Kukla's Korner Hockey
by pcoffey on 06/23/11 at 10:01 PM ET
If you’re a Philadelphia Flyers fan, there is one thing you can never complain about, namely an inability or unwillingness from Paul Holmgren to make moves.
Holmgren is never gun-shy when it comes to shuffling the deck, be it trading picks and prospects to buy some negotiating time with a free agent like Scott Hartnell or Dam Hamhuis, or making a lot of noise at the Entry Draft in acquiring Chris Pronger.
Or drastically changing the core of a Flyers team one year removed from an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, as Holmgren did so emphatically Thursday.
The trade of Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets had been bouncing around the rumor mill for a couple weeks, much like word of the ongoing contract talks with goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
But the trade of Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings is the one that really shook up things. More than any other player, Richards was the face of the Flyers, a young player who many considered to be a new Bobby Clarke. So, dealing Richards to the Los Angeles Kings was a real eye-opener, but in retrospect made a lot of sense.
For all his toughness on the ice, Richards was proving to be thin-skinned off the ice. That’s not a helpful trait in a city with a big media contingent and rabid fans. Talk that Richards and coach Peter Laviolette weren’t seeing eye-to-eye also made the rounds this season, another disconcerting sign. Richards’ occasional disappearing acts when it came to dealing with the media—a requirement for a captain—also didn’t sit well with the organization or its veteran players. From Holmgren’s perspective it wasn’t going to get better, so cut bait on Richards’ long-term deal and move in some prospects and picks.
The deal also makes sense from a Kings’ perspective as GM Dean Lombardi needed to make a significant move to upgrade his roster for the present. Adding a player of Richards’ caliber is a boon for the Kings, despite giving up two interesting prospects in Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. Richards ought to thrive in a more laid-back California, and adding another center of his caliber should give Anze Kopitar more room to operate as well.
“We felt at this stage of the franchise it was time to make a significant move for an impact player,” Lombardi said. “Mike Richards is not only one of the top players in the league, he’s also universally recognized as one of the finer leaders in the game and one of its elite competitors. Additionally, given that he’s only 26-years-old and he’s on a long-term contract, he fits our plan now and for the long-term future.”
“What we did today was make two good hockey trades, in our opinion, and I think Columbus and Los Angeles would say the same thing,” Holmgren told Chuck Gormley of the Camden Courier Post. “Both Mike and Jeff were good players for our organization and did a lot of great things, and we wish them both well. 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. And 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. So it kind of led to that.
“We had said for a number of years to our local guys that I really liked our team, and I still did, even a few days ago. Today we’re a different team, and I really like this team, the way it’s structured right now. 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.”
To summarize, the Flyers’ haul from the two deals are as follows:
* Jakub Voracek, 21, scored 14 goals and 12 assists for Columbus last season. Currently a restricted free agent, he was selected seventh by the Blue Jackets in 2007.
* Brayden Schenn, 19, was the fifth selection in 2009 and played in nine games with the Kings last season. He scored 22 goals and 35 assists in 29 Western Hockey League games last season and also scored eight goals and 10 assists in seven games for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships.
* Wayne Simmonds, 22, has three NHL seasons under his belt after being a second-round pick in ‘07. He scored 14 goals and 16 assists in 80 games last season and scored 16 goals and 24 assists in 2009-10.
* The first-round pick from Columbus is eighth overall.
* The second-round selection from Los Angeles is the 49th overall.
* And, of course, Bryzgalov, who was signed to a long-term deal to be “the man” in goal for the Flyers, replacing both Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher.
“We spent a lot of time talking internally since the end of the season,” Holmgren said. “When you make a commitment to go out and acquire a goalie that you view as an upper-echelon goalie, you know you’re going to have to pay him. So I think things at least internally here, what can we do to make this work financially, cap-wise … we started talking about some things, and some of the phone calls we received inquiring about what are you going to do if you do reach an agreement with Ilya, and things went on from that.
“I can reflect back on a lot of things,” Holmgren said of dealing Richards. “I do view Claude (Giroux) a lot like Mike. Did that make it easier to trade Mike? I guess, a little bit. Both these trades were very difficult for us to make, but at the end of the day, we do think we made good hockey deals and I’m sure LA and Columbus would say the same thing.”
We mentioned what the deal does for Los Angeles earlier. What the deal does for Columbus is add another proven scorer (Carter had 36 goals and 66 points last season.) to take some of the heat off Rick Nash. But GM Scott Howson seemingly has some other moves to make to vault the Blue Jackets into a playoff contender in the Western Conference.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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