Thursday, June 23, 2011

Flyer Makeover A Huge Risk

Every so often, the Flyers do an overhaul. After acquiring the free agent rights to Ilya Bryzgalov from the Coyotes, it was obvious that Paul Holmgren was desperate to get the Russian signed, sealed and delivered as their latest No.1 goalie. With speculation that former 40-goal sniper Jeff Carter would move to Columbus, the much discussed trade finally came down today with the center going to the Blue Jackets for forward Jakub Voracek, plus a first (8th overall) and third round pick in this weekend's Draft.

Unloading Carter, who still has 11 years left on his contract worth a cap hit of $5.272 million- made plenty of sense- allowing the Flyers to free up necessary cap space to fit Bryzgalov in. The ex-Coyote netminder agreed in principle to a nine-year $51 million deal that will pay him $5.67 M on average. A huge risk for the just turned 30-year old who rarely has distinguished himself in the playoffs. The lone exception being when he helped the Ducks advance to the second round in place of J.S. Giguere back in '06. Since winning half a dozen with a 1.46 GAA, .944 save percentage and three shutouts, he's gone 6-9 with a 3.33 GAA, .902 save percentage with no shutouts. Hardly what you expect from a guy you're investing nine years in until the age of 40. Discounting part of Anaheim's '07 championship run in which he posted a 3-1 mark with a 2.25 GAA, .925 save percentage over five games before Giguere returned, Brygalov's gone 3-8 with a 3.77 GAA and .896 save percentage. Of course, you can argue that he faced a tough opponent with the 'Yotes unable to match the Red Wings' firepower. After pushing them seven, they were swept this past Spring. The numbers are ugly (4.36 GAA, .876).

So, the Flyers go for a guy who by all accounts is a quality No.1 who's backstopped Phoenix to consecutive postseasons without any real star power. With apologies to Shane Doan, the 'Yotes offense makes ours look Godly. At least they have a legit No.1 defenseman in Keith Yandle, who was snubbed for the Norris. Did he even make one of the All-Star Teams during last night's Awards in Vegas? For Bryzgalov, offense shouldn't be a problem as long as emerging star Claude Giroux, vet Daniel Briere and ready to breakout Jersey kid James van Riemsdyk produce. The Flyers also still have deadline acquisition Kris Versteeg due $3.08 M through '11-12 before the CBA expires. It'll take a balanced effort from the likes of Scott Hartnell, Darroll Powe and newcomers Voracek and Wayne Simmonds, who was added in a stunning blockbuster with the Kings for ex-captain Mike Richards.

Everyone knew Philly needed to shed salary even with the cap increasing to $64 million. Most expected them to move Carter and retain Richards. Instead, both '03 first round gems are gone, stunning the hockey world. Not surprisingly, Flyer fans are up in arms over trading Richards, who was very popular despite rumors he wasn't the right leader in the room- probably losing out to vet Chris Pronger in a power struggle. It was easy to see why they got rid of Carter, who was a poor playoff performer- posting only 21 points (13-8-21) with a glaring minus-14 rating over 47 games. Granted. He fought through injuries the past two playoffs that limited his ability. However, unloading Richards was something unexpected, essentially handing the reigns over to Giroux and Van Riemsdyk, who was remarkable despite his club getting destroyed by eventual champ Boston in the Eastern Semis.

The Kings had a need but I'm not even sure they filled it by trading for Richards with top prospect Brayden Schenn, Simmonds and a second rounder moving to the City Of Brotherly Love. In one aspect, it makes sense for LA by giving top pivot Anze Kopitar some help- allowing Jarrett Stoll to move down to the third line where he belongs. They also now are stuck with the 26 year-old two-way center for the next nine years through '19-20 at an average of $5.75 million. Look. Richards is an outstanding player but it's hard to see him ever reaching his '08-09 career marks of 30 goals, 50 assists and 80 points ever again. The way he plays isn't conducive in a more physical West. His production has gone from 80 to 62 and 65 the past two seasons. He better pan out for a Cup starved franchise or one day, they actually may regret such a move.
How is LA retaining Drew Doughty when they're locked in on Kopitar, Richards, Justin Williams and Jack Johnson? Jon Quick is signed through '12-13 and vets Ryan Smyth, Dustin Penner, Stoll, Willie Mitchell all are up next summer. With Stoll assuming the third line role, perhaps that spells the end of ex-Flyer Michal Handzus, who's been a solid player in Hollywood. It'll be interesting to see what they do with current RFA Doughty. Plus the development of backup goalie Jonathan Bernier will push Quick.

On paper, the Kings look great. Whether they can mesh remains to be seen. Meanwhile, a new Era is underway in Philadelphia with Giroux, JVR and possibly potential UFA Ville Leino leading the way. What gets lost with the two blockbusters is that one of the club's most consistent performers, who they stole off waivers from Detroit- may now re-up. The Flyers still have enough space to possibly fit Leino in with Group II's Voracek, Simmonds, Powe and pest Daniel Carcillo, who could be on the outs. If Holmgren is able to keep Leino, his new look Flyers become a lot more formidable. The wild card is the talented Schenn, who the Kings were never patient with. This is a former fifth overall pick in '09, who could be close to NHL ready. It's not like the Flyers have to rush him with a solid nucleus still in place. Especially on the back end led by Pronger and Kimmo Timonen, who along with Matt Carle, Andrej Meszaros, Braydon Coburn and Matt Walker comprise the top six if Sean O'Donnell isn't back. There's also Oskars Bartulis, who could see more time.

In taking such calculated risks today, it's hard to determine if Holmgren finally constructed the Flyers' third Cup winner since the days of Bobby ClarkeBernie Parent, Bill Barber and the rest of the Broad Street Bullies. A lot depends on what else they do this July. You know they're not done. Could he even bring in a center to help offset the losses? Who knows. One thing is clear. The Flyers once again are willing to roll the dice, even if the Bryzgalov contract is equally as bad if not worse than the pair of salaries they dumped. If they don't win now, they are set up for the future. No small accomplishment.

The real loser might be Columbus, who gave up a lot for an injury prone Carter who must stay healthy to support Rick Nash. If they are to be successful, he better stay healthy and produce. This is a franchise that's made the playoffs once and hardly have a No.1 goalie or a top flight D. Maybe it will work. However, there are still plenty of questions for the Jackets to answer before we take them seriously.

What a crazy day. It should only get more exciting over the next week.


Hasan said...

Trading one of Richards or Carter I can understand, trading both without getting a big center back is just bizarre. It also looks bad that they dealt Carter before paying him a dime on the contract they signed him to, and traded him and Richards before their NTC's kicked in.

At least Richards is on another good team though, if I'm Carter I'm a bit disillusioned at the prospect of being in Columbus the next eleven years.

I gotta hand it to this league though, they've really eliminated the offseason almost entirely. Well one still exists but it's between the first two weeks of the UFA frenzy and camp in September, for the most part. Between the awards, the schedule coming out, all the moves today, the draft this weekend and UFA next weekend, the NHL stays in the news even after the Cup win.

Derek Felix said...

Totally agree Hasan. I never feel like the season's that far off with all the news. If there's one plus with the crazy reg./playoff schedule, it's a short offseason.

Someone felt that Carter traded was bad due to the rumor. But they traded their captain with him finding out online. Only the Leetch trade was handled worse.

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