June 23, 2011, A day that changed the landscape of the Philadelphia Flyers forever. Paul Holmgren shocked everyone when he first traded Mike Richards to the L.A. Kings, then Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and followed that up by announcing he had signed goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million contract. It was a series of three gigantic moves that sent heads spinning across the NHL. Now that ten years has passed and the dust has settled, let’s take a clear look back on that fateful day in Flyers’ history.
After a disappointing 2011 playoff run where they got swept by the Boston Bruins in the second round, Paul Holmgren knew he needed to make a move to stabilize the goaltending position. The trio of Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton held down the fort during the 2010-11 regular season, but were a disaster once the postseason rolled around. He zeroed in on Phoenix Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who had quietly been a top ten goaltender in the league over the previous two seasons. He played in 68 games during the 2010-11 campaign registering 36 wins with a 2.48 goals against average and a .921 save percentage. Based on the play he was delivering in Phoenix, he seemed like a guy who could step into the starting role in Philly and be the difference maker that the Flyers needed.
But that just never ended up happening. Bryzgalov’s regular season numbers during the 2011-12 campaign actually weren’t that bad. He recorded a 2.48 GAA and .909 SV% in 59 games racking up 33 wins, yet when the Flyers needed him most in the postseason, he followed the netminders that came before him and failed to be the shutdown guy they needed. He posted a 3.46 GAA and .887 SV% in 11 games during the wild west series against the Penguins and the stale series against the Devils.
His off-ice hijinks were the most memorable part of his tenure in Philly, and the ultimate reason he was removed from the team seven years early. The 2012 24/7 TV series covering the Winter Classic where he rambled on about the universe and huskies and bears are still popular quotes all these years later.
His on-ice play dipped even further during the 2012-13 season when he posted a 2.79 goals against average and .900 save percentage and winning only 19 games out of 40 appearances. It became clear Bryzgalov was not going to win them a Cup and the Flyers ended up using a compliance buyout on him in June of 2013, two years and two days after he was signed.
Unfortunately, Richards’ career took a nose dive due to substance issues, but during his days in Philadelphia, Richards was a prototypical Flyer. He could score, fight, hit, feud with the media, and captained the team through three seasons including their Cup run in 2010. The personal issues he later succumb to stemmed from his time in Philly, when the team was widely accused of excessive partying. Nevertheless, Richards still posted two 30-goals seasons and broke the 60-point plateau in four straight seasons including an 80-point outing in 2009.
Richards was the first domino to fall on that fateful day. He was traded to L.A. in exchange for Wayne Simmonds, a young rising star and a top penalty killer, and Brayden Schenn, who was widely considered one of the top prospects in the league at that time. They also received a 2012 second round pick which was used to select goaltender Anthony Stolarz. Richards was never able to replicate the success he saw in Philadelphia and, despite winning two Cups, was out of the league by 2016.
Shortly after the Richards news broke, Carter being dealt was also announced by the media. Jeff Carter was probably the last true goalscorer to don the orange and black. He scored 181 goals over six seasons with the Flyers including a 46-goal outing in 2009. He didn’t have the postseason touch that Richards did, but was consistently among the top three point getters on the team in the regular season.
The trade to Columbus actually seemed far worse at the time than the Richards deal. Carter was dealt to the Blue Jackets for Jake Voracek, a 2011 first round pick and a 2011 third round pick. Voracek was a middling winger at the time, with three NHL seasons under his belt and his highlight was a 16-goal, 50-point campaign in 2009-10. Now, they later used that first round pick to select Sean Couturier and the third rounder to draft Nick Cousins. Voracek managed to blossom in Philly and Couturier was an elite two-way forward early in his career, and given Carter’s tenure in Columbus lasted all of 39 games, it ended up being a big win for the Flyers in the end.
Did They Win The Trades?
It’s a question that has raged on for ten years but one that only recently may have gotten an answer. Richards and Carter won two Stanley Cups. Ilya Bryzgalov was a disaster in Philly. Yet, the Flyers did get a brand new core from those trades. They walked away with Sean Couturier, Jake Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Anthony Stolarz and Nick Cousins. Yet all these years later the Flyers have nothing to show for it. Wayne Simmonds was a great player in Philly, but his style of play took too big a toll on his body and the aging process really dug away at his usefulness as a player. Cousins and Stolarz never secured long-term spots on the Flyers roster. Schenn was always a guy that seemed to have boatloads of potential, but his consistency always limited his upside. Couturier and Voracek have both been pillars of the Flyers’ roster over the last decade. Couturier has emerged as one of the top two-way forwards in the league, earning a Selke Trophy in 2020 for his efforts. Voracek has climbed the leaderboards in the all-time record list for the Flyers, currently sitting fifth all-time in assists and tenth all-time in points.
For all the talent they acquired in those trades, the Flyers only made it past the first round of the playoffs once when all of these guys were on the same team. Now, it’s hard to blame the players for the situation the Ron Hextall put them in. Had he reinforced the main roster at all during his days in Philly, he probably could’ve given these guys a better chance to succeed.
On an individual level, the Flyers did probably win the Jeff Carter trade. They got Voracek and Couturier out of that package. When the Blue Jackets sent Jeff Carter to the Kings in February of 2012, they got Jack Johnson and Marko Dano for their efforts.
The Flyers didn’t exactly get fleeced in the Richards deal, Simmonds and Schenn played big roles for the Flyers. Had the team had a general manager that wasn’t afraid to strike, they would have been valuable pieces to build around. Hell, Brayden Schenn won a Cup in St. Louis a year after he was traded out of Philly. Yet the overall picture is hard to deem a win. Both Richards and Carter won Stanley Cups. That’s the goal, right? So in a sense the Kings won and the Flyers lost. Bryzgalov was a massive mistake that the Flyers are quite literally still paying for today. And the Flyers are no closer to winning a Cup today than they were in 2011.
Did the Flyers win the trades? Strictly on a value level, absolutely. On a quest to the ultimate goal to win a Stanley Cup? No.
June 23 was a day that broke the hearts of the fanbase, disemboweled a team that just a year previous went to the Stanley Cup Final, and ended up backfiring immensely due to Bryzgalov’s incompetence. That’s not to say the trades couldn’t have worked. Had they signed Bryzgalov short-term and he delivered anything close to his days with the Coyotes, he may have found some success here. The returns for the trades were very solid. They walked away with four cornerstone pieces that helped carry the Flyers in the immediate future after the trades. Schenn and Simmonds were two of the league’s hottest young stars, Voracek was a former seventh overall pick, and the Flyers drafted Couturier eighth overall in 2011.
But when Ron Hextall became GM in 2014 and put the brakes on any and all forward momentum the main roster had, they stagnated and, despite producing individually, never were given the chance to win. It’s fair to say Holmgren was a runaway train by the time Hextall got there, but the main roster had plenty of potential and could’ve been molded on the fly and had a couple more years of competitive hockey squeezed from that core.
Mike Richards has done interviews in the last few years and claimed that had those trades never happened and that if he and Carter remained in Philly, the Flyers would’ve won a Cup. Quite frankly, it’s hard to disagree. The Kings were a very good team with a very good coach who instilled great system, and a goaltender that will probably go down as one of the best of his era in Jonathan Quick. But Richards and especially Carter were huge additions to that team. Had the Flyers found a way to add a great goalie on a cheaper deal and Carter and Richards were never traded, a Cup win was very much within the realm of possibility.
Ultimately, June 23, 2011 will go down as one of the biggest “what if” moments in Flyers history. Would the Flyers be the team to boast two Stanley Cups in four years had the pair stuck around in Philadelphia? If they stayed in Philly would their lifestyle choices effected their careers the same way it did in LA? What if the Flyers signed Tomas Vokoun or Evgeni Nabokov instead of Bryzgalov?
With the benefit of hindsight, the Mike Richards and Jeff Carter trades marked the end of an era in Philadelphia. It was equivalent to waiving the white flag on the competitive Cup era of the late 2000’s. It only got worse after those trades and ten years later they’ve never come close to the climax that group accomplished. Though the shockwaves of those trades are still felt today. Brayden Schenn was traded to St. Louis for Morgan Frost and Joel Farabee, the later of which seems like a superstar in the making. Sean Couturier is at the peak of his game and has been among to best two-way forwards in the game since the beginning of his career. For better or worse, Voracek are still here and probably will be for years to come. He may not be the picture of consistency but he is still atop of the Flyers roster in points every season.
There are some things we’ve lived through as fans that we’ll never see again, and this was one of those moments. Never again will we see the Flyers trade their two top stars on the same day for a brand new core of players and sign a goaltender to a nine-year deal a few hours after that. These days we don’t see trades at all. It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since these deal went down. Pardon the cliche, but it feels like yesterday. The Cup run of 2010 was a magical time in Flyers’ history, and Richards and Carter were huge parts of that era. While these trades will be talked about until the end of time, it’s best to leave the memories of that team buried in the past.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: SI.com