For several seasons, the Los Angeles Kings have been referred to as "Flyers West" due to a smattering of players, coaches, and front office members with ties to Philadelphia. Tonight's trade may have made it official. Just eight months after being traded out of Philadelphia and separated against their wishes, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter are once again teammates. Carter's career as a Columbus Blue Jacket was mercifully short—on Thursday night, it was announced he'd been traded to the Kings for defenseman Jack Johnson and a first round pick.
Richie and Carter together again… More below on the crazy course of events that saw the faces of the Flyers franchise separated, then reunited, in less than a year.
When the rumors started rolling that Kings GM Dean Lombardi was interested in bringing Carter to Los Angeles, I admit I was at least a little happy to hear it. Despite the Richards and Carter trades proving to be advantageous for the Flyers (or perhaps because of it), I still like both players. I was a big Richie fan, loved his on-ice game, and I felt Carter was undervalued by some fans. It made sense to me to see the Flyers sign the duo to long-term deals, and it shocked me when they were both traded on the same day in June 2011.
But it didn't take long to understand the Flyers' thinking. It wasn't just a desire to make room for Ilya Bryzgalov's contract. They got great returns on each trade, with Wayne Simmonds playing the best hockey of his career, already scoring more goals than Richards, and Brayden Schenn now healthy and showing flashes of the player he'll grow to be. Jake Voracek has been solid if unspectacular, but Sean Couturier, who was selected with the 8th overall pick that came back in the Carter deal, was NHL-ready the day he put on the Flyers logo, and his future is clearly bright.
But I also felt terrible for Richards and Carter, who got the short end of the "hockey is a business" reality. Both signed their current contracts thinking they'd be Flyers for life. Carter's came less than a year before he was traded. Due to restrictions in the collective bargaining agreement, neither player was yet eligible for a no-movement clause; each would have seen theirs kick in after the current season.
Now, it appears their career trajectories are once again conjoined. Carter won't have to play out his career against his will in hockey hell, and in a way, the Flyers may be off the hook for any guilt they were feeling. Hell even Simon Gagne is out there, along with John Stevens, the Kings' assistant coach who was formerly a player-friendly coach of Richards and Carter with the Flyers and a Calder Cup-winning Phantoms team.
It may not be a popular opinion, but I wish both of them, and I guess by extension the Kings, well. They had their warts, but they were very good here, loved playing here, and wanted to retire Flyers. That being said, I don't want them anywhere near a Stanley Cup until the Flyers win one. That'd be painful... Truth be told though... If the Flyers get bounced and the Kings are still alive... It'd be hard to root against them.
Under what circumstances would you root for Flyers West? Certainly understandable if the answer is "Never," but I'd bet a fair amount of fans still like these guys, not to mention Ron Hextall (asst GM) and Justin Williams. Definitely a large group who have left them long behind though, too.
I'm not sure there could be a more interesting end to a Flyers season than to have them beat this Kings team in the Stanley Cup Finals...
Side discussion: Our sympathies have been transferred from Carter to Jack Johnson, a tough defenseman with some scoring touch who plenty of Flyers fans have wished might someday end up in Philly. With Columbus in fire sale mode and Carter clearly not a fit there, it's a bit surprising that they are the side getting the player plus the pick. While it's understandable they'd want the first rounder along with a quality NHLer, Carter was known to be wholly disgruntled, and also battled injuries this season.