Fans of the Philadelphia Flyers are probably more than a little perturbed that so many former Flyers are doing so well of late wearing other uniforms in the National Hockey League.
The biggest example would be goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. In their infinite wisdom, the Flyers management decided they needed a “name” goaltender to start in place of their trio of recent netminders, Bobrovsky, Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher. So they went out and acquired Ilya Bryzgalov with the idea of bringing stability to a volatile position.
To afford Bryzgalov’s huge salary, the Flyers needed to clear enough salary cap space and traded away top forwards Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. Although Carter was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets, he eventually found his way via another trade to Los Angeles, and both he and Richards were important members of the Kings 2011-2012 Stanley Cup champions. In the abbreviated 2013 campaign, Carter scored 26 goals in 48 games, according to hockey-reference.com. Carter is the rare, natural goal-scorer the Flyers no longer have. During his time in Philadelphia, he scored as many as 46 goals in a season.
It turns out the Flyers front office did not need to go through this chain reaction of moves, because they already had the answer to their goaltending problems sitting right under their noses. Anyone could see that Sergei Bobrovsky possessed all the things you can’t teach someone; incredible quickness and the flexibility of a gymnast that allows him to contort his body and make acrobatic saves very few other goalies can even dream of making. And the things he didn’t do well, like handle the puck away from his crease, were the very things that can be taught. Bobrovsky had caught on in Philly enough to earn the affectionate nickname “Bob.” He spent a year backing up Bryzgalov, and even then he showed flashes of brilliance that demonstrated he had more ability than the starter. But the Flyers saw him as expendable and traded him away to Columbus for draft picks. After his first year as a starter with Columbus, Bobrovsky is the odds-on favorite to win the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the top goalie in the NHL. This would mean the Flyers traded away a future Vezina Trophy winner and budding superstar in the prime of his career.
Former Flyers James “JVR” van Riemsdyk and Joffrey Lupul are doing well for the Toronto Maple Leafs and playing key roles in the playoffs. JVR has great speed and you can’t teach speed.
The players the Flyers received in return for the players they moved out of town are not nearly as productive as those they replaced. It is safe to say that if the Flyers had just kept the hand they were dealt and held on to those five essential players (Bobrovsky, Carter, Richards, van Riemsdyk and Lupul) they would have easily made the playoffs for 2013 and perhaps won the Cup. As it stands they missed the playoffs and are now an aging team that must rebuild. Bryzgalov is over 30 whereas the traded Bobrovsky is only 24. Among the forwards on the Flyers, Danny Briere, Ruslan Fedotenko, Simon Gagne, Mike Knuble and Scott Hartnell are all over 30, and most of these veterans don’t figure in the Flyers’ future plans.
It may be an exaggeration to say that the Bobrovsky move will become as infamous as the Boston Red Sox selling Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, but it is sure looking like one of the all-time boneheaded decisions.