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Thursday's flurry of moves remakes the Flyers

Thursday, 06.23.2011 / 9:50 PM / NHL Insider

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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Thursday's flurry of moves remakes the Flyers
GM Paul Holmgren remodeled the Philadelphia Flyers by dealing centers Jeff Carter and Mike Richards and signing goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to a long-term contract.
MINNEAPOLIS -- In perhaps the biggest roster shakeup in Philadelphia Flyers history, the team completely changed the look of the franchise on Thursday, trading team captain Mike Richards and All-Star center Jeff Carter in separate deals before agreeing to terms with goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov on a long-term contract.

The Flyers sent Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets for right wing Jakub Voracek, the No. 8 pick of the 2011 Entry Draft, and a third-round pick (No. 68) in the same draft. Richards was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for right wing Wayne Simmonds, center Brayden Schenn and a second-round pick in the 2012 draft.

"What we've done today is change the direction of our organization with these two moves," General Manager Paul Holmgren said. "I've always said over the last few years that I like our team. Today I like our team. We're just a different team."

Part of that different look is Bryzgalov, who won 36 games and posted a personal-best .921 save percentage last season while leading the Phoenix Coyotes to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second straight season. His seven shutouts were fourth in the League, while Philadelphia was the only team in the NHL without a shutout in 2010-11.

The Flyers have not revealed details of Bryzgalov's contract, but TSN is reporting the deal is worth $51.5 million over nine years.

"We rank Ilya as one of the upper-echelon goalies in the League, and bringing him in, he does give us stability," Holmgren said. "We still have our young guy (Sergei Bobrovsky) we think the world of who can grow into a role on our team and we'll see where that goes. Adding Ilya and maintaining the defense we had last year, we think we're in a good spot."

That good spot, however, doesn't include Carter and Richards, two players to whom Holmgren particularly felt close. As the Flyers' assistant GM in 2002-03, he scouted both and had the final call on them being taken by Philadelphia in the first round of the 2003 Entry Draft. He watched both develop into stars -- Richards is a two-time 30-goal scorer who captained the Flyers to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final and won an Olympic gold medal, while Carter has scored at least 33 goals in three straight seasons.

Holmgren also signed both to long-term deals in the last few seasons -- Richards to a 12-year deal in December 2007, Carter to an 11-year deal in November 2010 that starts July 1. 

"Those are two hard phone calls to make," an emotional Holmgren said. "I think the world of both of them. That's difficult. That's the hard part of the job. That was tough, obviously.

"Mike and Jeff were extremely upset. It's a call that they … not only was it tough for me to make it was tough for them to receive. When you're around this business long enough, you get to know that it is a business. Hopefully everyone will move on. They're both good players in our League and they'll go on to be productive players on their new teams."

Flyers players were caught off-guard by Thursday's transactions.

"It's always tough as a player to see teammates go, two of them leaving today," forward Danny Briere told NHL.com. "It's never a good feeling. But the message that I got from that was … our goal is to win the Stanley Cup. The last two years, we had the team to win the Stanley Cup and we didn't succeed, we didn't reach our goal. This organization isn't going to sit back and let the parade go by. That's the message I got. Come next year everybody better be ready to go. They're not going to just sit back."

Holmgren said the genesis of Thursday's deals can be traced to the Flyers' acquisition of Bryzgalov's rights.

"When we made the deal to get negotiating rights to Ilya, it put wheels in motion with a lot of teams," Holmgren said. "We fielded a lot of calls over the last 10 days. … I had some talks with a few teams between the time we lost (in the playoffs) and the end of the Stanley Cup Final that we may be in a position to do some things. There was a whole lot of things talked about. Some of these talks came to fruition over the last few days and led to what happened today."

"We had a chance to all sit down and talk to (team chairman) Ed Snider, and at the end of the day it was unanimous that it was the best move for us to go forward and ensure we'll have a better team," Flyers President Peter Luukko told NHL.com. "Starting with a world-class goalie and defense and moving out."

Holmgren also cited the development of All-Star center Claude Giroux and young forward James van Riemsdyk as reasons for making these moves.

"The last few years, the emergence of Claude Giroux is a factor," he said.  "We're a little bit overloaded in the middle of the ice with Jeff and Mike and Claude and Danny Briere. So to take a step back and try to add some size on the wing and still maintain our good presence down the middle, I think that's where Brayden Schenn comes in, he'll help us there. We're a different team today, much different when you move those two guys. But I like our team moving forward."

The biggest thing to like could be Bryzgalov, who the Flyers hope brings to an end the seemingly endless quest for a top-flight goaltender. That position was in a less-than-savory spotlight during the 2011 playoffs, when the Flyers started three goaltenders in seven games in the first round against the Buffalo Sabres, then allowed 20 goals in a four-game sweep by the Boston Bruins in the second round.

"I don't believe we lost the series against Boston because of goaltending," Briere said. "It's easy to point the finger there, but I don't agree with that. There's a lot of questioning that comes with it, but I think that (Bryzgalov signing) is going to stop all the questioning with goaltending and the Flyers. That needed to be done and the organization took care of it."

The lingering question is the status of Bobrovsky, the 22-year-old Russian who emerged from obscurity to win the starting job during the regular season. In his first season in North America, the youngster went 28-13-8 with a 2.58 goals-against average and .915 save percentage.

"We like (Bobrovsky) as a good young goalie in our League," Holmgren said. "What it does to him I'm not sure. We like him. Our intention is to have him and Ilya as our goaltending tandem."
In Schenn, the Flyers acquire a 19-year-old center Holmgren called "probably the best young player outside the NHL."

"Brayden Schenn is little bit of a diamond in the rough here," Holmgren said. "Do we take a step back with him? I don't know. He's a tremendous young player and I look forward to seeing him over the next number of years in our organization."

Schenn had a globe-trotting season in 2010-11. He had 2 assists in eight games with the Kings and 7 points in seven games with the AHL Manchester Monarchs. He spent most of the season in junior hockey, piling up 59 points in 29 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings and Saskatoon Blades. His biggest moment, though, was at the 2011 World Junior Championship, when he had 18 points in seven games and won the tournament's MVP award.

"I remember watching Schenn at the World Juniors last year," Briere said. "He looked great. I thought he handled the pressure well. If he wasn't Canada's best player he was in the top two or three. I was very impressed by him. I remember thinking I wish we had someone like that in the organization coming up."
"What we've done today is change the direction of our organization with these two moves.  I've always said over the last few years that I like our team. Today I like our team. We're just a different team." -- Paul Holmgren
Simmonds, 22, and Voracek, 21, address what Holmgren believed was a need for size on the wings. The 6-foot-2, 183-pound Simmonds had 14 goals and 16 assists in 80 games last season, while the 6-2, 214-pound Voracek had 14 goals and 32 assists in 80 games.

"Jakub Voracek is a good player," said Holmgren. "I think he's averaged 44 points in his three years. He may not be a natural goal-scorer like Jeff was, but he's a guy that can produce points. And Wayne Simmonds playing in L.A. kicked in 16 goals I believe (actually 14). We think there's more there.

"I've said a lot during the year that we need to get bigger up front, especially on the wings. With the additions of Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds, we have two guys who can play in our top-nine forward mix and are bigger guys."

The Flyers also pick up a first-round pick in the flurry of activity, something they haven't had since 2008. Their own first-round pick, No. 25, belongs to Toronto from the Kris Versteeg trade.

"I think there's a good group of guys, especially right now, the pick we've got, we're looking at some players we like as a group that we've seen a lot of during the year," Flyers Director of Hockey Operations Chris Pryor told NHL.com. "We're very happy to get into the position we're in. We're excited about the players we're looking at."

It's a day of broad changes to an organization still looking to end a Stanley Cup drought that dates to 1975.

"We're trying to put a team together that can compete for the Stanley Cup and win it," Holmgren said. "That's where we're at."
 
Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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