If the Wayne Gretzky trade of 1988 taught us anything, it’s that any player on any team can be traded. But knowing that does not make the Flyers’ trades of cornerstone players Jeff Carter and Mike Richards on Thursday any less surprising. These are the first two players with extreme long-term contracts that have been dealt since the salary cap era began – two players who scored 66 points each last season, in fact, traded on the same day. At least one major move was needed to pave the way for the Ilya Bryzgalov signing, but who would have thought two? The interesting part is that the Flyers may not be done yet, as they could potentially be in the running for another Richards – this one by the name of Brad.
There are a ton of implications to these deals that fantasy owners need to be aware of heading into the 2011-12 season. Let’s look at what we know so far.
I’ll start with Bryzgalov, the player that caused the dominos to fall. His numbers next season should remain relatively steady and could even improve slightly, yet not dramatically. He averaged 39 wins over the past two seasons in Phoenix, so he could well reach that total again should he play around 65 games. As a result, Bryz will likely be a top-10 goalie in 2011-12 fantasy drafts, but he will have to respond to moving from complete anonymity in the desert to a pressure-cooker environment only rivaled by a handful of cities. (Maybe he can ask Roberto Luongo for advice.) Questions remain about what the Flyers will do with Sergei Bobrovsky, but I would assume that he would revert to a role similar to Cory Schneider on the Canucks or Jonathan Bernier on the Kings: a potential starter-in-waiting for his team, but more likely trade bait for needs elsewhere. Bob will likely play around 25 games and should easily be one of the league’s better backup goalies, but Bryzgalov will be on a long leash and will be given the benefit of the doubt should he struggle. It’s officially safe to say that UFA Brian Boucher won’t be back, while Michael Leighton will probably be buried in the AHL yet again.
The forward lines show the most instability, but newly acquired Jakub Voracek would likely slide into the second line and Wayne Simmonds would likely challenge for a role on the second line. Both player assessments would be contingent on the Flyers coming to terms with both current RFAs. The player most likely to benefit from the trade action is former second overall pick James van Riemsdyk, who could shoot all the way up to the first line alongside Claude Giroux and Danny Briere, who has to be moving back to center now that both Richards and Carter have left town. Van Riemsdyk will likely hand his training wheels over to Brayden Schenn, who is likely now the Flyers’ top prospect – newly acquired 2011 eighth overall pick notwithstanding. A couple unknown variables for the Flyers still have to be what will become of UFA Ville Leino, and if they will attempt to deal the disappointing Kris Versteeg (one year remaining at $3 million). At least one of these two forwards would have to be moved if the Flyers are serious about signing Brad Richards. If the Flyers don’t bother with Brad, then at least they have lots of room to re-sign 2010 playoff hero Leino.
There is one thing that we can take to the bank as a result of the trades: Chris Pronger should be named the new captain of the Flyers. There were questions about Richards’ ability to be a team captain, as he was rumored to not be on good terms with coach Peter Laviolette and definitely did not get along with the Flyers’ media. The Flyers may now be Pronger’s team, but he will still have to prove to fantasy owners that he is not completely broken down and can handle the rigors of another full season (only 50 games played in 2010-11). The Flyers may have Pronger and his creaky body on the books for six more years, but at least at $4.9 million annually, he actually has less of an annual cap hit than Kimmo Timonen at $6.33 million. Don’t expect either veteran d-man to be going anywhere, although Matt Carle (one year remaining) is another possible salary dump if the Flyers should they aim for Richards.
After what could be the most significant trade in Blue Jackets history, Rick Nash has to be buying rounds for GM Scott Howson. Carter will no doubt be the center that Nash has been looking for, although both forwards have the tendency to shoot the puck more than they pass it. Regardless, this trade should improve the Jackets’ offense from its 24th-place standing of last season. As the Jackets move Carter into the fold, Derick Brassard and R.J. Umberger will likely assume more secondary scoring roles. It’s unfortunate that Carter can’t stop pucks, and the Jackets were a team with its share of minus players last season, which could mean that Carter’s fantasy value could take a hit in the plus/minus category. However, that could change if the Jackets turn out to be active participants in free agent frenzy. In fact, if the Jackets sign a solid shutdown defenseman or two and Steve Mason improves, they could be looking at their second playoff appearance in franchise history.
If it didn’t surprise you that the Jackets had the 24th-ranked offense last season, then it may surprise you to learn that the Kings had the 23rd-ranked offense. It won’t be a stretch to say that Richards will improve that number. In fact, the Richards deal could solidify the Kings as one of the top five teams in the West, along with Vancouver, San Jose, Detroit, and Chicago. The presence of Richards will likely mean that Anze Kopitar can take on a purely scoring role similar to the Sedins in Vancouver, with Richards himself in a second-line scoring/shutdown role similar to Ryan Kesler. Unfortunately, the Kings will need to bone up on the wing to maximize both centers’ scoring potential, as a potential Ryan Smyth departure to Alberta could result in a sudden reliance on Dustin Penner. However, the “Mike” Richards acquisition pretty much removes the Kings from the “Brad” Richards sweepstakes. Don’t forget that signing RFA Drew Doughty is also on the Kings’ to-do list this summer, so the Kings may not be major players in free agent frenzy anymore now that they have made their move.
For a snapshot of each team’s cap situation, check out capgeek.com.
Having just wrote this, I can now safely assume that this article will be outdated by this time next week and could be outdated as early as 24 hours from it being posted. More will happen as we learn about the new salary-cap NHL.
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