There’s a warning label for this story:
The argument you read below will suggest that the Flyers officially won the two major trades they made in the summer of 2011 knowing full well that both of those players went on to win a Stanley Cup together in Los Angeles.
The person making the argument (yours truly) is not trying to measure the career paths of the players involved, but rather will break down each individual trade for its own individual value and do so while maintaining the mutual exclusivity of the two transactions.
It’s easy to say the Kings won a Stanley Cup and the Flyers didn’t and use that as the measure. But in fairness to the Flyers, that shouldn’t be the case, as it took a separate transaction between Los Angeles and Columbus to reunite Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in time for the Stanley Cup run.
Here then, is an assessment of the trades 32 months later…
The Flyers needed a goalie. Holy cow did they need a goalie. A playoff roller coaster in a seven-game series with Buffalo they should have won far easier and a four game sweep against a Boston team who completely dismantled them had a harsh spotlight shined on the goal crease.
Brian Boucher did his best, but he was nearing the end of his career. Sergei Bobrovsky was an up-and-coming talent, but was a deer in headlights in his first playoff appearance. Michael Leighton, the savior a season earlier in a miraculous Stanley Cup Final run, was completely out of magic dust.
So, the Flyers needed to get someone that off season. There weren’t many options, so they stalked, and eventually signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a mammoth contract that, we all know by now, was a mistake.
But at the time, it was seen as a necessity, and to make it work the Flyers had to lose a lot of salary and still be able to remain competitive. With Claude Giroux poised to become an elite player, the Flyers had two key pieces that could bring good return and make everything work out cap-wise.
It seemed ridiculous at the time to trade your two stalwart offensive players, but the Flyers were bullish on the return.
First, they moved Jeff Carter to Columbus. The return was Jake Voracek, who had shown some promise but hadn’t quite lived up to expectations for the Blue Jackets, and two draft picks – a first rounder, which would be No. 8 overall, and a third rounder.
When the draft rolled around, the Flyers were expecting to take one of the top-ranked defensive prospects in a defense-heavy draft. They knew Adam Larsson would be off the board, but aside from that, the Flyers could have the next-best choice.
And while they would ponder the likes of Dougie Hamilton (Boston), Jonas Brodin (Minnesota) and Ryan Murphy (Carolina) they never expected Sean Couturier to slowly slip down the draft board.
At one time considered the top North American skater in his class, Couturier started to fall down the board after a bout with mononucleosis left the start of his junior season to be slower than expected.
When Ottawa, the New York Islanders and Winnipeg all passed over Couturier for Ryan Strome, Mika Zibanejad and Mark Scheifele respectively, the Flyers suddenly decided to change course and draft Couturier.
Since the trade, Voracek has basically out-performed Carter in all statistical measures, both traditional and advanced metrics.
Voracek has been healthier, playing 32 more games than Carter in that span and has put up more points (133-101) and is a plus-player (+3) to Carter’s (minus-8). And while those latter statistics are often shot down by the advanced numbers guys, puck possession figures have Voracek way out in front of Carter as far as being a driver of play.
Couple that with the fact that Voracek is five years younger than Carter, was a more affordable option and controllable as a restricted free agent, and it turned out to be a good swap.
And then there’s Couturier….
All he’s done is grow into one of the top defensive-minded forwards in the league at such a tender age, and has added a little offense as well with 67 points in 178 games. He’s durable, his conditioning is the best on the Flyers, he kills penalties really well, plays some second unit power play and almost by rote is on the ice against the best players of the opposing team – and he’s still on the ice for more goals for than against.
The Flyers basically got him for free if you consider Voracek-for-Carter to be an even swap, or even slightly better for the Flyers.
Needless to say, that turned out to be an overwhelming win for the Flyers, who can make it even more lopsided if Nick Cousins, who was taken with that third round pick and was considered one of the Flyers top prospects, rebounds from a subpar first 48 games as a pro with the Adirondack Phantoms of the AHL.
Less than an hour after announcing the Carter deal, the Flyers shocked the entire hockey world and shipped Richards to Los Angeles in exchange for Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and a second round pick.
It was a total stunner. Richards was the leader, the captain. In many ways, he was considered the franchise.
“Typically trades end up working for both sides and this one did,” said Flyers assistant general manager Ron Hextall, who was in the same role for the Kings when the trade went down. “At that time we needed a second line center and Mike was available and we needed to move a little quicker than a guy like Brayden allowed us at the time.”
Hextall said they always envisioned Schenn could fill that role, but they had Stanley Cup aspirations in 2011-12 and they didn’t think Schenn was ready yet for such a responsibility.
“We knew we needed a productive center to go with [Anze] Kopitar… we needed a guy who could produce,” Hextall said. “That’s a hard guy to find because there’s not a lot out there. When Mike became available, we had to move quickly to get him.”
Richards was coming off of four very good seasons that saw him average 71 points per season, scoring 30 or more goals twice. He was a member of the gold medal winning Canadian Olympic team, he was a finalist for the Selke trophy as the best two-way forward in the NHL, and he was a strong playoff performer, posting 49 points in 57 playoff games.
So trading him for a prospect (Schenn), a grinder (Simmonds) and a second round pick didn’t seem like a lot at the time.
However, time is proving otherwise.
Richards, who now plays more of a second or third line role in Los Angeles, never posted the same kind of statistics with the Kings that he did in Philadelphia.
In 178 games, which is slightly more than two full seasons, he’s posted 37 goals and 74 assists for 111 points. His advanced numbers show that he is still a very good two way forward and still drives puck possession as well, it’s just that he isn’t being asked to be a top point producer for the Kings like he was for the Flyers.
While Schenn was considered the key piece coming back in the deal – primarily because many people expected him to be a lot like Richards – so far, Simmonds has turned out to be the gem, outscoring Richards in the same time span (60-59-119 in 182 games).
The advanced metrics have Simmonds behind both Richards and Carter, but he is a clear winner as a point producer on the power play (He has more power play goals in the equivalent of two-plus seasons than Richards posted in his three previous campaigns as one of the Flyers top scorers) and since he doesn’t kill you 5-on-5 he proves to be a relatively even swap for Richards straight up.
“We knew he was a good young player,” Hextall said of Simmonds. “We didn’t want to give up either guy really, but Schenn was still a prospect so that was a little easier. Simmonds was a guy in our lineup who we thought could be a key contributor, but like the old saying goes, ‘You’ve got to give something to get something. [Flyers G.M. Paul Holmgren] was hard on the players he wanted. If we were going to make the trade, we had to give up Simmonds and Schenn. He wouldn’t have taken less.”
Much like Couturier was in the Carter deal, Schenn ends up being a bit of a freebie for the Flyers.
It’s taken him a little time to get into a groove, but now seems to have settled in as a good second line center. Schenn has 75 points in 156 career games and has already set career highs in goals and points this season with 27 games still to play.
Much like the Carter deal the Flyers got younger players (Simmonds is four years younger than Richards, Schenn in seven years younger), both were more cap friendly and both were still restricted free agents, meaning the Flyers could sign them to more affordable deals moving forward.
In addition, the Flyers turned the second round draft pick they got from the Kings into Nicklas Grossmann, who has been a steady second pair defenseman for them the past two seasons, doing a lot of things well (like blocking shots and clearing the porch) even if he tends to be beat up physically and isn’t the greatest puck mover.
Again, it appears the Flyers did well in this trade too.
Looking back, the Flyers could have kept both Richards and Carter, signed another goalie (Thomas Vokoun was probably the next-best option and wouldn’t have exactly set off fireworks in South Philly) and still been competitive, but the way things have worked out, the Flyers appear poised to have four players that are going to be a very good part of the core for a long time in exchange for those two stars who have not been able to match the levels of production they had in Philadelphia elsewhere.
Sure, the Kings didn’t exactly come up with the short end of the stick as they fleeced Columbus for Carter and won a Stanley Cup in 2012, so it would be foolish to say they “lost” their deal (Can’t say the same for the Blue Jackets).
“Look at both sides now,” said Hextall. “L.A. won. Philly got a couple of real good players for now and the future. That’s the definition of a really good trade for both parties.”
But it’s pretty certain, as the Flyers prepare to play Richards and Carter together for the first time tomorrow that the orange and black made out pretty well for themselves in two of the most talked about trades in franchise history.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers
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