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Over the Boards: Three trades, three winners

by Dan Rosen / Los Angeles Kings

PHILADELPHIA -- More than two years later, the Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings have no complaints about the returns they got in what amounted to three blockbuster deals involving star forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. If the Columbus Blue Jackets become a perennial Stanley Cup Playoff contender with Jack Johnson as their cornerstone defenseman, they won't have any reason to gripe either.

All three teams could be in the playoffs this season.

"If you look at [the trades], it's worked out well for everybody," Philadelphia assistant general manager Ron Hextall told before watching the Kings beat the Flyers 3-2 on Monday.

Hextall is the go-to executive on this topic because as the Kings' assistant GM from 2006-13 he helped bring Richards, Carter and eventually the Stanley Cup to Los Angeles. Now as the assistant in Philadelphia, he knows why Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren was willing to part with two stars to revamp the culture in the dressing room and the team on the ice.

It all started on June 23, 2011, when Holmgren shook up the hockey world on the eve of the NHL Draft.

First he turned Carter into Jakub Voracek, a first-round pick (center Sean Couturier) and a third-round pick (prospect Nick Cousins) in a trade with the Blue Jackets. Later that day, Holmgren turned Richards into forwards Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, as well as a second-round draft pick that he later used in a different trade to acquire defenseman Nicklas Grossmann.

That equals four important forwards, a top-four defenseman and a prospect for two star players.

Voracek is the Flyers' third-leading scorer this season (53 points) behind Claude Giroux and Simmonds. He is in the second year of a four-year, $17 million contract.

Couturier has become one of the top defensive centers in the League.

"We can look now and say this or that, but the fact of the matter is you gave up a pretty darn good established player and took some risk, but you made well with your risk," Hextall said. "Obviously, Jake is a very good player, and [Couturier] is a very good player. They're huge parts of this team. That's a trade that worked out for the Flyers."

Simmonds and Schenn are working out just as well as Voracek and Couturier. They're linemates on Philadelphia's second line and have combined for 93 points this season, with Simmonds contributing 54 points, including 24 goals. Simmonds is in the first year of a six-year contract; Schenn is in the final year of his entry-level contract.

"It's actually funny because growing up, playing minor hockey, I used to watch Richards play on the [Kitchener] Rangers [of the Ontario Hockey League]," Simmonds said. "He was one of my favorite players in junior before I even got to junior. It's nice that they took a big leap of faith getting me and Schenn. I think it's worked out for both sides."

The Kings saw the Richards trade in a different light than the Flyers at the time they made it. Though Philadelphia was clearly looking to make sweeping changes, Los Angeles needed an established center to play behind Anze Kopitar and knew it would have to part with some good pieces to get that player.

Hextall said it took several weeks for the trade to be completed, and it was a hard deal to make from L.A.'s perspective because Hextall and Kings general manager Dean Lombardi knew the value they were giving up.

"You knew you weren't getting a player like Mike Richards without giving pieces up that you were going to be like, 'Oh, that's a good piece to give up,'" Hextall said.

Richards has recently been demoted to the fourth line because of his struggles this season, but he has for the most part been the Kings' No. 2 center behind Kopitar since arriving in L.A. He has 27 points in 35 playoff games with the Kings, including 15 in 20 during the 2012 Cup run.

"We needed that second guy behind Kopitar, and we didn't have it," Hextall said, using "we" to refer to the Kings. "Brayden was going to be a four- or five-year wait for what he had to do to be there. We couldn't wait."

Carter didn't make it in Columbus, but he has been the Kings' most dynamic offensive player since he arrived in L.A. via a trade on Feb. 23, 2012. He had eight goals in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, including four in the Stanley Cup Final. He had a team-high 26 goals in 48 games last season and leads the Kings with 25 goals in 63 games this season.

"The most explosive player I've coached since I've been here is Jeff Carter," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said, "and it's not even close."

Even though Carter was a bust in Columbus, Hextall said he thinks the Blue Jackets made out OK because they got Johnson and a first-round pick from the Kings in exchange for him.

It will be a while before the returns are in on the first-round pick, Slovakian right wing Marko Dano, but Johnson is a minute-munching, point-producing leader on the Blue Jackets' back end. Without him, Columbus doesn't go from being a cellar dweller to a playoff contender.

"He's almost a 26-minute a night defenseman," Hextall said of Johnson. "It's not easy to find those guys."

It's also not easy to find three blockbuster trades that work out for all teams involved, but the Kings, Flyers and Blue Jackets may have pulled off the hat trick.

Author: Dan Rosen | Senior Writer

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