Welcome to Kids Stuff. Today’s column includes a brief recap of all the major changes that have transpired with our NHL team, the Philadelphia Flyers.
While the end of the season for most teams means several months of boredom and no news, the Flyers continued to intrigue their fans this summer.
The team’s run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2010 and strong start to the season that just ended provided hope that the present group of players would be able to achieve the optimal hockey goal — winning the Stanley Cup.
However, the team’s play dramatically dropped off during the latter part of the season, and they continued to struggle in the playoffs. They squeaked by the inferior Buffalo Sabres, and then were swept by the Boston Bruins in the next round. The Flyers didn’t even come close to the finals this year. Remember, this was the same Bruins team that the Flyers shocked with their historic comeback from a 3-0 deficit in 2009-10, a feat that very few teams in professional sports have ever accomplished.
Most fans probably became quite depressed thinking that the team was never going to make it back to the finals. Many questioned the makeup of the team and talked about trading players such as Scott Hartnell. Some talked about trading leading goal scorer Jeff Carter, who always seemed to acquire injuries during the playoffs. Fans had mixed feelings about trading Carter due to his natural scoring propensity, a much-needed talent on a team.
The cascade of events that shocked the Flyers’ world began when the Flyers signed star goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Many wondered how the Flyers would accomplish this without going over the salary cap. This was quickly answered, when the Flyers promptly traded both Jeff Carter and team captain Mike Richards on the same fateful day in Flyers history.
Carter was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for right-winger Jakub Voracek and both first- and third-round draft choices in the 2011 entry draft. The bigger shocker was the trade of Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings for top prospect Brayden Schenn, right-winger Wayne Simmonds and a 2012 second-round draft pick. The sum of the two trades provided the Flyers with three promising young players, early draft picks and much needed salary-cap space to make future moves.
There is no doubt that these trades make the Flyers younger, stronger and faster, which critics suggested the Flyers needed. The key feeling after these trades is the Flyers remain a franchise that is always actively seeking to improve and to win, something that its fans have always appreciated.
The next part of the domino effect was the entry draft where the Flyers utilized their new first-round draft pick, the eighth overall in the draft to select forward Sean Couturier.
Experts believe that the Flyers made an excellent selection and might have made the steal of the draft. Many experts projected that Couturier would be one of the top picks, but he ultimately fell to the eighth pick. Some experts also stated that when this draft is evaluated years later, many will wonder how the Flyers ever acquired Couturier at the eighth pick. If he matches his potential, the trade may eventually seem even more impressive.
Many are now wondering if the Flyers are done with their acquisitions. The team has made lower-profile moves: trading Darroll Powe to Minnesota for a third-round pick in 2013 and allowing Dan Carcillo to leave.
While some may question the Flyers’ decision to trade two of their leading scorers at the same time, top teams always are seeking ways to improve. At the end of the day the trades will be evaluated by how the team performs. However, the bold efforts to improve clearly have made a strong impression among fans and experts.
After everyone finally had a chance to make their evaluation of the team after the changes, the Flyers continued their wholesale changes, which led to even more questions.
There was a lot of talk that the Flyers were going to try to sign highly touted restricted free agent Steven Stamkos. However, apparently the team was concerned this would tie up too much money and would prevent them from going after other free agents. As a result, they did not make an effort to offer Stamkos a contract, but instead looked toward their rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and signed former Penguin and all-time great Jaromir Jagr to a one-year contract, essentially blocking his potential return to the Penguins.
Jagr most recently played for Avangard Omsk in the Kontinental Hockey League. Jagr last played in the NHL in 2007-08. To make it even more painful for the Penguins, the Flyers also signed free agent center Max Talbot. Given their intense rivalry, many Flyers fans might find it difficult to picture both players in the orange and black uniforms. The final free agent signing of note was defenseman Andreas Lilja from the Anaheim Ducks.
Other exciting news: The Flyers have agreed to a contract extension with Jakub Voracek, Andreas Nodl and Tom Sestito. However, when there is addition, there must be subtraction. Gone from the Flyers are Dan Carcillo, Ville Leino and Kris Versteeg. Of the three, the player likely to be missed most will be Leino, because many expected him to be a star player for the Flyers for years to come.
In summary, it is not often that a championship caliber team like the Flyers makes such drastic changes within one off- season. While it is impossible to predict the outcome, the Flyers overnight have become younger, stronger and faster. It appears their plan was to upgrade their goaltending and defense at the same time they developed younger and bigger forwards. Many are praising general manager Paul Holmgren for his bold and aggressive moves. The question is what will the fans say if the team does not improve and make it to the Stanley Cup finals next year?
The defending Atlantic Division champion Philadelphia Flyers will open their 45th season in the National Hockey League on Oct. 6 at Boston. The home opener will take place Oct. 12 when the Flyers host the Vancouver Canucks at the Wells Fargo Center, and the 82-game season concludes April 7 at Pittsburgh. In addition, the Flyers announced that defenseman Chris Pronger has been named the 18th captain in franchise history.
For tickets, call 215-218-7825 or visit PhiladelphiaFlyers.com ••
Columnist William Feldman can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com