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Flyers Clear Cap Space, Change Directions
The Flyers were involved in a flurry of activity on draft eve, signing goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51.5 million deal, addressing their desperate need for quality goaltending.
Needing to clear cap space to get that deal done, the Flyers first traded star center Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for winger Jakub Voracek, along with a first round pick (eighth overall) and a third round selection (68th overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Following that was dealing Richards to the Kings.
“What we’ve done today is change the direction of our organization with these two moves,” Holmgren said during a press conference. “I’ve always said over the last few years that I like our team. Today I like our team. We’re just a different team.”
Holmgren noted that it was a difficult day for him, having to part with both Carter and Richards. He also acknowledged that it was tough for the two players as well.
“Mike and Jeff were extremely upset,” said Holmgren. “It’s a call that they—not only was it tough for me to make it was tough for them to receive. When you’re around this business long enough, you get to know that it is a business. Hopefully, everyone will move on. They’re both good players in our league and they’ll go on to be productive players on their new teams.”
The Flyers acquired Bryzgalov’s rights from the Phoenix Coyotes on June 7, touching off a flurry of phone calls from other general managers, inquiring about potential trades, knowing that the Flyers were between a rock and a hard place in terms of salary cap space.
“When we made the deal to get negotiating rights to Ilya, it put wheels in motion with a lot of teams,” Holmgren explained. “We fielded a lot of calls over the last ten days. I had some talks with a few teams between the time we lost [in the playoffs] and the end of the Stanley Cup Finals that we may be in a position to do some things.”
“Some of these talks came to fruition over the last few days and led to what happened today,” Holmgren elaborated.
Right Time, Right Player
Lombardi first inquired about Richards about a month ago.
“I would say the issue of possibly acquiring him was broached about four weeks ago,” he said. “Things just kind of evolved and then moved to a pressure point, to so speak, which is usually the draft and July 1.”
“In terms of the possibility of acquiring him, I was aware of that about four weeks ago, but I wasn’t sure how sincere they were, or what it was going to cost, those type of things, but certainly the last 48 hours have been pretty grueling,” he added. “That’s usually the way these deals work.”
Richards is not just the skilled, second line center the Kings have been lacking…forever. He is also a character player, a trait Lombardi is very big on.
“I’ve known Mike Richards, and obviously [Kings assistant general manager] Ron Hextall and [head coach Terry Murray and assistant coach John Stevens] know him from Philly,” Lombardi noted. “We all know what this guy stands for. You’ve just got to watch him play.”
“This goes back to his [days in] junior [hockey],” Lombardi added. “Everywhere this guy has gone, he has won. Whether it’s junior hockey, whether it’s World Junior tournaments, right into the American League. It’s not one of those where you have to caucus and think whether or not you want this player. It was just a matter of trying to make it happen.”
As Holmgren alluded to, Richards was shocked to find out that he had been traded.
“I actually never heard one rumor, or not one person ever said anything to me about being traded until 1:30 – 2:00 today when I got a call from [agent] Pat [Morris], just to give me a heads-up that there was a good chance that, at some point today, I’d be traded,” said Richards.
“I was very shocked when I got a call in the early afternoon from my agent,” added Richards. “He just kind of gave me the rundown on what he knew. As the afternoon progressed, I started hearing a little bit more and more, and then I ended up actually reading it on the Internet a few minutes before I was able to get the confirmation from my agent about it.”
“At first, I was shocked, and then excited. I’m excited to go out to LA and be a part of a team that has a ton of great players. I’m just looking forward to helping them out.”
Richards Was Upset About Being Traded…A Good Thing
Like many NHL players, Richards never gave leaving his team a second thought.
“It was tough for me,” said Richards. “Paul [Holmgren] and I have gotten along extremely well during my six years there. It wasn’t a long conversation, but I just thanked him for giving me the opportunity to play with them and to be a Flyer and live in Philadelphia for six years.”
“I think we were both a little emotional, so it wasn’t a long conversation, added Richards. “It was one I didn’t think I was ever going to have to do.”
Richards noted that he may not have signed a long-term contract if he knew the Flyers would eventually trade him.
“I probably wouldn’t have signed [his current twelve-year contract], actually, if I knew I was going to be traded,” he said. “But I was fortunate enough to go to LA, where I’ve heard nothing but tremendous things, not only about the organization, but about the city and how nice it is out there and how great the organization treats you.”
“Obviously, when I signed that extension I wanted to stay in Philadelphia for the rest of my career,” he added. “That’s what I envisioned, probably up until 2:00 or 3:00 this afternoon, when I got the call. It’s unfortunate. Nobody likes to be traded, but I feel like I’m going to a team where there’s a good chance that we’re going to have success there, and we have good players in position and a good organization. Hopefully we can take that next step together, and I just want to be there and help out any way possible.”
That Richards was upset about being traded is likely to be a good sign.
“The kid was emotional about being traded, but it’s my experience that if you’ve got a guy that’s excited about being traded, generally, that’s not the guy you want,” said Lombardi. “You want the guy that wears the jersey on his sleeve, his heart on his sleeve.”
“I know this had to be hard on him,” added Lombardi. “Very few players today will ever commit to a contract like he did, for that term, showing his loyalty. If we can get that here in LA, that’s exactly what we need.”
“You’ve heard me talk about culture. This guy fits in that [Kyle] Clifford mode, that culture-changer.”
Richards will not just be changing sweaters. Indeed, he will be moving to the opposite coast, going from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference, and from more intense media scrutiny in Philadelphia to relative media obscurity here in Southern California.
“It’s going to be different, showing up to training camp in a new place and not going back to Philadelphia,” Richards noted. “I know Drew Doughty from the Olympics, and Justin Williams a little bit just from being in Philadelphia, and Dustin Brown from playing against him in the [Ontario Hockey League].”
“It’s going to be strange, for sure, not going back to Philadelphia and seeing everybody there, and going to LA to see a bunch of new faces, Richards added. “I almost have to start from scratch there, but it’s an opportunity for me to be a part of an organization that has a good chance to have success, and I’m looking forward to being a part of it.”
As reported earlier, Richards also knows Murray and Stevens.
“[Murray] was great with me,” said Richards. “He worked with me in Philly, but I also had John Stevens as well in Philadelphia. They were both coaches that I got along extremely well with and who played me a lot of minutes and in positions to have success, on the power play and penalty kill. Those are two guys that I got along extremely well with, and I’m looking forward to working with them again.”
Richards will most certainly be the Kings second or first line center when the 2011-12 season opens. But whichever slot he fits into, he is optimistic.
“I’m not sure how I’m going to fit in, but I like the makeup of the team,” he said. “They’ve got an extremely gritty team with a lot of skill. They have two great goaltenders, up to a defense that is skilled and play the game hard, and then you’ve got a lot of depth at the forward position, too.”
“I’m not sure how I’m going to get placed into it at the moment, but I’m just looking forward to getting there and really just playing the game that has kind of got me to this point,” he added.
Kings: Improved Or Not?
As Lombardi pointed out, one of the Kings’ glaring weaknesses has been the lack of a legitimate second line center, as Jarret Stoll has not played poorly, but, at the same time, he has not been the answer. But with this move, Richards brings proven scoring, skill and leadership to the position, not to mention that he plays bigger than his 5-11, 195-pound stature might indicate.
The trade also allows the Kings move Stoll to the third line center spot, a role he is much better suited to.
To be sure, the Kings did not fleece the Flyers in this deal. They certainly didn’t steal Richards away for the proverbial plodder and a bag of used pucks. But did they get fleeced by the Flyers?
No, not in the least.
Indeed, Simmonds is a third line right wing who is close to fulfilling his potential—he is unlikely to be able to move up to a top six role full time. Also, with the emergence of Clifford, Simmonds, who has been attractive trade bait for many teams for some time, was expendable.
As for Schenn, he is probably two or three years away from becoming a second line center at the NHL level.
At 26 years of age, as Lombardi noted, Richards will be in his prime for several years and, at the very least, he immediately gives the Kings what Schenn might have given them two or three years from now, maybe more.
As such, the verdict is that this was a good deal for both teams involved, and it gives the Kings a considerable boost, without them having to give up a lot from their big club’s roster. They still need to add a scoring winger, and it seems increasingly likely that Lombardi will add at least one more piece, either via trade or free agent signing, before the off-season ends.
Ryan Smyth Wants To Go Home…
Lombardi told reporters that veteran left wing Ryan Smyth has requested a trade that will move him to a team closer to his home in Banff, Alberta.
“I think it’s pretty well documented, in terms of what I’m doing here,” Lombardi explained. “This has kind of evolved over the last two months, actually. When Ryan asked to be moved, at first I was really troubled. Ryan, in our first forty games last year, I thought he was one of our better players. He kind of tailed off a little and then, in the playoffs, was one of our best players. And certainly, left wing, it’s not one of our strongest positions. So first off, my reaction was, ‘No way,’ and I couldn’t figure out why, because I think Ryan had adapted well.”
“I talked to him a couple times, and he was very clear that it had nothing to do with hockey, that it was strictly for his family, that he wanted to go home.” Lombardi elaborated. “I thought about it [for] a week or so, and talked to his agent and said, ‘If it’s a hockey issue, I would not approve of this, because if it’s coaching, the power play, his ice time, who he’s playing with, these are things that we will work through.’ But if it’s a personal thing, a family issue, it’s hard to argue with that and have a player that’s not going to be happy. So I resigned myself.”
Smyth’s request, while understandable, has forced Lombardi to deal with other teams from a position of great weakness—Smyth probably won’t fetch more than a third round draft pick now.
“He asked to go back closer to home, and I’ve primarily dealt with three teams, and particularly two right now,” said Lombardi. “This kind of hit the front burner last week, in terms of coming out publicly, because of the predicament I was in. I was talking to other teams about getting a left winger if Ryan goes, and teams say, ‘why is he going?’ and I had to explain it to them.”
“I tried to move this along because I have to replace him,” added Lombardi. “I’m not in a great position here. We’re just going to have to adapt. I’ve talked to one team a number of times, and they’ve been very forthright in trying to piece it together. I hope to have that wrapped up here in a day or two. Maybe he changes his mind now that Mike Richards is in our lineup, I don’t know, but it’s an awkward situation. I’ve never had this before. It’s nothing I’ve certainly ever planned on. I think his contract is very favorable, in terms of the cash and [being in] the last year, but we’ve got to adjust to it. So that’s kind of the soap opera that’s been going on for a month and a half. It just kind of broke last week.”
2011 NHL Entry Draft Begins Tonight
The first round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft begins tonight, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, but, unless the Kings trade up into the first round, they will be on the sidelines watching until Saturday, when rounds 2-7 are held.
Indeed, the Kings sent their first round selection to Edmonton in the Dustin Penner trade, so they do not have a pick until the 49th overall pick in the second round. After that, they select 80th in the third round, 110th in the fourth round, 140th in the fifth round, 170th in the sixth round, and 200th in the seventh round.
This year’s draft class is not very deep at all, and with the Kings not having a pick until well after the midpoint of the second round, no one should be expecting them to find a player who will make an immediate impact with the big club. Rather, they will either select the best player available when their time on the clock comes up, or they will gamble on high-risk, high-return prospects.
Mike Richards Press Conference
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