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Flyers take big leap of faith

By Dan Di Sciullo
NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Whatever you think of the Philadelphia Flyers essentially blowing up their team on Thursday afternoon, it's hard not to admire the boldness of the moves.

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren was given orders by team chairman Ed Snider to sign a No. 1 goaltender and that decree set the table for Philadelphia's wild ride on the day before the 2011 NHL Draft.

Holmgren had acquired the rights to former Phoenix goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov a few weeks back, but in order to sign him before he became an unrestricted free agent, Philly needed to clear considerable salary cap space.

With little over a week before Bryz would be allowed to test the open market, Holmgren opted to take a hatchet to the Flyers' cap problems rather than go the delicate surgeon route. Out the door went former franchise cornerstones, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, and in came a slew of talented, but still unproven youngsters, a few draft picks and the room to sign Bryzgalov to a nine-year deal worth a reported $51 million.

First came the news of Carter's trade to Columbus for forward prospect Jakub Voracek, the eighth overall pick in tonight's draft and a third-round selection.

Mike Richards was the club's captain and the face of the franchise.
Even though he had just signed an 11-year deal with the Flyers in November, Carter's name kept popping up in trade rumors and to see him actually go was not that hard to fathom. After all, the Flyers needed the cap room and also desperately wanted better draft picks as Philadelphia wasn't originally slated to select its first player until the third round (84th overall).

But, the Carter deal was soon shoved to the sidelines when news of his buddy Richards being shipped to Los Angeles was announced. Trading Carter was a big deal because of his goal-scoring ability, but Richards was the club's captain and the face of the franchise. His name never really came up in trade rumors before Thursday.

Perhaps, that Richards was dealt so suddenly lends credence to the rumors that he was a problem in Philadelphia's locker room and also not on the same page with head coach Peter Laviolette. Of course, neither the Flyers organization nor the taciturn Richards will ever let us in on that type of juicy secret.

The Kings did have to pay a hefty price tag to land Richards, who, like Carter, is 26 years of age and was drafted by Philly in the first round of the 2003 draft. LA gave up 19-year-old centerman Brayden Schenn -- one of the most coveted prospects in all of hockey -- along with budding power forward Wayne Simmonds and a second-round pick in next year's draft.

What the Flyers essentially did Thursday was get a much-needed influx of young talent and draft picks, free up room to sign Bryzgalov to a huge deal and still have $7 million-plus cap space left to work with this summer. What they lost, however, could be difficult to replace.

For all the accusations in Philly that he was soft and didn't show up in big moments, Carter did average slightly more than 38 goals per year over the last three seasons. And, while Richards' aptitude for serving as a captain was certainly up for debate, his penchant for playing in all situations and being a tireless competitor on the ice were not.

It goes without saying that Bryzgalov will need to prove his worth in net, but what really matters for the Flyers now is the continued development of their new, young cornerstones -- centerman Claude Giroux, 23, and big winger James Van Riemsdyk, 22.

Giroux has been steadily improving for a few years now and made his first All- Star team last season, but van Riemsdyk didn't really break out until Philly's 2011 playoff run, which ended in a second round sweep by the eventual Cup champion Bruins. Anything less than another step forward for both players in 2011-12 and Philadelphia could struggle to make the playoffs at all, let alone get back to the Stanley Cup Finals like it did with Richards and Carter in 2010.

Holmgren is banking that veterans like forward Danny Briere and defensemen Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen, who have all been captains in the NHL before, can help the Flyers successfully rebuild on the fly.

The Flyers have taken a leap of faith by waving goodbye to a pair of players who, for better or worse, had become synonymous with the Orange and Black.

Philadelphia now has a new core, but after Thursday's events one thing should be clear: Nothing is set in stone when it comes to the Flyers.

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