One of the most anticipated matchups in the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs involves the Presidents' Trophy winning Washington Capitals taking on a Philadelphia Flyers team that overcame one of the worst starts in the league to storm back into a playoff position by the end of the year.
Based on their regular season meetings, where they split the four games with three of them being decided by a single goal, it should be a tight, physical series. It will also involve the Flyers getting an opportunity to take on their former captain, Mike Richards, who is now a member of the Capitals.
It was the trade of Richards nearly five years ago that has helped rebuild the core of the current team.
During the summer of 2011 Paul Holmgren, who was still at the time the completely unpredictable general manager of the Flyers, decided to gut the core of his roster and traded his two best players within four hours of each other, sending Jeff Carter to Columbus and Richards to Los Angeles. Later that season Carter and Richards would be connected again when Columbus dealt him to the Kings before the trade deadline in exchange for Jack Johnson and a first-round draft pick.
The short-term impact in all of this for the Kings is that it helped them win two Stanley Cups in three years, which obviously made them big winners in the deal.
That doesn't necessarily make the Flyers losers in the long-run. The long-term impact for the Flyers is that it helped kickstart the rebuild of their franchise, while the Richards trade itself has turned into a steal in terms of the talent, production and value that came back the other way.
In exchange for Richards, who was still only 26 at the time, the Flyers picked up young forwards Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn. Those two players have not only become core players for the team, but are also two of the biggest reasons the Flyers overcame their slow start this season.
Simmonds and Schenn combined for 56 goals during the regular season, with 31 coming from Simmonds alone as he continues to be one of the NHL's best power forwards and net-front players on the power play.
What makes the return so impressive for the Flyers more than four years later is that, in hindsight, the deal looks to have been perfectly timed.
Even though Richards still give the Kings a couple of really good years two-way hockey, his overall play and production started to decline as soon as he arrived in Los Angeles. Since the trade he has only scored 48 goals in the NHL with the Kings and Capitals. Again: Simmonds and Schenn, the two players the Flyers acquired for him, combined to score 56 this season alone, while Schenn is still younger than Richards was at the time of the trade.
When you add the Carter deal into all of this, where the Flyers received Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier (the No. 7 overall pick in the 2011 draft), they ended up coming away with four significant forward that not only gave them significantly more production than they would have with Carter and Richards, but they also did it for less money against the cap. Based on their contracts at the time of the trade Richards (12 years, $69 million) and Carter (11 years, $58 million) would have cost the Flyers $10.7 million against the cap this season.
Simmonds, Schenn, Voracek, and Couturier combined to cost $10.2 million this season.
That number will obviously go up next season when Voracek and Couturier start their new deals (Schenn will also be due a raise), but all four players are still at ages where they should still be near the peak of their playing careers in the league. It's also going to come at a time where the Flyers' impressive collection of young defensemen is going to start hitting the NHL. They are already getting huge contributions from Shayne Gostisbehere and have Ivan Provorov, the No. 7 pick in 2015, on the verge of making his debut.
In the end, even though the Flyers had to take a step backwards in the immediate aftermath of the Richards and Carter deals (mainly because of some of the other moves they made at the time -- like the entire Ilya Bryzgalov era, not to mention the career of Chris Pronger coming to an end) they are a better team today, and will be a better team in the immediate future, than they would have been had they not made them. Especially as it relates to the Richards deal.
It was the rare case of a team trading not just one, but two star players not having it completely ruin the franchise. They were able to get out from some massive contracts, rebuild their roster, and not only come away with quantity, but also quality.
Those trades almost never work out for the team dealing the star. But the Flyers found a way to make it work.