immaturity in dealing with the press.
Most fans, however, shrugged off the concerns. And Richards performed admirably on the ice, becoming a perennial 60 point scorer while being matched up against the opponent's top lines on a nightly basis.
The highlight of his Flyers career, of course, will remain the shorthanded goal that he scored in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Montreal last season, a goal that helped to allow him to lift the Prince of Wales trophy later that night.
However, 2010-11 did not prove to be nearly as successful a season for Richards. He scored only 23 goals, his lowest total since 2006-07, and even saw his status as the Flyers' top shutdown center diminish, as Jeff Carter and Claude Giroux often stepped into the role. In addition, Richards dealt with a nagging wrist injury all season long.
Throughout the year, Richards continued to be criticized for his failures as a captain and team leader. And with vocal assistant captain Chris Pronger sidelined, the Flyers were embarrassingly swept by the Boston Bruins in the second round of the postseason.
This trade seems to signify that the organization has their doubts regarding Richards' desire to be a team leader, and his overall dedication to the game. That would be the only explanation for trading away a team captain.
In addition, Richards had a no-movement clause that was scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2012.
If the Flyers wanted to move Richards, they were going to have to do it soon.
The 19-year old Schenn, the top prospect not currently in the NHL according to both The Hockey News and hockeysfuture.com, is ready to step onto the Flyers' roster right now. He dominated the WHL in three seasons, scoring 315 points in only 224 games. In addition, he played fantastically at the World Junior Championships in December, compiling 18 points in only seven games.
Simmonds, a 22-year old winger, has earned a reputation as a top-notch two-way forward. He scored 40 points in 2009-10, and 30 points in 2010-11, and will likely slot in as a 3rd line winger on the Flyers.
Verdict of the Richards Trade
As a superior player, it's not surprising that Richards garnered better trade value that Carter.
Brayden Schenn is a fantastic prospect, and will be able to contribute to the team in 2011-12. He has legitimate top line potential, and is the closest thing to a "can't miss" prospect that exists in the NHL.
At the very least, Schenn will become a second-line center, slotting behind Claude Giroux for the forseeable future.
Simmons is an RFA currently, but will likely earn a contract between $1.5 and $2.0 million a year, making him a reasonably priced option for the top-nine as well.
But the centerpiece of the deal is Schenn - and he's a fantastic centerpiece.
If the Flyers' organization was convinced that the team would not win a championship with Richards as a team leader, this was about as good of a return as they could have expected.
Flyers sign Ilya Bryzgalov to a 9 year, $51 million contract
Finally, the last element of the Flyers' day.
The long-awaited Ilya Bryzgalov deal came to fruition following the Carter and Richards trades, giving the 31-year old Russian goaltender a $5.66 million a year cap hit.
At this time, it appears that the deal does not contain a no-trade clause, or a no-movement clause.
Verdict of the Bryzgalov Signing
Ignore the years. What matters is the cap hit.
And a $5.66 million a year cap hit is not terrible for a goalie of Bryzgalov's caliber, considering the market and past goaltender contracts.
Is it a slight overpay? Yes. But it's in the general range that a high-caliber goaltender expects to earn.
Many have expressed concern over the length of the deal. However, as long as the deal does not contain a no-movement clause, the Flyers can easily either trade Bryzgalov away if they find a cheaper option, or (more likely) stash him in the minors or loan him to Europe, which would take his contract off of the cap.
Will the Flyers still be paying him? Of course. Is it my money? Nope. Do I care if Ed Snider burns a hole through his pocket when he obviously is willing to spare no expense for a title?
Not at all.
Once the Flyers had decided that Bryzgalov needed to be signed, many expressed fear over a ridiculous overpay.
A $5.66 million cap hit is not that ridiculous overpay.
The Big Picture
So, the Flyers got good return on their two trades, and didn't completely hamstring their future cap situation with the Bryzgalov signing.
But here's the question. Do the moves actually make the Flyers a better team?
Today, the answer is no.
The Flyers dealt away one of the best two-way forwards in the league, and a 35+ goal scorer. In return, they got Ilya Bryzgalov, a forward who can be expected to give Ville Leino-level production in Voracek, a defensively responsible forward in Wayne Simmonds, and a top prospect with elite potential in Schenn.
Bryzgalov is a great goalie. But even if he produces a 0.920 total save percentage, as he has in the past two seasons, it would only be a 0.007 improvement over the 0.913 team save percentage that the Flyers' goalies produced in 2010-11.
It's an improvement, but not a drastic one. So does the slight improvement in overall goaltender performance outweigh the dropoff in scoring?
Let's assume that this was a choice between Carter, Richards, and Nodl receiving top-nine minutes, and Schenn, Simmonds, and Voracek receiving top-nine minutes. We'll give Schenn a very generous 20 goal, 20 assist projection.
Carter/Richards/Nodl: 72 goals, 93 assists, 165 points
Voracek/Simmonds/Schenn: 50 goals, 75 assists, 125 points.
So you've essentially lost 22 goals and 40 total points for the right to have a 0.007 improvement in overall save percentage.
Unless James van Riemsdyk has a massive breakout season, the Flyers will have a sizable drop in goalscoring in 2011-12, without the goaltending really making up for it.
So was this a move looking to the future?
However, it's tough to fully look to the future when your top two defensemen are over the age of 35.
By the time Schenn, Voracek, and the prospect chosen with the 8th overall pick are in their primes, Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen will be finished as impact d-men.
This team had about two more seasons with two legitimately elite defensemen. Now, those years will likely be spent as a four or five seed in the Eastern Conference, with the team hoping everything breaks right for a miracle run through the postseason.
So in conclusion, the Flyers will be downgrading in 2011-12 after these moves. They are now better suited to continue to be a contender for the next 5-7 seasons after these moves, but following the departure of Timonen and inevitable decline of Pronger, the Flyers will lack the elite defense that has been the backbone of the team for the past three seasons.
The Flyers will remain a contender - these moves do not change that. But the chances of a Stanley Cup coming down Broad Street in the near future have taken a hit. And for a team that, as recently as February seemed to be the favorite to win it all, that's a bit difficult to swallow.