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Friday, July 1, 2011

Flyers: Back To The Drawing Board?

So last week I was talking to my friend Kurt on the phone as I had just begun checking out my usual online haunts. My browser's home page is Yahoo.com, and it was there I saw a headline. "The Flyers traded Jeff Carter," I said to Kurt rather nonchalantly. I was sort of expecting it. Carter has scored a lot of goals but isn't quite as strong defensively as he could or should be, and seems to disappear at times, particularly in the playoffs. With the Flyers needing to clear salary in order to sign goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, having acquired his rights in a trade in order to have exclusive negotiating rights before free agency (which begins at noon today), Carter was the most obvious candidate. His salary is high but he's got enough talent that teams would want him, and Columbus was the team that ended up getting him.

Kurt and I kept talking, and I moved on from the Yahoo article, and clicked on Philly.com. There, I saw something that made me yell into the phone.

"What is it?"

It really makes me wonder what was going on behind the scenes in Flyerland. There's been a lot of talk about Richards' actions as captain, his leadership (or lack thereof), rumored issues with head coach Peter Laviolette and/or Chris Pronger, his snippiness towards the media, but I never thought it would lead to a trade. Considering his skills on the ice, particularly with penalty-killing, the two trades combined seem to leave the Flyers further away from winning a Stanley Cup, at least in 2012. They put together a surprising run to the finals in 2010, which raised expectations for 2011. They fell well short, fading down the stretch during the regular season and losing first place in the Eastern Conference. They barely survived the first playoff round against Buffalo before being wiped out in four by the eventual Cup champion Boston Bruins.

In the wake of that disappointment, the blame game went into high gear, with much of it falling upon the goaltending and the injuries to Pronger. By trading for Bryzgalov the Flyers seemed to indicate that they agreed with that assessment. A new goalie, one who has a strong track record (although whether he's a playoff goalie is still a bit in question), and a healthy Pronger and the Flyers are ready for another run at their first Cup since 1975, right? Sure, they're losing the goals Carter provided but they figure Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk will continue to improve. But trading Richards as well (to Los Angeles) seems like a risk. Not that I think the trades are bad. The Flyers got back three players and three draft picks. One of the players, Brayden Schenn, is a highly touted young player. The others are considered to have some potential as well, but Schenn seems to be the key. If he's ready to play in the NHL it will go a long way in filling the void. But he's only 19 (20 in August) and has played just nine games for the Kings.

Had the other shoe dropped this week as rumored, I'd have felt a lot better. There was all kinds of speculation that the Flyers would offer a contract to restricted free agent Steven Stamkos, a young superstar in the making, and make such a proposal difficult, if not impossible, for Tampa Bay to match. But today the Flyers announced they wouldn't be in the running for Stamkos. So they now have a decent amount of salary cap room even after signing Bryzgalov. How wisely they use it will determine how far they go in 2012.

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