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Everyone was sufficiently surprised. Not a move many expected, but the Flames were probably going to blow it up, so not the world's biggest surprise ever, either. A nice way to wade knee-deep into the summer season of silly trades and oddball free agent signing.
Then around 3 p.m. Eastern time, the sound you heard was everyone's jaw hitting the floor at the same time, because Paul Holmgren totally went off the deep end.
Mike Richards(notes) and Jeff Carter(notes), and their more than $110 million in combined salary through 2020 and 2022, respectively, were traded about 35 minutes apart. Then they signed 31-year-old Ilya Bryzgalov(notes) for nine years. None of it, seemingly, made any sense.
(Of note: Holmgren seemed genuinely upset to have made the deals at the press conference, so one gets the feeling this was all coming from way upstairs, which is stupid and inexcusable.)
The returns for Carter and Richards, besides the cap space — more than half of which immediately went to Bryzgalov — was pretty decent. The eighth and 68th overall picks in this year's draft, and a good, young two-way player in Jakub Voracek(notes) from Columbus. Then Wayne Simmonds(notes), Brayden Schenn(notes), and what seems to be a 2012 second-rounder pick. The Flyers, to put it politely, just got younger up front in a hurry.
Or, to put it less politely, they traded the captain that helped lead the team to a Stanley Cup Final just last year and a former 40-goal scorer for unproven kids and picks.
(Coming Up: Why the new Winnipeg team must be defeated, and your pearls of BizNasty.)
The really troubling, or at least odd, thing is that this comes just seven months after Carter signed a blockbuster 11-year contract that began this past season, and three seasons after Richards' 12-year deal. Both had no-trade clauses that were set to kick in next summer.
Now, I say it's odd because the conventional wisdom seems to be that these deals were made both to shake up the foundation of a team that was swept out of the playoffs in the conference semifinals and to rid the team of two guys who were apparently just not good dudes. Richards' problems with the media, and rumors of those with his teammates, are documented well enough. But the question people should be asking here, and especially in the case of Carter, is why in the hell Holmgren signed either of them to crippling long-term deals if he wasn't 100 percent sure they were going to be the players the organization would lean on for the next decade-plus.
These were not small contracts, both in terms of the money committed and years promised. And to suddenly deal both guys on the same day, just before the draft, seems to be posturing of some kind, though it's still unclear to what end.
But hey, shrewd maneuvering nonetheless by Holmgren at the end of the day, right?
Cleared boatloads of cap space, brought on some exciting players who are younger (but by no means better) than the guys he sent packing. But Simmonds and Voracek are both restricted free agents that need to be signed, in addition to guys the organization would probably like to keep around for a while, like Ville Leino(notes) (a UFA), Darroll Powe(notes) and Andreas Nodl(notes) (both RFAs). So there goes a lot of the team's remaining cap space.
And none of this takes into account the contract that will tie Ilya Bryzgalov for the biggest salary in the league next season, and put him in the top 10 in terms of cap hit. Not that he isn't one of the 10 best goalies in the league, and isn't being paid more or less commensurate to that. The interesting thing is that earlier in the week he was reportedly seeking $7 million a year for seven years.
Do any of these three moves make the Flyers better for next season? Tough to say, but probably not. They're sacrificing a lot of offense (Richards and Carter combined for 59 goals and 132 points) for a nine years of a goaltender on the wrong side of 30 who is very good, but whose save percentage was .006 higher than Sergei Bobrovsky's.(notes)
What about going forward? Again, tough to say. Maybe Brayden Schenn ends up as good as Mike Richards. Maybe the kid they pick tonight turns into a Jeff Carter type down the road. But those are extreme best-case scenarios, and still a ways off.
Later in the day it was revealed that Devin Setoguchi(notes) and Andrei Markov(notes) signed three-year extensions (reasonable and insane, respectively) with their teams and Calgary was reportedly hard at work trying to acquire former Oiler Ryan Smyth(notes).
But nobody cared.
Earlier this week, I decided I have never wanted a franchise to finish in that nebulous zone of mediocrity between making the playoffs and getting a lottery pick for more consecutive years than I do the Winnipeg Whatevers.
The way the ownership group has behaved since that presser a few weeks back has been positively abhorrent. That's their prerogative, one supposes, but the handling of the transfer of the team from Atlanta to Winnipeg has been completed with a stunning lack of tact and what seems to be an broad contempt.
They jerked around the team's employees in Atlanta; it was reported somewhere or another that many weren't officially told the team was moving to Winnipeg until the day before the Board of Governors approved the sale.
Then after gutting an admittedly moribund front office, the team told Craig Ramsay, their very good head coach who briefly performed alchemy to make a subaverage team relevant in the division, that he would be welcome to interview for his own job.
This, of course, meant that he would not be able to keep it, but hey, it was the decent thing to do. If "decent" means "really awful." He ended up getting the boot, despite having done nothing wrong or even poorly, just because the franchise wanted to do everything in its power to rid itself of all that American South stink the team had around it.
Further evidence? Go to the team's official website and look at the franchise's all-time roster. Why, no one is on there. It's as if the Thrashers never existed. How remarkably arrogant and profoundly nationalistic.
Plus, the team recently revealed that it would not even give the kids it drafts this weekend a jersey to wear, which is just stupid. But hey, it might say what it's actually going to be called, so hooray for that, right?
Seriously, finish with 87 points every year for the rest of time. Although at this point, getting that many seems hopelessly optimistic.
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