Richards and best friend, teammate and leading scorer Jeff Carter were dealt in two separate trades that represents a changing of the guard in Philadelphia.
Just 30 minutes after sending shockwaves throughout the NHL by moving Carter to Columbus for Jakub Voracek, the No. 8 overall pick in tonight's Entry Draft and a third-round pick, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren jettisoned Richards to Los Angeles for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a second-round pick in 2012.
"Today was a huge day for the Flyers organization," Holmgren said at his media availability at the Grand Hotel in Minneapolis yesterday. "What we've done today is change the direction of our organization with these two moves. I've always said over the last few years that I like our team. I still like our team, it's just a different team."
The shocking trades paved the way for the Flyers to sign Bryzgalov to a 9-year, $51 million deal to deliver the goalie who team chairman Ed Snider couldn't wait to have.
Carter was set to embark on an 11-year, $58 million extension that was just signed in November. Richards was three seasons into a 12-year, $69 million contract that would have kept him a Flyer until 2020.
Both players had no-trade clauses that would have kicked in on July 1, 2012.
All of that is out the window now, in a series of moves that few could have predicted. It was just on Monday that Holmgren said the Flyers would not be "having a fire sale."
"I probably wouldn't have signed the deal, actually, if I knew I was going to be traded," Richards said in a conference call with reporters. "When I signed that extension, I wanted to stay in Philadelphia for the rest of my career. That's what I envisioned up until 2 or 3 o'clock [yesterday] afternoon."
So upset, Carter said through his agent that he would like to take the weekend to gather his thoughts before he would address the trade publicly.
Holmgren, who himself was emotional at the press conference, said both phone calls to break the news were gut-wrenching.
"Those are two hard phone calls to make," Holmgren said. "I think the world of both of them. That's difficult, that's the hard part of the job. That was tough. They both made long-term commitments to stay in Philadelphia. Probably at a lower number [than they could've gotten]."
Aside from changing cities and teams, Richards was disappointed to be losing Carter as a teammate. Both players were drafted by the Flyers in the first round in 2003. The two players sat next to each other in the locker room. One usually followed the other out onto the ice for every game.
In Olde City, Richards and Carter lived across the hall from each other in a condo building on Arch Street. They were rarely seen without each other socially. Carter was a fixture in Sea Isle City, N.J., where he recently purchased a beach house.
"Over the last 10 years, he's been my best friend," Richards said. "[We] had success together and I really envisioned us playing our whole careers together. That's why we signed long extensions, the both of us. We wanted to be in Philadelphia. We both love it there.
"That's the hardest part about this day is to not be able to go through [winning] with a guy you've had success with. I really thought that I was going to win with him at some point."
In Los Angeles, Richards will be reunited with former coaches John Stevens and Terry Murray. Stevens was Richards' biggest mentor, from winning the Calder Cup together in 2005 to the day Stevens was axed as the Flyers' head coach on Dec. 4, 2009. Murray was an offensive assistant coach under Stevens.
"I'm excited to move out to LA and join a team that has a ton of great players," Richards said. "I'm looking forward to helping them out. Both coaches I got along extremely well with and who played me a lot of minutes at positions to have success."
In return, the Flyers got back a physical and up-and-coming forward in Simmonds and a star-in-the-making in Schenn. Simmonds, 22, notched 16 goals last season. Schenn, 19, appears to be the jewel of the trade. Schenn, the brother of Maple Leafs captain Luke Schenn, was drafted fifth overall in 2009.
Flyers forward Claude Giroux, who played with Simmonds on the Canadian World Junior team, told the Daily News that Flyers fans will love one of their newest acquisitions.
"He is a great guy," Giroux said. "He is physical, he is strong on the puck, and he can score as well."
Schenn played eight games with Los Angeles last year but spent most of the season back in juniors. If he were to make the Flyers out of training camp, which many suspect he will, he will become the team's fourth highest paid forward with a salary cap hit north of $3 million.
Holmgren said Schenn is "probably the best player not playing in the NHL right now."
"Schenn is a little bit of a wild card because he hasn't played a full season in the NHL yet," Holmgren said. "The only person who can answer [whether Schenn will spend all of next season in the NHL] is himself."
In Columbus, Carter will be spending a ton of time playing on a line with perennial All-Star and Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash and former teammate R.J. Umberger. Carter had averaged 38 goals over the last three seasons to lead the Flyers.
"I don't take trading away a Jake Voracek - a 21-year-old player that's got tremendous upside - or the eighth overall pick lightly, but our fans have been very patient," Columbus GM Scott Howson said. "It's been 10 years now. And we just had to do something that's going to make us better right now."
Howson said the moves the Flyers made were "unprecedented" in the NHL.
"R.J. went through the same thing that Jeff's going through right now," Howson said. "The Flyers do a great job of tying people to their organization, they love playing in Philly and it's always a shock. R.J. went through a difficult period when he first got to Columbus. We'll get through this."
In return, the Flyers brought in a player in Voracek who will help them on the wing. Voracek is a restricted free agent who will need to be re-signed this summer to a fresh deal. The durable 21-year-old Czech Republic native has collected 134 points in his first three NHL seasons.
It also cannot be discounted that the No. 8 overall pick, sure to bring in a top prospect, and the subsequent third-round pick from Columbus will jumpstart the restocking of a consistently barren Flyers farm system.
Holmgren said he decided to make the move to strengthen and add size for the Flyers on the wing.
"We were a little bit overloaded in the middle of the ice," Holmgren said. "To take a step back and try to add size on the wing, and still maintain our presence in the middle . . . We're a much different team."
With the moves, Holmgren essentially handed the reins of the forwards to Giroux and James van Riemsdyk.
"Let's be honest, the emergence of Claude Giroux is a factor," Holmgren said. "I think Claude's sort of emerged here over the last couple of years . . . he was tremendous. I think this year he was one of our better forwards all year again.
"And James, I can't say enough about how James played in the playoffs. We're hoping that his ascension to becoming a consistent and well-rounded player continues."
Giroux, reached at his home in Ottawa, was flabbergasted by the moves.
"I was surprised," Giroux said. "You wouldn't think those two guys would be leaving any time soon. It's just part of the business. It's going to be a fresh start for both of those guys."
Giroux, 23, said he instantly recognized that he will be at the forefront of whatever the Flyers try to accomplish in the future. Holmgren said he had not even begun to discuss the Flyers' next captain, though he mentioned that Danny Briere, Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen have all worn the "C" in other cities.
"For the rest of us, it's going to be a challenge," Giroux said. "We still have a lot of veterans, but it's up to us young guys to take control now."
Though surprised, Richards said he could start to see the writing on the wall with the Flyers' lack of success last season, question marks about his leadership and dealings with the media, and failure to build on a run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2010.
"I think when you underachieve as a team, there's a lot of fingers that get pointed. I didn't have a problem with them pointing at me," Richards said. "[This] was tough for me. It wasn't a long conversation [with Holmgren] but one that I didn't think I was ever going to have to do."
Now, with more than $7 million in salary-cap space, a top pick in tonight's draft and a revamped roster, Holmgren can continue to push the Flyers in seemingly any direction he sees fit.
"This is a huge day for our organization," Holmgren said. "It really changes a lot of things. We'll see. I like our team right now. We're different. But I like the makeup now. A lot of things can happen between now and the start of training camp."
Daily News sports writers Ed Barkowitz and Kerith Gabriel contributed to this report.
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