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Free agency sees overhaul of Flyers continue

by Adam Kimelman /
In a span of nine days, the Philadelphia Flyers have gone through a roster facelift of epic proportions.

Gone are franchise cornerstones Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, along with veteran defenseman Sean O'Donnell, forwards Kris Versteeg, Darroll Powe and Daniel Carcillo. In have come goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, forwards Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Jakub Voracek, and, on the first day of free agency, forwards Jaromir Jagr and Maxime Talbot, and defenseman Andreas Lilja.

As Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren said the day of the Richards and Carter trade, "What we've done … is change the direction of our organization."

The change started June 23, the day before the 2011 Entry Draft, when the team shipped Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Voracek and a pair of draft picks, including the eighth selection of the first round, which the club used to take center Sean Couturier. Richards was sent to the Los Angeles Kings for Simmonds, Schenn -- who Holmgren called the best prospect not currently in the NHL -- and a 2012 second-round pick.

That same day, the Flyers inked Bryzgalov, whose rights they had acquired from the Phoenix Coyotes days earlier, to a contract reportedly valued at $51.5 million for 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 the day of the signing. "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."

Then came the first few hours of free agency Friday, when the Flyers stunned the hockey world by signing Jagr, the 39-year-old Czech star, who most had expected would return to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Flyers hope that Jagr, a five-time Art Ross Trophy winner who is ninth on the all-time scoring list with 1,599 points, will replace some of the offense that left along with Richards and Carter. He hasn't played in the NHL since the 2007-08 season, but he had 50 points in 49 games with Avangard Omsk of the KHL, and 9 points in nine games for the Czech Republic at the 2011 World Championship.

"There's a reason why there was so much interest and hype about him in the free-agent market," Talbot said during a conference call with Philadelphia-area reporters. "It's because he's a good player. He showed the world at the World Championship that he can definitely play. I remember playing against him and he was one of the guys who was always toughest to play against because he was so big and he would just control the puck in the corner and make the right play. He'll be a great fit for the Flyers."

Holmgren obviously agreed.

"Jaromir Jagr is one of the better players at the cycle game that there is in the game," Holmgren said during a separate conference call. "He's a big, strong guy who can really control the puck in the offensive zone, and he's a big body in front of the net too. He's still a good player, and people forget, I think, because he’s been away from the NHL for three years, that he's been playing and been playing at a fairly high level. Our guys who saw him there (at the World Championship) thought he was -- well, he was one of the better forwards, he was named to the All-Star team at the World Championship. We think can play at this level. We know he can. And we believe he can still put up a lot of points."


G-A-P: 14-32-46
+/-: -3 | PIM: 26 | PP: 2

They hope the same about Schenn, a 19-year-old center taken with the fifth pick of the 2009 Entry Draft. The younger brother of Toronto defenseman Luke Schenn had 2 assists in eight NHL games last season, but was a point-per-game scorer in seven AHL games and set a Canada record at the 2011 World Junior Championship by scoring 18 points in seven games.

"At the time of the trade I publicly said in our opinion he's one of the top, if not the top, player outside the NHL," Holmgren said earlier this week. "We think a lot of Brayden as a young player."

Simmonds and Voracek, who the Flyers signed to a one-year contract for a reported $2.25 million, add size and skill on the wing.

"Jakub Voracek is a good player," Holmgren said when the trades were announced. "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 (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 signed another former Penguin in Talbot to a five-year contract reportedly valued at $9 million. He had just 8 goals and 21 points in 82 games, but his energy and feistiness will add strength to the Flyers' forecheck, and he was a major piece of the Penguins' League-best penalty-killing unit. He averaged 2:55 per game on the penalty kill last season for the Penguins, second among the team's forwards.

Holmgren said Talbot was at the top of his list when the free agency market opened at noon ET on Friday.

"He's a guy that we identified right away," Holmgren said. "We identified Max as one of the first calls that we made. … He's got a lot of qualities that Ian Laperriere has."

Talbot said Holmgren mentioned the possibility of him centering the Flyers' third line, but Talbot said he's versatile enough to play anywhere on the team's top three lines.

"In Pittsburgh I played a little bit of everywhere the last three years," Talbot said. "When I played my best hockey, when we won the (Stanley) Cup, I was right wing on the second line. But I was center of the fourth line, the third line, I was left wing on the third line, but I don’t want to glue myself anywhere. I want to have a great role, do what I can to win, work every time I get on the ice. It's about work ethic and to do my best to bring what I can to help win a championship."

The Flyers also traded Versteeg to the Florida Panthers for a second-round draft pick in 2012 or 2013, and a third-round pick in 2012. Versteeg had just 11 points in 27 regular-season games with the Flyers after being acquired in a midseason trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Lilja, 35, reportedly signed for one year at $750,000. He had 7 points and a minus-15 rating in 52 games with the Anaheim Ducks. He'll replace O'Donnell as an experienced veteran third-pairing defenseman.

"Andreas is obviously a little bit younger than Sean, they're both very competitive players," Holmgren said. "I don't think Andreas does the fighting that Sean does, but he's a good penalty killer and a good stay-at-home guy. He'd be a good fit, whether it's with Erik Gustafsson or Oskars Bartulis or Andrej Meszaros, I think he's a guy that could play with any of those guys in a penalty-killing role. He's a steady guy who's very competitive, and obviously he's a big body (6-foot-3, 220 pounds)."

Philadelphia might not be done. Simmonds is a restricted free agent, and the Versteeg trade opens enough salary cap space for another forward. Holmgren said he's spoken to the agent for former Flyers forward Simon Gagne, and he also said there's interest on the Flyers' part in center Brad Richards.

"Well, for sure (there's interest)," Holmgren said. "Whether we're in it or not, that'd be a tough one for us to do now." However, as Holmgren later added, "I'm still in the office." 

"I decided to go there because I believe in the team, I believe in the players they went and got," Talbot said in an interview with TSN. "I think you look at the defense, the goalie, a couple forwards -- they've always been good, always been really dangerous. Two years ago they gained the experience of going to the Stanley Cup Final, which is huge. It's going to be really fun and really exciting."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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