These are the sorts of text exchanges my buddy Matt and I have been having over the last few months, since the Flyers were, for the second year in a row, eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.
Matt, who once wrote a post for this site entitled Why Mike Richards is the Perfect Captain for the Flyers, pivoted and shape-shifted more quickly than Paul Holmgren at a press conference almost instantly when the Flyers traded Richards and Jeff Carter.
Like many, Matt believed (and still believes) that the trades were the right moves for the organization that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since seven years before he was born– they acquired young talent, unloaded disinterested forwards, and got that goalie the team finally wanted yada yada yada something about this team is built to win.
I disagree with Matt. While I see his points, and acknowledge that the Flyers acquired a lot of young talent last summer, I am irked by yet another reactive decision by the organization that traded away six draft picks who played in the most recent Stanley Cup Finals.
And thus is the divide.
Ever since June 23, 2011, the day Holmgren shot and killed Richards and Carter – who, combined, were signed to 23-year, $127 million contracts – there has been a rift amongst Flyers fans.
In the far corner, Matt’s corner, wearing the Orange and Black trunks, are those who, from the moment the trades were made, championed the deals. They believed unloading two massive contracts, acquiring young talent and an all-world goalie was an absolute win for the Flyers. And they still feel this way.
In the other corner, wearing khakis and J. Crew sweatshirts (?), is everybody else. Those who, understandably, were irritated by what seemed like a knee-jerk reaction to a bad season, and whose feelings of dismay only worsened when Richards and Carter wound up in LA and did this earlier this week:
There’s a battle between those two groups of fans. I sit firmly in the latter corner, but acknowledge the points made by the Type OB fans, even though I may have called Matt a “dope.”
Me and him go way back and used to fight over which KaZaA tunes to play in our dorm room while we were roommates during our freshman year at Villanova. I once threw a notebook at his head and organized an awkward and drunken (I believe I was standing on a chair, swigging from a bottle of Vladimir) floor meeting to address an issue that had come up with our neighbor, who had hooked up with some B-lister Matt was getting with. Or had tried to get with. Whatever.
So we go way back, Matt and I. Our sports discussions are always spirited, but fun. And I haven’t thrown a notebook at this head since 2002.
As for the rest of you… we don’t know each other. And that means the subject of Richards and Carter quickly turns ugly and personal, especially on Twitter:
And in the comments:
You make yourself look so stupid with this post. Numerous time throughout the year you applauded the trade. Now all the sudden it is not so good. The Kings win the Cup regardless of the trade for Richie and Carts. Anyone can win a cup when your goalie is that much better then anyone else's
Kyle left college knowing 2 things. 1)The Flyers had a core of young talent and 2) His growing curiosity in men needed to be unleashed…In comes his creation of CrossingBroad.com. Kyle was a big fan of Philly sports and handy with computers so he decided to blog about it. Using his pedigree setting up MLB.com shopping carts, never being an athlete and lack of professional journalism experience, he created a website that finally gave him the attention he so desperately needed. The problem was Kyle soon realized he wasn't smarter, or faster out there than any other idiot out there with a laptop that called themselves a member of the media…his blog wasn't going well either, but Kyle had something up his sleeve! He was going to find pictures of his favorite athletes on Facebook and twitter! And steal intellectual property from websites like deadspin and create "TMZPhillyAthletes."
And of the less eloquent variety:
If kept them here we would have lost to Shittsburgh in round 1. Thats all their is too it.
So knock it the fuck off Kyle.
All because of a disagreement over the third most popular sports team in the city.
Anyway, insane people aside, I respect the opinions of those who applaud the moves: The Flyers do, in fact, get a number of young, talented players in return or as a result of the trades– Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and Ilya Bryzgalov.
Richards and Carter were a bit of a problem off the ice. Reports range from them being awful with the media to taking prescription pain killers, and everywhere in between. Rumors go even further, saying the players were into recreational drug use. And, it seems, there was a disconnect between those two, the coaches and front office. So, trading them, at least on the surface, wasn’t an awful idea. Plus it freed up money to get a goalie.
I get all that.
But I also think that the out-of-nowhereness of the trades, especially after Carter had just been signed to an 11-year contract, was troubling. For five years, the team had touted Richards and Carter as the future. Yet after one early-round exit, they were traded.
To me, it was all too reactive, and I think Richards and Carter winning a Stanley Cup, playing major roles with the Kings, proves that they were quite capable of thriving in, or assimilating into, a winning environment. Or whatever hokey phrase you want to use. But, when those points are brought up, there seems to be head-scratching stock rebuttals, as reflexive as the Flyers’ instinct to trade their two star players.
Former Devil Bobby Holik thinks so too. He wrote this on his blog yesterday:
I read reports about the Flyers organization being happy the Kings won, and even rooting for them after their second round loss to the Devils. I can't see how the Flyers are happy. How could a team who decided Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Simon Gagne couldn't win in orange and black, feel great about guys who won the second they left Philadelphia?
I just cannot believe it for a second. I played in the NHL for almost two decades and never came across such a "friendly" attitude. NHL hockey is a tough and very competitive business.
How can the media not call out the Flyers for trading these guys? After all, it was a sudden shift from when they drafted them, nurtured them, and then built a Stanley Cup Final team around these players. Two years later, they got rid of them, and they go on to win. I respect the media, but they need to question Paul Holmgren and Ed Snider, because it shows a deficiency in the way the Flyers conduct their business.
We may not be media, in the traditional sense, but a lot of you read this site. So let’s do that. Let’s call out the Flyers for trading these players.
It is with great pleasure that I give you The Definitive Mike Richards and Jeff Carter Argument Guide – a crib sheet, if you will – to combat your enemy, no matter which corner you sit in. But mostly if you sit in mine.
Since Christian Bale is a badass motherfucker and The Prestige is one the best movies ever, I shall present the arguments to you in the form of a 19th century magic trick.
Henceforth we go!
Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge.” The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. Or a simple hockey opinion. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn.” The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. You don’t want to find fault with your hockey team. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige.” The part where you find the error in the ways of your hockey team.
The pledge: Trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, based on reasons that had nothing to do with their play, was dumb. And they proved the Flyers wrong, at least in part, by winning the Stanley Cup one year later.
Turn 1: They had nothing do with it. It was all Jonathan Quick. Anyone with half a brain could see that. You know nothing about hockey! Go back to blogging about baseball, cunt gobbler.
The Prestige: Thanks, I suppose there are worse things to be called than someone who gobbles up penis sleeves. But I think it was meant as an insult.
Yes, Quick was – by far – the main reason the Kings won the Stanley Cup. It’s funny, though, it’s mostly the same folks that point to Quick as the reason the Kings won who get all pissed off when Bryzgalov gets blamed for a lousy season.
They say things like: It’s not his fault. It was all the defense’s fault. Anyone with half a brain could see that. You know nothing about hockey! Go back to blogging about baseball, cunt gobbler.
Odd. So let me get this straight: a great goalie can go it alone, and succeed regardless of those in front of him. But, when a goalie is bad, it’s not his fault– his defense is to blame? Weird.
Make no mistake, lemmings, Bryz was bad. Awful, actually. You don’t get to 37th in the league in goals against and 57th in save percentage without being what the Spanish call El Terriblé.
But, you’re right– it wasn’t all Bryz’s fault.
The fact is, the players in front of a goalie do impact his performance. The Flyers’ defense wasn’t good. The Kings’ was great. The goalies just magnified those things.
The Stanley Cup champs didn’t have many great scorers, but they did have several impressive two-way players, and that’s why Quick stopped 94.6% of the shots that came his way in the playoffs. He’s great. But he had some help. Help from guys like Richards and Carter, who are both very good two-way forwards.
And they kill penalties.
Liberated with 3:25 left in the period, Richards made it a penalty-killing quartet, jumping right into the spirit of things. He blocked a pass from Devils point man Marek Zidlicky and took one stride past the defenseman. Zidlicky had no choice but to trip Richards, negating most of the rest of the man-advantage.
Richards and Carter were third and sixth, respectively, among Kings forwards in penalty kill minutes during the playoffs. Carter played 28 short-handed minutes. Richards? 43.
Quick was great. Stellar, even. But he had help. Help from guys like Richards and Carter.
Turn 2: Richards and Carter only played a small part and were role players on the Kings, unlike their starring roles with the Flyers.
The Prestige: No.
They were third and fifth in scoring, respectively, among Kings forwards during the playoffs.
Carter was tied for the team lead in goals, with 8. Richards was fourth in scoring. He had 16 points in 20 games. Carter? Sixth. 15 points in 20 games.
Carter scored a hat trick in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. He scored the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 2 of the Finals. He scored two goals, including the Stanley Cup winner, in Game 6.
I’ll go on.
Richards was second on the team in power play ice time. Carter? Fourth. Richards was tied for the team lead in power play scoring. He, Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty all had six points.
Remember, while these numbers aren’t otherworldly, the Kings were a defensive hockey team. They didn’t score many goals. Eight goals and six power play points from Carter and Richards were major contributions.
And while there is merit to the argument that both players benefitted from being a part of the whole – rather than the faces of an organization – you cannot say they played only a small part for the Kings. They simply played a part. Part of a whole that won the Stanley Cup with good, team hockey.
But we’ll leave you with this, which I found on the Internet. So it must be true.
In the 41 games since [Carter’s] arrival, the Kings went 29-9-3. "Definitely, this is the team we should have been all season, especially when Carts first got here," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "That made our team the way it is now and we definitely didn't play the way we could until the playoffs started."
Turn 3: I don’t mind the trades, because the Flyers got good, young players in return who will make this team better for a decade.
The Prestige: I’m dizzy.
Both Richards and Carter are 27-years-old. They, too, happen to be good, young hockey players, who were signed-on with Philly for the next decade.
The part of this argument that irks me most is not liking Schenn, Courturier and Simmonds, but it is the blatant ignoration (word?) of Richards and Carter as being good, young players themselves. Holmgren himself said that Schenn projects to be like… MIKE RICHARDS.
So why, then, trade a guy as he’s entering his prime with a Stanley Cup-contending team for a guy who, in three years, may be as good the guy you had?
Because it had nothing to do with what happened on the ice.
These moves were made for off-the-ice reasons. Something, something that we will likely never know for certain happened. Maybe it was drinking. Maybe it was drugs (legal or illegal). Maybe it was attitude. Maybe it was leadership. But it had nothing to do with hockey.
Giroux parties, too
The Flyers had built Richards up to be the next Bobby Clarke. And while trading Carter may have been necessary to sign a goalie, trading Richards was reactive.
But hey, in three years Brayden Schenn might be just as good. I can’t wait.
Turn 4: The players the Flyers got in return are solid, fundamental hockey players. They play team hockey. The Flyers told me that in their promo videos.
The Prestige: Not exactly. Not yet, at least.
Schenn makes bonehead plays and lousy decisions with the puck. For every jaw-dropping hit he produced, he also turned the puck over at the blue line, left his man on defense, or passed when he should have shot. He has a long way to go before approaching fundamentally sound.
Simmonds does dumb shit. His ceiling is Scott Hartnell. Simmonds is a big, above average skilled, run-of-the-mill NHL forward, who the typical fan likes because he plays tough and transcends a stereotype that no one wants to talk about. He’s a nice player, seemingly a good kid, and had his moments this year, but there are 100 of him in the NHL.
Voracek: an another above average NHL forward with plus offensive skills (see also: the first and second lines of every other team in the league).
Couturier, who was drafted with the pick obtained by the Flyers from the Blue Jackets, is probably the only player who, at this point, you could call fundamentally sound. He clearly has the most upside of any of these guys. He’s shown good decision-making capabilities and is a defense-first two-way forward, who is extremely patient with the puck. Sort of like Mike Richards.
The Flyers would like to see these guys develop into a core of moderately-skilled but sound hockey players, who win with their play at both ends of the ice. Sort of like the Kings.
Pic via (@jrmccro)
For once, the Flyers finally had two players that stood out from the norm. That much was obvious.
Richards has won a championship at every level– juniors, AHL, Olympics, and now, the NHL. Every member of the Flyers organization built him up to be the cornerstone of the franchise. The team rewarded him with a gigantic contract.
In 2010, both front office members and fans alike were praising him for helping to lead the seventh-seeded Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals. Remember this?
Sure you do. Who was questioning his leadership then? No one.
Carter? At ages 23-26 he scored 29, 46, 33 and 36 goals, respectively. This season – a down year plagued by injuries, a devastating trade, the worst team in the NHL, and the city of Columbus – he scored 21 goals in 55 games. Plus eight in 20 playoff games.
The Flyers had those two guys – a two-way forward leader and an elite goal scorer – plus Giroux as three players to build around. The team reacted, and started from scratch with guys whose ceilings are no higher (and probably lower) than Richards and Carter. That’s the reality, whether you want to hear it or not.
Turn 5: The Flyers wouldn’t have won the Stanley Cup this year with Richards and Carter, anyway. So shut up.
The Prestige: You’re probably right. A depleted defense and the absence of Chris Pronger probably would have did them in. Plus they might not have had that all-world goalie. But the Kings probably wouldn’t have won the Cup without those guys, either. They barely made the playoffs, and, as you read, players largely attribute the Carter trade as the turning point of the season.
If Carter had been with the Flyers for Game 3 against the Devils – you know, the one where Schenn’s lousy line change cost the Flyers the game – maybe he would have scored the game-winning goal in overtime, like he did against the Devils in Game 2 of the Finals.
Obviously, you can never know what would have happened. But Richards or somebody else would have been quite capable of stopping Evgeni Malkin in the first round the same way Couturier did, and I’d take Carter over Voracek or Simmonds any day of the week.
Maybe Richards and Carter would have been able to slow down the Devils, like they did in the Finals. We’ll never know. But the Flyers would have less question marks if those guys were on the roster for next season.
Turn 6: Claude Giroux would have never become the player he did with Richards and Carter standing in his way. He’s a frigging beast. A ginger god, put here for my masturbatory pleasure. And we are only now just realizing it because he doesn’t have those two pill-poppers standing in front of him.
The Prestige: I agree that he is a ginger god, perhaps put here for our masturbatory pleasure, but he was friends with those pill-poppers, who were actually not standing in his way at all. Hell, G was practically part of the family.
Sure, Giroux may now be the face of the organization, but his success on the ice has little to do with Richards and Carter being gone. Do you really think two all-star caliber NHL forwards playing on the same team as Giroux would have hurt him this season?
Do you really think having Richards and Carter take some of the opposition’s focus away from Giroux would have hurt his development?
Make no mistake, this was not addition by subtraction. This was not Bobby Abreu. Or 2005 Jim Thome. There was plenty of ice time to go around. Richards and Carter were not standing in Giroux’s way even a little bit. And had they been on the team this year when Giroux broke out, they would have become more second line than first line, much the way they did with the Kings, who, again, just won the Stanley Cup.
Instead, playing behind Giroux were Danny Briere, James van Riemsdyk’s girl power, and 900-year-old Jaromir Jagr, who stopped being able to move in the playoffs.
Turn 7: This set the Flyers up for the long-term, idiot.
The Prestige: Ultimately, these moves will be judged in the long-term. If Schenn and Couturier hoist two Cups in the next five years and the Kings, beneficiaries of a hot goalie, bottom out after their two mega-contract forwards can’t resist the temptations of Southern California and spiral out of control with recreational drug use and hookers, then this will go down as a brilliant decision.
But we don’t know what will happen, and I’d like to use the philosophisizing of Peter Laviolette, who, during 24/7, explained that he likes to judge things by looking at the short-term and the long-term.
So let’s look at the short-term, because that’s all we have to go by right now:
Not so fucking good. The Flyers got no further this season than they did last year. They got out from under massive contracts only to get under another massive contract with Bryzgalov, a 31-year-old goalie, who was terrible in his first year here and handled the media the worst way an athlete possibly could. Also, struggled with fans.
Richards and Carter, who were jettisoned away, played major roles in helping their new team, the Kings, win a Stanley Cup.
The short-term sucks.
In whichever corner you stand, you have to at least question these moves, and not just blindly accept every decision the Flyers make. Because it’s been the same trick for 37 years. And one of these days, if not now then soon, the search for a Stanley Cup may take you to a basement somewhere, where the lifeless cloned bodies of seasons past reside, all with one ominous omission: none of them are wearing rings.
As for Richards and Carter, though? Well, you’d have to cut their fingers off to take theirs.