Truth be told, I had hoped it would not come to this. As the Los Angeles Kings stormed through the Western Conference en route to these Stanley Cup Finals, beginning tonight at 8 p.m., I did not want to be forced to root for the affectionately-nicknamed "Flyers West" to hoist sports' greatest trophy. Since they are dueling with a longtime Orange & Black rival, the New Jersey Devils, it's not even a choice.
It's not because I'm a vindictive person, or even that I dislike those guys. Like many fans, Simon Gagne and Mike Richards were actually two of my favorite Flyers during their times here, not to mention Ron Hextall, who works in the Kings front office. Can't say the same about Jeff Carter, but we don't have beef or anything, nor do I with John Stevens on the LA bench. As a brief aside, goaltender Jonathan Quick played for my hometown Reading Royals in the ECHL, so there's that too. And for the sake of cohesion, best not forget Justin Williams, who began his NHL career in Philly.
It's just that I don't want to hear about how the Flyers should have seller's remorse less than a year after unloading two of those guys in trades.
A few months ago, I would've proclaimed the Flyers won both the Carter and Richards deals hands down, going as far back as the day the deals were announced. I still feel confident they got the better end of things, but the Kings are playing, Philly is not, and there is certainly something to be said for that. Of course, the Flyers weren't the ones that shipped Carter to LA in the first place, but the point is he and Richards are four games away from a championship, only two years removed from coming within two of doing it here.
Who the winners and losers were truly will be judged in good time, but there is a big difference in what Carter's and Richards' roles are now, and what they were called upon to be here. In Philadelphia, they were faces of the franchise, locker room leaders -- the building blocks of a team. In Los Angeles, they joined a talented core already in place -- Quick, Williams, Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar.
Carter and Richards were the missing links this time, not the guys steering the ship. My hat goes off to them though. I certainly did not expect to see either one of them in the Finals this year, let alone both of them together. While I can't say I appreciate their ironic timing, along with the other boys who spent parts of their lives with the Flyers, theirs are names I wouldn't mind seeing on the Cup after all.