Dan Hershberg is the brilliant mind behind Philly Phaithful. He's also a hardcore hockey nut. These are his words, giving some much needed perspective to perhaps the biggest Flyers news day ever.
On the surface, with the shock value, it's a lot to digest. How could a team that was soooo close to winning the cup blow it up so shortly thereafter? While it was clear that they needed to get Bryzgalov signed after trading for his rights (with everything said by Mr. Snider in the post-playoff fallout), one could argue that they could have accomplished the goal by moving a few auxiliary pieces–Versteeg, Carle, Coburn. While signing Leino would have been difficult, as they still would have been up against the cap, they could have kept their nucleus in tact and challenged for the top-4 spots in the conference.
But once you dig a little deeper, the moves make a lot of sense for this team.
The Maturation of Claude Giroux and JVR
Having two players of this quality softens the blow of losing your two 'franchise players'. Giroux has already proven that he is an elite talent deserving of top-line minutes in all situations. JVR needs to show that his playoff performance was more than a flash in the pan, but the level at which he played in the playoffs indicates that he's much closer to being an impact player than we had previously thought. Watching Laviolette double shifting each of these guys consistently during crunch time, along with their tenacity in all areas of the ice, should give Flyers fans confidence that they can seamlessly take the mantle of leaders from Richards and Carter.
As crazy as it seems, a 9-year, $51-million deal for a franchise goalie got third billing today. Because we've spent the last week discussing the trade for his rights, the completion of the deal has been more of a when than an if, leaving us to focus more on the cap-clearing moves than the acquisition of a top-5 goalie in the middle of his prime. The acquisition of Ilya Bryzgalov is unquestionably the most important development today in a day when developments were far from scarce. It's safe to say that not many Philadelphia-area televisions were tuned into Fox Sports Southwest during Coyotes games over the last few years. Had they been, they would have watched one of the most dominant players in the NHL carrying a team on his shoulders. The statistics (.921 SV PCT, 2.35 GAA) only tell part of the story, as many of the saves he made over that time have been huge saves: not just in quality, but in importance. Phoenix ranked 14th in the NHL in goals scored this year, 24th the year before. In order to win games, the Coyotes leaned heavily on Bryzgalov and he delivered. No one can point fingers at the organization. They've added an elite talent at a reasonable cap hit in his prime.
Brayden Schenn is widely regarded as one of the best prospects in hockey. And with good reason. At the World Juniors, Schenn had 18 points in seven games…which tied the all-time best mark for a Canadian forward. Just in case you hadn't heard, Canada produces a fair amount of talented hockey players. None had more points than Schenn in that tournament in the history of the event. To acquire a player of his potential, without asking him to lead a team at the ripe young age of 19, is a major coup for the Flyers. NHL-ready, he can slide into the 3rd line center role and develop into a more impactful player than either Richards or Carter. While prospects are just that–unproven players–they are not readily available, and the Flyers did very well to bring him to Philly.
The Draft Picks
As hard as it is to believe, the Flyers actually acquired draft picks today. Three of them. Given their recent history of dealing picks, the infusion of three young players to the organization can't be understated. Adirondack was BAD, with a capital B. And while they haven't had much opportunity to do so lately, when the Flyers select early in the draft, they've done well: Luca Sbisa, JVR, Claude Giroux, Steve Downie, Richards and Carter are the most recent 6 first rounders. Quite an impressive list.
The Cap Space
We have some! As of writing this, the Flyers will be almost $10 million under the cap with six RFA's to sign (including Simmonds and Voracek who were acquired today). That extra wiggle room should allow them to resign Ville Leino, ink Simmonds/Voracek/Powe and fill out their roster as needed, while also giving them the ability to make a move or two down the road, if needed. That last fact can't be understated, as they've been bitten in the ass before when it comes to making deals with no financial flexibility.
With Chris Pronger's health in flux and Kimmo Timonen beginning to show some signs of aging, it was imperative that the Flyers keep their current stable of defensemen. Signing Bryzgalov is great, but trotting out Erik Gustafsson and Kevin Marshall as a third pairing can only work for so long. See Krajicek, Lukas and Bartulis, Oskars. If Pronger is unavailable to start the regular season, they are currently equipped to move forward in his absence. Had they sacrificed Carle or Coburn to get cap compliant, that would not likely have been the case. The organization dealt from a position of strength–they are deep up front and could afford to move Richards and Carter given what they received in return. The D is every bit as good as last year, and we now know that Andrej Meszaros is capable of playing increased minutes in most situations.
The Other Guys
Simmonds is made for Philadelphia and exactly the type of guy we need: gritty, physical, willing to get into the dirty areas…but also with enough skill and jump to back off defenders at the blue line. His addition will go under the radar, until Flyers fans see him play. Voracek is only 21, and could use a change of scenery from Columbus. A streaky scorer, he will benefit from playing alongside a playmaking center like Giroux, something he never had in Columbus. Another guy with high-upside, the Flyers brass has to be thrilled to add him to the lineup. Even though he wasn't acquired today, Flyers fans should give Kris Versteeg a second chance. If he suits up in the orange and black next season–not a given considering the team is rumored to have more moves up their sleeves–Versteeg is an excellent two-way player with a good motor and the ability to play all situations. His defensive zone play was borderline atrocious when he came over from Toronto, and his offensive output somewhat limited, but he is a shifty player who played hurt and should be given a chance to mesh with linemates before final judgment is passed.
All in all, you can't blame any Flyers fan who isn't caught up in emotion today. Carter and Richards were labeled as the future and led the Flyers through a deep depression (2005-06) into three incredibly successful years of near misses. Say what you want about either player–on or off the ice–they are top flight talent who immediately make Columbus and Los Angeles better respectively. That being said, the Flyers were backed into a corner. Everyone in the league knew that they'd have to sign Bryzgalov and at least one impact player would need to be moved. Considering the circumstances, Paul Holmgren did nothing short of an amazing job today by reshaping the Flyers roster into a younger, more dynamic team capable of winning not just now, but well into the future.