Sam Donnellon: In Flyers' moves, gotta admire Holmgren's guts

Mike Richards, now fit for the Kings.
Mike Richards, now fit for the Kings. (YONG KIM / Staff photographer)
Posted: June 24, 2011

MY, MY, HOW the world has changed. The Flyers, yesterday, shipped off a player who Ed Snider just last month compared to Bobby Clarke and Sidney Crosby so they could give a goalie $51 million.

A Russian goalie.

Think of the irony here. The last time the Flyers won a Stanley Cup, the Russians were the bad guys.

Now, they're your guys.

Now, your Stanley Cup hopes rest on two goalies who wouldn't get served at Geno's, on account they don't speak da English real good.

The trade of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter is about so many things, and we'll get to them, but let's not lose track of the money. The Flyers owed Richards 9 more years on his contract, at $5.78 million per, and if his propensity to get banged up by the grind of the regular season continues, they may not find a dance partner in another year when his no-trade kicks in, certainly not one willing to give up popular young guns the way the Kings were this time around.

And, yeah, it's tough to give up on 40 goals and the fastest release in hockey, but Jeff Carter had some injury issues as well, and was also owed $5.2 million for each of the next 11 seasons. His selective service when it came to the back half of the ice made him constant trade bait and he, too, has become a risky proposition given his injury history and a no-trade clause that kicks in for 2012.

Maybe both prosper in their new settings, find wives, get married, buy houses, adopt the whole South Jersey experience they avoided while here. Given a chance for a restart, without the weight of a premature captaincy, maybe Richards relaxes a little, has a little more fun, fulfills the promise that made the Flyers jump the gun by making him a captain in the first place.

I hope so. I like the guy, I really do.

But there was a real sense that the inmates had control of this asylum. Ken Hitchcock lost his job during the first lull, John Stevens, now an assistant with the Kings, lost his during the second. Peter Laviolette's tepid comments about Richards after the second disappointing finish to the Flyers season over the last three seemed cryptic at the time, and now that has proven true.

And when the Chairman smiled at me that day in his office 6 weeks ago and said, "We can do things with the cap," when I asked how he expected to land a top-tiered goalie . . . well that, too, was foreboding.

There will be people wailing today that Mike Richards was a gritty player, a leader, that the media ran him out of town and we'll all be sorry soon. It's just not true. The media wanted the guy to succeed, wanted to like the guy, gave him more chances than they ever gave Charles Barkley, Bobby Abreu, Scott Rolen, Allen Iverson.

We wanted him to be Clarkie.

So did Holmgren. But look back on Richards' tenure as captain, and remember how often the general manager had to dress down this team in the dressing room. That's the captain's job. Maybe we make too much of these things, but it sure seemed instructive this season when it was Chris Pronger who got in Claude Giroux's face and it was Danny Briere who made the oft-cited dressing-room speech during Game 6 of their first-round series with Buffalo.

I can't stop thinking of this, too. When it was time to wrap up this disappointing season, Richards couldn't be found. Brian Boucher appeared and Briere phoned in and even the curmudgeonly Pronger taunted us one last time with an entertaining conference call. I don't know if the GM saw that as a big deal, but I'd bet a round of beers at Snider's under-construction World's Largest Sports Bar that the chairman saw it that way.

And let me say this, too. I don't always agree with Holmgren, but I love his guts. He is hockey's Pat Gillick. Once as the Blue Jays general manager, Gillick traded away Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez, two popular All-Stars in the prime of their careers, for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter. Like the Flyers, the Blue Jays had won lots of games but not the big prize. With Alomar and Carter, they won consecutive championships in 1992 and 1993.

Does this deal have a chance to explode on Homer? Most definitely. In a bigger, pressure-filled market, Bryzgalov could be a bust. The well-regarded young players, especially Brayden Schenn, might not pan out. With less scrutiny and his experience here as motivation, Richards could provide that final piece for the Kings.

But my, my, how our world just changed. After more than a decade of telling us that a goalie's success is the by-product of a team's success, the Flyers flipped philosophically 180 degrees. In essence, they traded two Canadian-born, homegrown stars for a Russian one.

Bet you thought the end of the world would come sooner than deals like these.

I know I did.

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