New Flyers, old results in 2011-12 season

Somewhere in Los Angeles, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter had to

be sharing a chuckle.

And in Phoenix, the Coyotes unleashed a big exhale for more

reasons than having new ownership.

Eleven months after the Philadelphia Flyers decided their

once-future cornerstones were worth dumping, Richards and Carter

are thriving with the Kings along an improbable route to the

Western Conference finals. The Coyotes, meanwhile, have no second

thoughts about trading goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and adding Mike

Smith, because they’ll be on the other side of the ice against the

Kings playing for the right to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

And then there’s the Flyers. They will be watching the rest of

the postseason from home.

Again.

General manager Paul Holmgren’s major gamble last summer to

reshape the direction of the franchise yielded mixed results. The

Flyers won 47 games, totaled 103 points, finished fifth in the

Eastern Conference and had a nice six-game postseason series win

over odds-on favorite Pittsburgh.

But the run lasted only five more games, thanks to the New

Jersey Devils. Bryzgalov allowed one of the franchise’s all-time

bloopers of a goal and the Flyers’ offense ran out of fuel in a 3-1

loss Tuesday that left them without another game to play – or a

championship banner to hang in the rafters.

The Flyers haven’t won a Stanley Cup since taking consecutive

titles in 1974 and 1975. And clearly, that’s a line that’s been

said before.

Just like most of the last 36 seasons, goaltending was a

deciding factor. Bryzgalov had his moments of proving he was worth

the $51 million, nine-year deal he signed to steady the net. But

the Flyers needed more than moments. They needed a wall. They

needed a game-changer who could carry them to the Cup.

All the Flyers really got were odd comments and odder goals

allowed.

”Better teams go further, you know,” Bryzgalov said.

The Flyers clearly were not the better team against the Devils.

Though they should have been.

Of course, it’s impossible to know how the Flyers would have

fared had they kept Carter and Richards. Even if the Kings win the

Stanley Cup, the Flyers remain steadfast in their belief that a

dose of short-term pain – and perhaps, embarrassment – is worth the

long-range potential of forwards Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn,

Wayne Simmonds and Sean Couturier – the total haul in the two

separate deals for Carter and Richards.

But either way, it’s back to the drawing board – again – after

Round 2. In fact, after a surprising run to the Cup Finals in 2010,

coach Peter Laviolette has only led the Flyers as far as two

straight trips to the Eastern Conference semifinals, where they are

a combined 1-8 the last two seasons.

”There’s a couple games that I’ll look back on, I think, with

disappointment,” he said. ”We didn’t play a better brand of our

hockey, and then in the other three games, I thought that our guys

were trying to play that style and trying to play that brand. But I

think you have to give New Jersey credit for the way that they

played defensively and kept it from being the game that we

wanted.

”We could never seem to get down that road.”

Laviolette will return for a fourth season. Veteran defensemen

Kimmo Timonen and Chris Pronger, and forward Jaromir Jagr, face

more uncertain futures.

The 37-year-old Timonen knows he’s running out of time to win a

championship and was visibly beaten down by injuries at the end of

the season. Pronger, the captain, may never play again because of

severe post-concussion syndrome.

Jagr, an unrestricted free agent, had a solid first season in

Philadelphia after playing three seasons in Russia. He was third on

the team with 54 points, but faded in the playoffs and was a

non-factor against the Devils. Jagr loved his first season in

Philadelphia and called it ”probably the most enjoyable year I

ever had.” No Flyer was more devastated in the locker room after

the Game 5 loss.

”From the organization to the last player on the team, and the

fans, they were so nice to me,” Jagr said. ”I hate to finish it

right now. That’s the worst feeling. You finish the whole story,

the whole year, that’s a sad day.

”I want to cry right now.”

Flyers fans know the feeling all too well. Watching another team

celebrate with the Stanley Cup held high over their heads has

become a rite of spring in Philadelphia.

But the potential for a future deep run is found within this

nucleus. Forward Claude Giroux continued his ascension into one of

the game’s elite players. He posted a 28-goal, 93-point, All-Star

season. Giroux earned the ”best in the world” moniker from

Laviolette, after posting six goals and eight assists vs. the

Penguins. That title might be a little strong, especially after

Giroux was suspended a series later for one game, but he did finish

third in the league in scoring during the regular season, and his

17-point playoff total will likely lead the league for at least a

week more.

Forward Danny Briere has plenty of juice left and stamped

himself as one of the franchise’s all-time great clutch playoff

performers. He finished with eight goals and 13 playoff points. And

forward James van Riemsdyk will be expected to stay healthy and

pick up where he left off last postseason when he earned a $25.5

million, six-year contract extension.

Holmgren’s belief in van Riemsdyk and Giroux at this time last

year was the spark to trading Carter and Richards. So, looking back

on it, Holmgren may not be able to stomach the thought of Richards

and Carter celebrating a championship in Los Angeles.

But, either way, he’s used to the feeling of watching some other

team have all the fun in June.