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Flyers' Hextall following Kings blueprint for success

by Adam Kimelman / NHL.com

PHILADELPHIA -- It was the familiar and the strange all in one setting at Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday morning.

There skating up and down the ice were Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, just like they did in their first six NHL seasons as members of the Philadelphia Flyers.

But Tuesday they were there as the opposition, in their fourth season together as teammates with the Los Angeles Kings.

A lot has happened for the Flyers, and Carter and Richards, since June 23, 2011. That was the day Philadelphia gave its franchise a facelift by trading its two cornerstone stars. Carter was sent to the Columbus Blue Jackets for forward Jakub Voracek and a 2011 first-round draft pick that was used on center Sean Couturier, and Richards was traded to the Kings for forwards Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn.

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Later in the 2011-12 season Carter was traded to the Kings, where he and Richards helped them win the Stanley Cup in 2012. They repeated the feat in 2014.

"It's crazy how things happen," Carter said. "It's all worked out for us."

Things haven't gone as well for the Flyers, who have won one Stanley Cup Playoff series since Carter and Richards were traded, and missed the playoffs in 2012-13.

One of the men responsible for helping Carter and Richards find championship glory is now hoping to bring that same reward to the Flyers.

Ron Hextall was the Kings assistant general manager when Richards and Carter were brought to Los Angeles, and his personal knowledge of both players from Hextall's time as the Flyers director of pro player personnel was part of the process that allowed the Kings to give up the assets required to bring in those kind of players.

Now in his first season as general manager of the Flyers, Hextall is trying to use in Philadelphia some of the same blueprints that were used to build two championship teams in Los Angeles.

"I think he had a huge part [of building the title teams]," Carter said. "He was … working with the young guys in Manchester [of the American Hockey League], we see them coming up and fitting into our team. [Hextall] is a great hockey mind and I'm sure he'll do great things in Philly."

Part of that includes being patient with younger players. In Los Angeles that meant repeated shuttling from the NHL to the AHL for forwards Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson and defensemen Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez, among others, before they became key cogs of the championship teams.

In Hextall's first season in Philadelphia he's preached patience with the Flyers younger players. That includes defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who was recalled Oct. 24 when veteran defensemen Braydon Coburn and Andrew MacDonald were knocked out of the lineup with lower-body injuries.

Hextall said he wasn't happy about bringing the 21-year-old to the NHL so early in his professional career, and told Gostisbehere that.

"Am I excited about Shayne being in the lineup [Saturday]? No, not really," Hextall said prior to the Flyers game Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings. "I expect he's going to do a good job for us. I would have liked to see him down there [AHL] for a longer period of time."

Hextall also wasn't willing to part with the young assets and draft picks it reportedly would have taken to acquire the first pick of the 2014 draft from the Florida Panthers in June.

"That's the way he's learned to do things from Dean [Lombardi, Kings GM] and being out in L.A.," Carter said. "It seems to be working."

It's certainly worked out nicely for Carter and Richards. Each player said he enjoyed his six seasons in Philadelphia, and spent time before the morning skate Tuesday chatting with equipment managers and other team and building personnel.

"It's good to come back and see a lot of people I got to know over the years," Richards said. "It's a place that gave me my start. I had some success here. It's nice coming back and seeing everyone. … It's a natural reaction to come in here and think about where you got your start, scored your first goal, played your first NHL game. I have a lot of memories here."

But there's not much more to it than another stop on an 82-game schedule. It will be Richards' third game as an opponent in Philadelphia and Carter's second. They also played against the Flyers last season in Los Angeles. And the only players in the Flyers lineup Tuesday that played with Carter and Richards will be captain Claude Giroux, forward R.J. Umberger and goaltender Ray Emery.

So while it's interesting to see how both players and teams have gone since their paths diverged on that June day in 2011, Carter and Richards don't see any need to raise their play Tuesday.

"It's really just another game now," Carter said.

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