The 2011 offseason was one of change for the Philadelphia Flyers.
On June 23rd, 2011, the Flyers made a pair of trades that have turned out to shape the direction of the team in both the short term and the long term.
Due to off-ice issues as well as wanting to clear cap space for Ilya Bryzgalov and his humongous big contract, Paul Holmgren broke up the core of the team by trading away captain Mike Richards and the team’s leading goalscorer Jeff Carter.
The Flyers broke up the dynamic duo, sending Carter to Columbus and Richards to Los Angeles. However, after an injury and disappointing stint in Columbus, the Blue Jackets reunited the duo by trading Carter to the Kings on February 23rd, 2012.
We all know what happened next. The two went on to win not one, but two Stanley Cups with the Kings in 2012 and 2014. The Flyers must’ve lost those trades then, right?
Looking back on those trades now, they have worked out for the Flyers. However, they were highly questionable at the time and shortly thereafter.
For “What if?” week, what if the Flyers only traded one of Carter and Richards rather than both? How would that shape the team, and which one would have been more beneficial to keep – if either?
Let’s focus on the Carter trade first:
Jeff Carter for Jakub Voracek, 2011 first-round pick (Sean Couturier), and 2011 third-round pick (Nick Cousins)
Voracek and Couturier have become key pieces of the Flyers’ core, making an impact from the ‘11-12 season until today.
The 2011-12 season was a relatively successful one for the Flyers. It was the last time they won a playoff series, and they only lost to the eventual Eastern Conference champions.
On an individual level, the 2011-12 season saw the breakout of Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell had a great season, and several young players – including those acquired in the Carter and Richards trades – took their first step forward.
Digging into the stats of the players involved in those deals, the Flyers may have even “won” the trades as soon as the 2011-12 season.
Below are the stats in the 2011-12 season of Carter, Couturier, and Voracek – in no particular order –, prorated to 82 games.
2011-12 stats prorated to 82 games
Given those stats, Player A and Player B were on a similar level, with one being more of a shooter while the other is more of a passer. Then Player C is a step behind.
As you can probably guess from those stats – specifically the goals vs. assists –, Player A is Carter, while B and C are Voracek and Couturier.
Given Carter’s injury and trade from Columbus to Los Angeles, it’s fair to say that he may have been the better player (than Voracek) in ‘11-12 if he had stayed in Philadelphia. However, the impact of 19-year-old Couturier should not be discounted.
As time goes on, the edge goes to the duo of Voracek and Couturier over Carter.
Carter had the most goals from ‘11-12 to ‘16-17, but then Couturier took over. Voracek has had the most assists of the trio in every season since ‘11-12. Voracek also had the most points in five of the nine seasons, with Carter taking the crown in ‘15-16 and ‘16-17, and Couturier pulling ahead in recent years.
From a statistical perspective, it’s fair to say that the Flyers have won the trade. On top of that, Carter has had a cap hit of $5.27 million since ‘11-12, while Voracek made $4.25 million from ‘12-13 to ‘15-16 before his pay day for a cap hit of $8.25 million from ‘16-17 through ‘23-24. Couturier has been on a steal of a contract at a cap hit of $1.375 million in the first three years, and $4.33 million since ‘16-17.
Speaking of salaries and the salary cap, a part of the reasoning behind trading Carter (and Richards) was to clear cap space. That cap space was primarily used to sign Ilya Bryzgalov, but if only one of Carter or Richards was traded, they likely wouldn’t have been able to sign Jaromir Jagr. Jagr had a great season in Philadelphia – better than Carter or Voracek – with 54 points (19 goals, 35 assists) in 73 games.
So, what (if anything) of importance would change for the Flyers if they only traded Richards, and not Carter?
In the short term following the 2011 offseason, it probably doesn’t change all that much. I can’t see Carter and two lesser players contributing more than Voracek, Couturier, and Jagr did that season. They would likely still get past the Penguins in the first round, but the Devils series likely ends in a similar fashion unless Carter could put the pads on and play between the pipes.
In the years after, with Carter on the downside of his prime and Voracek and Couturier yet to hit theirs, there probably wouldn’t have been much of a positive impact. If anything, the Flyers would’ve had less success, only slowing down the rebuilding process.
In the long term, they’d still have the high-scoring winger that they’ve craved since trading away Carter – a role that Travis Konecny is now filling –, but they wouldn’t have either of Jake Voracek and Sean Couturier.
Voracek has become one of the best forwards in the league since 2011, as his 561 points in 674 games are the 15th-most in the league since coming to the Flyers, more than guys like Joe Pavelski, Nikita Kucherov, Patrice Bergeron, Eric Staal, and Max Pacioretty,
Couturier isn’t quite at that level of points just yet, but he has quickly become one of the best two-way centers in the league. Over the past three seasons, Couturier has a 29th-best 211 points in 231 games, more than Tyler Seguin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Voracek, and Patrice Bergeron. His 166 even-strength points are tied with Alex Ovechkin for ninth-most since the beginning of the 2017-18 season.
Carter has kept his scoring ability, but his overall numbers have fallen off a cliff since his injury-shortened ‘17-18 campaign.
Only trading Richards, and not Carter, likely would’ve not done much good for the Flyers. It wouldn’t have put them over the hump in any of their playoff series, and it would’ve stalled their future without Voracek and Couturier progressing while Carter declined.
But what about the Richards trade?
Mike Richards and Rob Bordson for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, and 2012 second-round pick (traded in deal for Nicklas Grossmann)
As the captain of the Flyers, Richards was the heart and soul of the team. Trading him meant a change in leadership at the top with the ‘C’ going to Chris Pronger, as Giroux became one of the top forwards on the team.
At the time of the trade, Schenn was the top prospect on the Kings, which boasted the best prospect system in the league. Simmonds had yet to find his groove in his first three years in the league, putting up a respectable 16 goals and 14 goals in the two seasons prior to being traded.
Like Voracek and Couturier, Simmonds and Schenn quickly became key pieces for the Flyers. While their tenures in Philadelphia were shorter than the other two, Simmonds quickly became a fan favorite and Schenn certainly had some great seasons as a Flyer as well.
While Carter’s offensive numbers didn’t fall off that much with the Kings (and Blue Jackets), the same can’t be said for Richards.
From a purely statistical perspective, the Flyers cleaned up in that trade. Simmonds immediately started to outscore Richards, and Schenn quickly caught up a few years later.
Yes, Mike Richards won two Stanley Cups with the Kings, so he may have gotten the last laugh, but the Flyers ended up with two of the best players in the deal. They may end up with the three or four best players in the deal as well.
Richards’ time in Los Angeles unceremoniously came to an end after he was arrested for possession of oxycodone without a prescription at the US-Canada Border.
Schenn and Simmonds both had pretty solid careers with the Flyers, and each of them helped bring in players that will have an impact in the current season and beyond.
Schenn was traded on draft night in 2017 for Jori Lehtera and two first-round picks that ended up becoming Morgan Frost and Joel Farabee. Simmonds was traded for Ryan Hartman, who was flipped last offseason for Tyler Pitlick.
In the long term, the Flyers got the better players, but what about the seasons immediately following the trade? What would have been different if the Flyers kept Richards, but traded Carter?
The same arguments made above in the Carter section can be recycled here. I can’t see Richards making more of an impact than Simmonds (and Schenn to some extent) in the 2011-12 season, or in the seasons following that.
The decision to blow up the core of the team in trading Carter and Richards in 2011 is one that has shaped the last decade of Flyers hockey, and will continue to have an impact in the form of Frost and Farabee from the Schenn trade.
It looked questionable at the time, and even moreso when the duo went on to win two Cups, but the Flyers couldn’t help that. They tried to separate them, but the Blue Jackets had other plans. The pair weren’t the best players on those championship Kings teams, but they definitely had fairly sizable roles on those squads.
Getting back to the whole point of this article, how can we sum up “What if the Flyers only traded one of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards?”
If the Flyers only traded one of Carter or Richards, they would’ve lost out on two pieces of their mid-2010s core – and more.
By keeping Carter, he would’ve helped out on the scoring front in the middle of the decade when he was still averaging 27 goals a season, but that would’ve come at a cost. The Flyers then wouldn’t have top-line center Sean Couturier or top-six winger Jake Voracek, both of whom have emerged into stars. The Flyers also drafted Wyatte Wylie with the fifth-round pick acquired by trading away Nick Cousins.
Carter, essentially a shell of himself over the past few years, would be simply playing out the rest of his contract. Instead, Voracek and Couturier are locked up through 2024 and 2022 respectively, as the Flyers’ championship window appears to be widening again.
On the other hand, keeping Richards maybe wouldn’t have shaken things up in the locker room or off the ice as much, but his on-ice contributions took a dip after the 2010-11 season.
By trading Richards, the Flyers had eight fun-filled years of Simmonds, and six seasons of Schenn as he progressed into a top-six forward. That trade tree has been extended as well with the Schenn deal. That brought Frost and Farabee to the Flyers, and those two look like they could be at least middle-six forwards for the next several years.
Only trading one of Carter and Richards wouldn’t have been unheard of for the Flyers during those years or years past. The Flyers always tried to win at any cost, and keeping one of them would’ve kept the championship window open a bit longer. However, that opening would’ve been very slim, and it would’ve stalled any sort of rebuild or transition period. Instead, the Flyers’ championship window slammed shut for a few (or more than a few) years, so it could widen again after the rebuild.
The Flyers needed to either continue with Carter and Richards and the team that won 18 playoff games in two years, or completely change directions. Due to the organization’s desire to try to find a solution at the goalie position, the cap crunch, and some off-ice antics, the Flyers chose the latter. Barring any drastic changes outside of Carter and Richards in the early 2010s, it looks like the Flyers made the right decision in the long run.
If the Flyers only traded one of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, who would you have preferred to keep?
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