Masterpiece in the Making
Wednesday, June 9, 2010. Flyers captain Mike Richards stood stock-still in a crowded locker room, engulfed by reporters.
His teams' storybook season had just come to a heartbreaking end in the Stanley Cup Finals.
He spoke softly and seemed -- yes -- helpless.
His hat brim was pulled down over his water-filled eyes.
His playoff beard was full.
"A lot," was all that a teary-eyed Richards could muster after a member of the media asked how much losing Game 6 hurt.
At the time, it was the closest Richards had come to winning the sports' holy grail -- the Stanley Cup.
Today, 72 hours shy of two years to that June day in 2010, Richards and his new team - the Los Angeles Kings - are both closer to the Cup than they have ever been. The Kings employ nine former Flyers players or coaches. But it's Richards and teammate Jeff Carter who find themselves as beneficiaries of a team that needed just one or two more final touches to complete their masterpiece.
Piece No. 1: A June 2011 trade that sent Richards to Los Angeles for Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. In Richards, the Kings get a two-way center with natural born leadership who also plays a rock solid top-six forward role.
Piece No 2: A February 23 deal that sent Carter to Los Angeles from Columbus in exchange for Jack Johnson and a conditional first-round draft pick. Carter is a natural perimeter scorer and big-bodied center, a guy who months prior was shipped from Philadelphia to Columbus for Jake Voracek, a first round pick (Sean Couturier) and a third round pick (Nick Cousins).
The final brush strokes on the Kings' masterpiece season seems to have come via the addition of these two Flyer forwards.
The masterpiece wasn't built around these two players like it had been in Philadelphia. With a superstar center, all-world goalie and gritty captain already on board, the addition of Richards and Carter gave the Kings exactly what they needed to complete it.
And it's the Flyers who, through both of these same moves, also find their masterpiece in the making.
Theirs is a core of young players that performed above expectations and fought back from adversity for much of the season.
"I think every guy in this dressing room, all through the season, everyone battled hard through adversity," forward Max Talbot said. "You look at our lineup right now, we have five or six rookies, ya know? This team is going to be good for years to come."
It's a lineup that saw more than 10 different rookies play more than 400-plus combined games, led by the group of players Philly acquired for Richards and Carter.
In addition to the young roster, it's a squad that had 437 total man games lost due to injury and a team that played mostly without captain and future Hall-of-Famer Chris Pronger.
Despite all of the misfortunes 2011-12 brought, the Flyers still finished with 100-plus points and made a postseason appearance.
But emotions for Flyers fans are generally all over the map.
Frustration. Happiness. Depression. Optimism.
At the time of the Richards and Carter trades, the Philly faithful was frustrated that a team seemed to have given up on their two leading scorers, yet at the same time happy for an infusion of fresh blood into their ranks.
There was depression due to fear of missing the playoffs, but optimism about the youth the Flyers acquired.
Fast forward to June 6. There's fan frustration that it's not their Flyers in the Cup Finals, yet they're happy for the Kings who once donned the Orange-and-Black.
There is depression in thinking that the 37-year Cup drought may keep continuing, but optimism that next year could be THE year.
But emotions aside, it's the Kings and Flyers who find themselves in great positions.
The 2011-12 edition of the Flyers was one that many didn't know what to expect after the trades were made but also one that showed its colors throughout.
"I can tell you that the group that's in that (Flyers) room right now is a terrific group of men," coach Peter Laviolette said. "They played hard this year, they gave a lot and we came up short.
"It's a bright future and we're looking forward to that."
A bright future built around star Claude Giroux, who shined in the expanded ice time that was once taken by Richards and Carter.
A bright future because of all of the players who were swapped for Richards and Carter:
A 19-year-old rookie that played big-time minutes and was the Flyers' best shutdown forward.
A rough and tumble winger who scored a career-high 28 goals and 49 points.
A playmaking forward who scored a career-high 18 goals.
A first-year player who finished fourth on the team in playoff points.
"Look at this team. How many young guys here?" asked veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen. "They are going to have a really good team for years to come."
Step back from the emotions of another early postseason exit. Step back from Richards and Carter advancing further than the 2011-12 edition of the Orange and Black.
Step back from the Flyers losing to a team that has made either a Stanley Cup appearance or won the Cup five years in a row and look instead at the masterpiece in the making.
Richards, Carter and all of the former Flyers deserve to be remembered as Stanley Cup champions if it's in the cards tonight.
The Flyers hope to soon follow suit and apply the finishing brush strokes to their own masterpiece.
Wednesday, June 6, 2012. Kings forward Mike Richards possibly stands stock-still in a crowded locker room, engulfed by reporters.
He speaks loudly and -- yes -- joyfully.
His hat brim is pulled down over his water-filled eyes.
His playoff beard is full.
His team's storybook season may have just come to a heartwarming end in the Stanley Cup Finals.