How a Kings Cup Win Changes the Flyers' Season Narrative

How a Kings Cup Win Changes the Flyers' Season Narrative
June 6, 2012, 1:28 pm
There used to be a little derision in references to
the Los Angeles Kings being "Flyers West." We've always said there
wasn't, that it was a term of endearment. We respected the particular
group of Philadelphia expatriates who wound up together in Hollywood.
While those sentiments were and are still true, they came with a smirk
and an attempt to conceal undeserved condescension.  
With former Philly bench bosses and front office
folks in positions of power and a small rotation of former Flyers
wearing a small rotation of Kings uniform variations, the club had
certainly earned the nickname. Failing to sustain any real momentum
toward postseason glory is probably what garnered the seldom spoken
derision, even if the Flyers' own successes, while consistent, also
consistently fell short. 

That was before Mike Richards was traded to LA
though. Before Simon Gagne signed up to be his teammate again nine days
later. With former captain Richards and decade-long fan-favorite Gagne,
the Kings had undeniably were "Flyers West," but the derision began to
disappear. When Jeff Carter moved in with Richards in Manhattan Beach,
the reference was set in stone and the derision gone entirely, replaced
by a quickly rooted sapling of fear. 
Fear? Of a struggling, limping forward joining a
chemistry-challenged team that might not even make the playoffs? A team
that had jettisoned its head coach and endured Richards' weakest ever
regular season and a long-term injury to Gagne?
No, this fear was for what in retrospect now feels
to have been inevitable—that the exiled former Flyers would unite like
Voltron elsewhere and raise Lord Stanley's gift to the league less than
one year after being sent out of Philadelphia against their wishes. 
Melodramatic? Maybe. But it could happen tonight, or later this week, and it will be painful. It is already painful.
As
we said when Carter was dealt to LA, we are happy for the two players
who were drafted together and were once proud to be Flyers "for life."
Same goes for Gagne and Williams, though the latter already has a Cup
and will be known in passing as one of the franchise's "what if…?"
stories. Same goes for Ron Hextall, who was so close in 1987, a force
for the league to reckon with. Ten years later, Hexy was back in the
Finals for the Flyers, but as part of an all too familiar goalie
carousel. Now he's Assistant GM under Dean Lombardi, a man who flew
under most fans' radars during his time with the Flyers. We see you now,
Dean.  
The trades were much safer on June 23rd, 2011—both
to execute as the Flyers GM, and to accept as fans. Carter seemed
destined to live out a purgatorial existence in Columbus, and that's
being generous. Richards might do well in LA, but that was fine. They
weren't traded by a vindictive man hoping to ruin them. Paul Holmgren
had tears in his eyes in the wake of the deals, knowing full well
neither player wanted to go at all, much less be separated. Maybe Scott
Howson's need to move the publicly disgruntled Carter and Lombardi's
need for more scoring combined to alleviate Homer's guilt.  
But their reunion immediately reopened the dialog
of, what if the Flyers and Kings play in the Finals? It seemed unlikely,
with the Kings an 8 seed and the Flyers facing a treacherous path
through the East. But after the Flyers beat the Penguins, the way they
did, and the Kings marched through the top-seeded Canucks, we (and
probably the league) were a little closer to believing that pipe dream
matchup might just happen. 
Only for a moment though. And that's where it starts to get painful.

The
series against the Devils went so astonishingly bad, knocking us all
down a peg after we uncharacteristically assumed the Flyers' next real
challenge after the Penguins awaited in the Conference Finals. The
Kings, meanwhile, had clearly found their stride and continued on a
historic tear through the West
. They were the group catching fire at just the right time, as well as the team with the hot, dominant goalie. 
While our rival fans toasted another early tee time
for the Orange & Black—even those who'd met their end too—they had a
new mocking line to trot out, and we'd better get used to it. Just
after the traditional goaltending comments, be prepared to hear a chorus
of Richards and Carter digs. They came in waves as Carter scored his
second goal of the Finals on Monday night, a perfect lift of a pass from
Richards to beat Martin Brodeur and seal what now appears to be a
certain fate.  
It began to truly feel like our club is cursed. In
just one season, barring a miraculous Devils comeback, Richards and
Carter in all their bearded glory will do what many of us have never
seen the Flyers accomplish outside of the grainy footage from before our
time. They're gonna drink from that Cup this summer. 
Let's Make Excuses
What may or may not be
lost in all of this is that the Flyers weren't expected to contend
immediately after the summer 2011 shakeup saw their forward lines
replaced en masse. Many young faces were added, and their greatest
veteran leader was lost for the season, probably longer. I can't
remember a team with more rookies contributing key minutes up and down
the lines. The Kings' end of the Richards trade was the more "win now"
move, exchanging a top prospect and a valuable young winger for a team
captain with playoff experience. 

There is also the line of thought that the
departures also allowed a superstar to emerge. Claude Giroux became an
MVP candidate and had Conn Smythe chatter after a first series showdown
with Sidney Crosby. But perhaps in large part due to injury, he faded
along with the rest of the Flyers to a reality that we probably wouldn't
have been too upset over if you offered it last October. And, there's
no way of knowing how his development would have been effected if 18
and/or 17 had stayed. 

Doesn't Ease the Pain
If the Kings
continue on this path, and it appears they will, it will be a lot harder
to shrug off the rebuilding/reloading season. The two biggest stones
the builder removed became valuable pieces of someone else's castle.
That someone already had the most valuable piece when he started making
deals, as well as high-line forward talent and defense. Despite the
excellent efforts of the Flyers' rookie corps and other newcomers, we
still don't know whether the Flyers have a championship-caliber goalie
or a long-term road block, and . 

We may never know the full extent of the reasons
that Richards and Carter were dealt. Opinions will always vary. The need
for a new direction. The need for the elusive (and expensive) #1
goalie. A different look from the forward lines. Dry Island violations,
the stuff that made the papers and the stuff that didn't. 

Whatever the reason, they were deemed the players
who needed to go in order to make the Flyers into a Cup winner. For Los
Angeles, they were the pieces that needed to be added. That stirs some
worthwhile considerations about how both teams were built with and
without Richards and Carter, what their ideal roles are and were. 
I'm trying hard not to blame or second-guess Homer's
decision because again, we don't know exactly what led to it. And, if
the Kings lost last round, we wouldn't even be having this discussion,
instead focusing on whether one off-season will be enough to get the
Flyers over the hurdle they crotched up on while running at full speed. 
What Comes Next?
Last season, the Flyers'
playoff run ended in embarrassment, and Ed Snider publicly decreed that
the goaltending carousel would end. At least in part, that set the
course for the summer's surprising moves. This year's departure was
frustrating, though I wouldn't say it was quite as embarrassing on its
own. But what happens after Richards and Carter win the Cup in an
emphatically short series during which the Flyers are painted as the
long-term ex who cheated on and then broke up with them, then in the end
was the one left behind while the jilted party moved on to better
things?
Will that be an additional motivator toward
off-season moves (ie, the rebound), or will the Flyers primarily stay
the course and let a new, young core develop, tweaking only a few
areas? 
One final question. Seeing what short work the Kings are
making of every team they face… If they were going to win the Cup, are
you glad the Flyers were eliminated early, rather than have to be
another stop on LA's parade route?
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