It’s not nearly as bad as the Eastern Conference finals between the Devils and Rangers, where neither evil seemed lesser, but there seems to be a sense that fans are rooting against the Devils, who eliminated the Flyers in five games, more so than for the Kings.
Why wouldn’t people root for the Kings? The organization is liberally sprinkled with ex-Flyers, from assistant general manager Ron Hextall to assistant coach John Stevens to players Simon Gagne (cleared to play after being sidelined since December with a concussion), Justin Williams, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards.
Instead of being a positive, however, the presence of Carter and Richards seems to make it more difficult for a sizable segment of the Flyers’ fan base to unabashedly root for the Kings. This dynamic is so evident that reporters have asked Flyers and Comcast-Spectacor chairman Ed Snider and Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren whether or not they are rooting for the Kings. More specifically, they were asked about how they would feel to see Carter and Richards win the Stanley Cup.
Both Holmgren and Snider answered in the affirmative. But the fact that the question was even asked indicates an underlying feeing that many people find it difficult to root for Carter and Richards.
I don’t quite understand that sentiment. I didn’t really understand the level of negativity toward the two Flyers mainstays when they were traded last June. I don’t understand it now.
Unless a player departed on bad terms, I usually find myself rooting for former Philadelphia players. When Rod Brind’Amour won a Stanley Cup with Carolina (with future Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette at the helm), I was happy for him. Many Flyers fans seemed overjoyed to see Brind’Amour, the Hurricanes’ captain, finally win a Stanley Cup. (Also see our Top 10 list of ex-Flyers to win the Stanley Cup after leaving Philadelphia.)
Reggie White’s Super Bowl victory with the Packers was also celebrated as a deserving reward for an all-time great who had played most of his NFL career with the Eagles. The only negative feeling toward White came from the fact that he left Philadelphia for Green Bay, although he didn’t really have an option to remain in Philadelphia – the Eagles never offered him a contract.
That’s why I don’t fully understand the negativity toward Carter and Richards. They didn’t leave the Flyers of their own free will. They were traded away.
In fact, they were shocked and hurt when they were traded last June. Richards admits he had a great deal of difficulty dealing with being traded away by the organization with which he’d played his entire professional career. Carter famously bunkered down in Sea Isle, taking a few days to compose himself, before reporting to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Carter suffered through an injury-plagued first half of the season with Columbus and reportedly was never happy there. The Blue Jackets traded him to Los Angeles, where he was reunited with Richards, literally moving in with his old roommate from their early Flyers days together.
Instead of rooting for Carter and Richards, though, there seemed to be an underlying hope they would fail. Maybe some of that sentiment stems from media members who didn’t particularly enjoy dealing with Richards and Carter, but I think it runs deeper than that.
Richards definitely created some negative feelings with the petulant attitude he frequently took with the media. I suggested last year that the best thing for Richards would be to find a graceful way to get him out of the captain’s role, while acknowledging that Richards had too much pride to relinquish the captaincy on his own and that stripping him of the captaincy would ruin him as a Flyer.
The role I saw as the best fit for Richards is exactly the role he has now with the Kings. He kills penalties. He plays on the power play. He scores goals. What he doesn’t have to do is perform all the off-ice duties of a captain, something he obviously found to be a burden.
Richards’ game, as is true of many of the Kings, was jump-started by Carter’s arrival. The Kings went on a 9-2 run after acquiring Carter.
The impact Carter made can’t be measured solely in terms of his own numbers. He adds balance to the Kings, making all of their lines better with his presence on a line with Richards and Dustin Penner. Anze Kopitar and Williams seem to be free of the shackles of opposing defenders, who now must also concentrate on the Richards-Carter-Penner line. Carter’s presence also knocked a better player down to the third line, which made that line better, and the domino effect goes right down to the fourth line.
The Kings were the lowest-scoring team in the NHL before acquiring Carter. Since his arrival, they’ve become a decent offensive team.
Perhaps nobody benefited from Carter’s presence more than Richards, who was bogged down in a long goalless streak before Carter arrived.
Carter and Richards are important players in the Kings’ quest for the Cup. Carter had a hat trick during a 4-0 victory in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. The Carter-Richards-Penner line was also instrumental in the series-clinching Game 5 victory over the Coyotes, with all three players involved in Richards’ go-ahead goal and, after Phoenix tied the score, Penner putting home a rebound of Carter’s shot for the game-winner.
The Flyers shouldn’t necessarily regret the trades of Carter and Richards. The return haul included Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and a first-round draft pick, which turned out to be Sean Couturier. If there’s one part of the trades that could create buyer’s remorse, it’s that the salary cap space created by trading Carter and Richards was partly used for goalie Ilya Bryzgalov’s $51 million deal.
But that’s not the fault of Carter or Richards. They were drafted by the Flyers organization. They excelled in the Flyers organization. They hated to leave the Flyers organization.
They would have been thrilled to win a Stanley Cup with the Flyers. Instead, they are three wins away (as I write this) from winning it with the Los Angeles Kings.
I would have preferred that Carter and Richards win the Stanley Cup as Flyers, but I’ll be very happy for them if they’re able to drink from Lord Stanley’s Cup for the first time as members of the Kings.
And not simply because that would mean they beat the Devils.
Carter’s Game 2 OT game-winner