Only 13 months after being one goal short of Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final, the Flyers tore it up.
Carter, who failed to lift the puck over the flopping Antti Niemi soon after the Flyers had tied Game 6 with 3:59 remaining, did not score that goal. The winning goal also was not stopped by Michael Leighton, who allowed the worst Cup clincher of the expansion era. Leighton and the injured goalie he replaced that spring, Brian Boucher, also are gone, like the moment the Flyers failed to seize.
Carter, who as a Flyer averaged .392 goals per game in the regular season and .276 in the playoffs, is now a Columbus Blue Jacket. He was sent to Ohio in exchange for Jakub Voracek and an eighth-overall pick that turned into Sean Couturier. Free agent Ilya Bryzgalov is now the goalie through the salary cap space created in part by the Carter deal (See story).
Time not only doesnt stand still, it moves at warped speed in a capped league where the window to win may be even smaller than the space over Niemi had seemed to Carter with a Game 7 on his stick. But if, after missing 16 games over the last two playoffs, Carter had become disappointing and expendable, nobody saw coming the trade that sent Mike Richards to Los Angeles for Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmons.
The NHL, in fact, had not seen such a shakeup of a young, successful nucleus in a long time. Historically, the list of good players, in their primes, allowed to become free agents for signability reasons, is a long one.
But Richards and Carter, both 26 and not even yet in their theoretical peak years, had four seasons left on their respective contracts. Twin 2003 first-round picks that helped attract Danny Briere and enable the franchise to do a lightning rebuild from their 2006-07 sink to the bottom of the NHL, they were keys to a team in first place overall just six months before their trades.
Nevertheless, GM Paul Holmgren went right to what he clearly thought was a fast-rotting foundation and dug up a good portion of it. And its hard to find precedents for such bold moves. When, in 2005, the Bruins dealt 1997 first-overall pick Joe Thornton for three Sharks, Boston had won one playoff round in seven years, not six series in four years like the Flyers had with Carter and Richards.
The closest to such a shakeup in Flyer history was their summer 1982 trade of Ken Linseman, the seventh-overall pick in the 1978 draft, in a three-way for Mark Howe. But the Flyers had followed up their 1980 finals appearance with just one series win the next two years, their defense was in tatters and Linseman was neither a captain nor a leading scorer.
Ultimately, Wayne Gretzkys trade and sale from the Oilers to the Kings was a precursor of owner Peter Pocklingtons eventual bankruptcy. So really, the last great shakeup of such magnitude, made almost strictly for hockey purposes, may have been when the Bruins, one year removed from their 1974 finals loss to the Flyers, traded Phil Esposito and Ken Hodge to the Rangers for Jean Ratelle and Brad Park.
In one deal, thats three Hall of Famers, which Carter and Richards are unlikely to become. But our point is how rare is this example of a team willing to make dramatic moves for reasons other than the desire to get younger and cheaper.
The Flyers certainly remove some years in the L.A. trade, picking up Schenn, 20, Simmonds, 23, plus a No. 2 pick. But when your indispensable defenseman, Chris Pronger is about to turn 37, your second-best defenseman, Kimmo Timonen, is 36 and you just spent 51 million on a 31-year-old goalie, this is not a major rebuild, but a retool on the fly.
Adding to the intrigue is Holmgrens refusal to hint at any problems the Flyers had with Richards, when clearly they must have had some. The need to get bigger on the wings, which the Flyers did with Simmonds and Voracek, was a factor secondary to we really dont know.
What is clear is that the locker room now belongs to Pronger, a concept with which the Flyers are more than just content. Pronger and Timonen also will reach a level of comfort with allowing Bryzgalov to stop everything he can see, reducing anxiety throughout the team. The last time the Flyers moved to get the best mid-career goalie available, things worked out fine for themselves and Bernie Parent.
Well see in a few years whether Sergei Bobrovsky, 23, proves as good or better than Bryzgalov. But until a first-string-caliber backup inevitably becomes an unaffordable luxury, the Flyers will have two talented goalies for this year at least, nothing but a positive.
A useful, sometimes dynamic Ville Leino was a cap casualty, replaced by Jaromir Jagr, one of the best 20 players in the history of an NHL that he last played in three seasons ago. The exhibition games demonstrated that even at age 39, Jagr can still one-time a puck. Well see what he has left for April.
The Penguins thought shoulder surgery had made Max Talbot, the Game 7 hero of the 2009 Cup, signed by the Flyers as a free agent, a fourth-line center. If Schenn, injured during the exhibition season, is not ready to play regularly on a playoff team, Talbot necessarily becomes a third-line player. And no amount of step-up by Claude Giroux into the No. 1 centers position, or even normal production from 33-year-old Briere, makes the Flyers as deep up the middle as they were a year ago, never mind how often Carter wound up on the wing.
The Flyers, seeking redemption from a second-round sweep by the Stanley Cup champion Bruins, have fresh energy players in Simmonds and Voracek, almost always a good thing, plus new motivation for Giroux and James van Riemsdyk in larger roles management obviously feels they are prepared to handle.
The shakeout from all these changes will be extensive, potentially debilitating, perhaps exhilarating. The last time the Flyers changed this much coming off a playoff season, sophomores Dave Poulin, Ron Sutter and Murray Craven, plus rookies Rick Tocchet, Peter Zezel, and Derrick Smith, replaced the just-retired Bob Clarke and Bill Barber, plus the traded Darryl Sittler. That season, 1984-85, the Flyers astounded the league with a Presidents Trophy and a finals berth.
To dream, ones lids do not have to close. If nothing else, these dramatically altered Flyers are going to be hard to take your eyes from.
Jay Greenberg covered the Flyers for 14 years for the Daily News and Evening Bulletin. His history of the Flyers, Full Spectrum, was published in 1996. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.