About a year ago, when my cousin announced the date for his June 25, 2011 wedding in Jamaica, I thought there could be some conflict with work and hockey news and the start of the NHL offseason. It was the same weekend as the NHL Draft after all, but whatever, the Flyers don't care about the draft anyway.
As last week carried on and the Ilya Bryzgalov thing drew closer to reality, it seemed like we could have a bit of upheaval while I was away. But hey, nothing too big would happen. Nothing that couldn't be planned for, at least.
And then I'm in Fort Lauderdale at 3:20 in the afternoon, literally taking my first step onto a plane that will leave the country, a working cell phone and a working Internet connection in my rear view mirror, when I get a text from Geoff that made me laugh out loud with incredulity.
Jeff Carter traded. Please turn off all electronic devices, including cell phones, PDA's and personal listening devices. Well, shit. See you in four days, Flyers.
We landed in Jamaica and took perhaps the worst "bus" ride ever to our resort. Parts of me thought we'd never actually make it, because the organization of driving in that country can be closely compared to pee wee hockey. But we did make it, and I quickly made my way to the buffet and the bar, having completely forgotten about the groundbreaking Flyers news that had completely shaken up the team.
Oh hell, well that was only the start of it.
I'm sitting at the bar around 10 p.m. (Jamaica time, did you know they're an hour behind us despite being in the same time zone?) with my two cousins, and on the wall was a TV with ESPN blaring. They were talking about LeBron or something that doesn't matter, but next up on the bottom line was NHL news.
"FLYERS" was its own sub-category. Oh, fuck.
"Flyers trade C Mike Richards, Rob Bordson to Kings for prospect Brayden Schenn, F Wayne Simmonds and 2012 second round pick." [scroll] "Flyers sign G Ilya Bryzgalov to 9-year deal. Financial terms were not disclosed." [scroll] "Carter trade details."
And that's it. I didn't know anything else the rest of the trip. Paul Holmgren had completely blown up the hockey team with perhaps the largest, most groundbreaking single day of transactions in Flyers history, and me, who gets paid to talk about hockey and this team, was completely helpless.
Alright, mon. Another Red Stripe please.
I guess in a way it's probably good that I wasn't around for all this mayhem. When you have unlimited, free alcohol at your disposal and your entire family around to distract you, it makes it pretty easy to forget about it all.
Not that I could really form a full opinion without knowing financial details of Bryzgalov's contract anyway, but it keeps you away from all the "HOLY SHIT THAT JUST HAPPENED" reaction and the depression, elation, anger, awe and everything else that comes with such major moves.
When I landed at PHL on Monday evening, I was able to get more of a full, birds eye view of everything that had transpired. From the departure of the two cornerstones of the organization to the arrival of Brayden Schenn, Ilya Bryzgalov, Wayne Simmonds and Jake Voracek to the "Wow, we had a first round pick and got a damn good player with it" selection of Sean Couturier, I think it's easier to digest when you have a larger scope on things.
After it all, it's clear that a complete change in the face of the organization and the team has taken place, and it's also clear that the Flyers are not as good a hockey team as they were on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. But these trades weren't about the immediate health of the team. Sure, they needed cap space for Bryzgalov (rightly or wrongly), but you don't trade Carter and Richards to do only that.
In my eyes, these moves were about two things: an immediate need to inject low-priced youth into the team, and also a deeper, more philosophical change in the way business is done in the Flyers organization.
We had been going on for weeks (months, even) about the Flyers' need to add cheap, young talent in order to avoid complete demolition of the team from top to bottom, and while they sent away two elite talents to do so, they certainly got younger and cheaper.
It's a risk and nothing close to a guarantee, but Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier could definitely replace Carter and Richards in the next few seasons. With the money saved, it will be slightly easier (although still not easy) to sign James van Riemsdyk and, in four years, Claude Giroux, to long-term deals. At the same time, it kept the defense intact, which is certainly necessary with the continued aging of Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen.
As for the second reason: It's not a secret that there was something missing in the locker room as last season progressed, and that while tough to put a precise finger on exactly what that was, we know it was there. Kimmo Timonen railed about it time and time again as the season wound to a close.
Does that mean that Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were the problem? No, it doesn't. It doesn't vindicate the media's hate for those two. It doesn't vindicate the rumors that they partied too much and detracted from the vibe in the locker room. Paul Holmgren practically cried when talking about trading these guys, and I think that goes a long way towards knowing the real feeling of how they're looked at by those who know them best.
What these moves do take away from the room is a general sense of complacency in the team's attitude. Pronger cited those issues when talking about these trades on Friday.
As the season wore on, for whatever reason, we just didn't turn that corner and continue to get better and peak at the right time. That's disappointing, and it's tough. I don't think there was necessarily a rift, I think we just needed more life in the locker room. It all has to do with your play on the ice.
"Life in the locker room." You know, a lot of things were kind of just handed to this Flyers team, as weird as that sounds. Carter and Richards would be here forever, they'd be able to coast through the regular season and the playoffs on their way to a Stanley Cup. Not a sense of entitlement necessarily, but perhaps a sense of you know, problems are just going to work themselves out. We have too much talent.
When you trade the two best players on the team, you immediately take away any complacency issue. It changes the culture in the locker room, and whether you buy that the Flyers needed that kind of change or not, it's certainly going to happen.
Are all the Flyers' problems solved? No, not in any sense. In the short term, the team is probably worse off than they were if they made only slight alterations to the 2010-11 team, and things are only slightly better in the long-term when it comes to dollars and the salary cap and organizational depth.
Five days after the biggest single day of moves in Flyers history, the scope of those moves has hit hard and has stricken us all emotional in one way or another. It's not the end of the world, and there are things to like and things to hate about these moves. One thing is for sure, though: things are a whole lot different around here.