By trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, the Flyers made a bold move. They traded their franchise cornerstones, the two players that were inseparable for the Philadelphia Flyers since being drafted in the first round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. From the 2005 Calder Cup Championship, to the only bright spot in the 2007 season, to the leadership group in 2009, to the key members of the 2010 Eastern Conference Champions, and now to the scapegoat for the 2011 second round exit.
It is hard to find reasons for why the Flyers traded two players who were signed through 2020 and beyond, especially since the organization has been fairly cryptic about why they did. In his conference call after making the trades, GM Paul Holmgren expressed a desire to get bigger on the wings, to sign Ilya Bryzgalov, to create salary cap space, to get the best return in trades, to acquire high draft picks, and many other reasons.
Obviously, Mr. Holmgren isn't going to say that he traded Richards and Carter because they were disruptive in the locker room. That won't happen. But fans and media alike are both speculating that this was precisely the reason for the trades. Why? Because it's the same storyline large segments of the media have been pushing for years whenever the Flyers aren't winning games. As soon as Chris Pronger arrived in Philadelphia, stories popped up about locker-room issues and a power struggle between both Pronger and Richards and the veterans and youth on the team.
And yet, when the Flyers went on to win the Eastern Conference that year, stories popped up about Mike Richards' leadership. One year, and a disappointing second round sweep later, suddenly we have more stories about Richards and Carter creating a bad locker room environment. It's complete speculation - or worse - based on biased members of the media. There are at least two writers in Philadelphia who clearly have personal problems with Richards, as one wrote a one-sided story that was more editorial than news, while another previously titled a story "Captain Whine".
This doesn't mean there weren't locker room problems, it just means the only time anybody writes about potential locker room problems is when the team is losing. When the team is winning, the coaches and leadership group is mature and effective. The narrative need not be true to gain steam, it just needs to be believed. After this past year, somebody had to be the scape goat. Owner Ed Snider decided to put it on the goalies - incorrectly - while some members of the media put it on the Captain and his friend. And here we are, with a new goalie and a new Captain.
But while the Flyers see their leadership get overhauled and their two young forwards shipped off, attempting to generalize their lack of leadership or lack of maturity simply looks short-sighted. These are the same two guys who took the Flyers to an Eastern Conference Championship one year ago. These are the same two guys who lead Team Canada to a World Juniors Gold Medal. In case you weren't aware, Richards wore the C for Team Canada and Carter an A. Why is that remarkable? Because that team also had Ryan Getzlaf (C), Corey Perry (A), Shea Weber (C), and Sidney Crosby (C) on the team, none of whom wore letters on their chest.
Saying Richards and Carter were the right players to trade is one thing, but saying they aren't leaders is ignoring facts.
Maybe Chris Pronger and Danny Briere are better leaders for the current group of players while Richards and Carter were better suited for the 2008 Flyers. That's entirely possible and defensible. However, if the Flyers' were being held back by a lack of leadership, moving Richards and Carter doesn't solve that. The 2010-11 Flyers were led by Mike Richards, Peter Laviolette, Chris Pronger, Jeff Carter, Danny Briere, Kimmo Timonen, Sean O`Donnell, Jody Shelley, Brian Boucher, and many others. GM Paul Holmgren has made it a priority each of the last two years to bring in high-quality, locker-room leaders with veteran experience to augment the core leadership group. This appeared to work in the 2010 playoffs. It didn't seem to work in the 2011 playoffs, or at least that's what is being blamed for the failure of this past year.
That's the thing, though. The playoffs are a crazy, unpredictable event. The Boston Bruins needed an overtime goal in Game 7 just to get out of the first round. They were one bad bounce away from failing to reach the second round, but now they are Stanley Cup Champions. The Eastern Conference's number one seed was also swept in the second round. The Pittsburgh Penguins entered the playoffs having won eight of their final ten games, then blew a 3 games to 2 lead in the first round.
None of those other top teams are going through an overhaul of their roster or their leadership core. In the past two seasons - including playoffs - the Flyers have won 106 games. This includes the up and down, fire a coach, limp into the playoffs 2009-10 team as well as the 2011 playoff team that went 4-7. During that same time-frame, the Blackhawks won 105. The Capitals won 109. The Penguins won 106. None of those teams severely altered their leadership core, nor did they go out and sign a goalie to a nine-year deal thinking Michal Neuvirth or Corey Crawford weren't good enough.
What does any of that mean? The Flyers were as good of a team the last two years as the Penguins and Blackhawks, and just slightly worse than the Capitals. The Flyers won more playoff games the last two years than anybody except the Blackhawks (who won one additional game). That's a successful team since you don't accomplish that with locker room cancers.
None of that is to suggest the Flyers should have kept going with Carter and Richards - though I think they should have. No, that is just there to show that the Flyers were in good hands with Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. The team had success with them at the helm, and if Chris Pronger were healthy against Boston, things may have been different. Instead, the Flyers will hope they are able to fill the leadership void created by the Richards and Carter trades. Because there is absolutely a void, and that's not even discussing their on-ice impact.