The Lost Flyers: Justin Williams, Patrick Sharp & Sergei Bobrovsky

This is not a blog bashing the Flyers management for trading Justin Williams, Patrick Sharp and Sergei Bobrovsky. In fact, this is the exact opposite: my goal is to clear up some of the misconceptions surrounding these three trades.

Anytime a player from one team is dealt and ends up succeeding with another, we inevitably hear, “should’ve kept!” This statement is rarely made with context and always made in hindsight because, after all, hindsight 20/20. Well it’s not really fair to condemn a team years later for making a move that made complete sense at the time. So let’s begin dissecting the three aforementioned trades and find out why they look a lot worse in hindsight.

Justin Williams

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Williams hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup

Traded to Carolina for Danny Markov: January 20, 2004.

On the surface, this trade looks like an absolute steal for Carolina. Williams went on to post 201 points in 265 games for the Canes from 2004 until 2009, when he was traded to the Kings. However, that’s not the whole story behind the deal.

The 2003-04 Flyers had a significant amount of forward depth, including Mark Recchi, Michal Handzus, John LeClair, Tony Amonte, Jeremy Roenick, Simon Gagne, Sami Kapanen, & Keith Primeau. They also had just seen one of their top defenseman, Eric Desjardins, fall victim to an injury that would keep him out 6-8 weeks as well as other injuries on the blueline. Naturally, trading from a surplus for a shortage makes sense and hence Justin Williams for Danny Markov. Markov was considered a legitimate top 4-5 defenseman at the time and fit the bill perfectly. At 27, he had posted 14 points in 44 games and was -6 (on a bad Carolina team) before joining the Flyers.

Hindsight tells us that this trade was bad because Williams has gone on to have a fairly productive career (he’s been bitten by the injury bug more than a few times) while Markov only played 34 games for the Flyers and was out of the league within 3 years. But as I said earlier, at the time, this deal wasn’t so bad, although, I would say trading a 22 year old former 1st rounder who showed a lot of signs of having a good career for a 27 year old middle pairing defenseman is not a trade I would make out of principle. Sometimes, though, you have to make moves that may hurt you in the long run when you are a contender.

In the end, the Flyers won the Atlantic Division and came within a game of playing for the Stanley Cup so, for that year, the trade seemed to work out pretty well. Taking the Butterfly Effect into account, it sets up the drafting of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter as well as Claude Giroux.

Patrick Sharp

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Sharp, who captured a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks (via Getty Images)

Traded to Chicago with Eric Meloche for Matt Ellison and Chicago’s 3rd round choice (later traded to Montreal – Montreal selected Ryan White) in 2006 Entry Draft: December 5, 2005.

This is the trade that gives me the most headaches because it always seems to be in the spotlight. The fact of the matter is, this trade was relatively minor at the time and there were a lot of factors involved.

‘‘Patrick is a natural center, not a wing, and we have too many centers’’ is what Ken Hitchcock said after the trade. There is also widespread speculation that Sharp and Hitchcock’s relationship was passed the point of no return. Either way, there are still plenty of other factors as to why Sharp was dealt. Going off the Hitchcock’s quote, here are the centermen ahead of Sharp on the depth chart: rookies Mike Richards, Jeff Carter & R.J Umberger and veterans Peter Forsberg and Michal Handzus. Makes sense why there was no room for him.

Also, Sharp had proved nothing that warranted increased ice time. His point totals with the Flyers ended up being 15 points in 66 games. Even in his first season and a half with the Blackhawks, he tallied only 58 points in 130 games. It wasn’t until Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews’s rookie year (Sharp was 25) that he posted his first good year in the NHL. It should also be noted that Matt Ellison and Sharp put up similar numbers in the AHL prior to the trade.

In short, the Blackhawks were lucky. That’s all. It’s hard to say if Sharp would have panned out in Philly with all the young talent in front of him and with a coach he was at odds with but regardless, it was not a bad move to trade him at the time.

Sergei Bobrovsky

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Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky (via NHL.com)

Traded to Columbus for Columbus’ 2nd-round (Anthony Stolarz) and 4th-round (Taylor Leier) choices in the 2012 Entry Draft and Phoenix’s 4th round choice in the 2013 Entry Draft: June 22, 2012.

Bob is fresh off a Vezina win, fueling angry Flyers’ fans around the city to climb the Art Museum steps and scream “should’ve kept” in agony, as the goalie of their dreams was in their grasp. Instead they must endure the strange man, Ilya, as Bob walks forever in the halls of eternal glory.

Bob posted good numbers as a rookie in the Orange and Black, compiling 28 wins, a 2.59 GAA and a .915 save percentage in 54 games. The 2010-11 playoffs were his doom (and what seems like the doom of Philadelphia). He played 6 games without winning any and losing two. He ended up buried behind Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton as Peter Laviolette seemingly gave up on the kid. To say he was mishandled is an understatement. Laviolette making him the 3rd string goalie with Boucher and Leighton ahead of him was a horrendous decision, all because of one bad period.

In game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Buffalo Sabres, Bob allowed 3 goals and was relieved by Boucher 12:30 into the first period. Bob did not see the ice again until the next round when the Bruins sweep the Flyers en route to a Stanley Cup Championship. So one bad start to a period and Bob was the 3rd stringer. Poor decision but the object of this blog isn’t to bash Peter Laviolette’s coaching.

Basically, after Laviolette destroyed Bob’s confidence, Ed Snider lost patience and decided he wanted a “real” goalie and pressured GM Paul Holmgren to go out and get one. He did: Ilya Bryzgalov signed a 9 year, $51 million deal with the team and the rest is history. Bob played 29 games as Bryz’s backup in 2011-12, and notched 14 wins but had an appalling 3.02 GAA and a .899 save percent in 29 games. His stock was as low as it was going to get and with no hope to be a starter with Bryzgalov around, Bob was dealt for what now seems like nothing (although Stolarz has promise).

Who would have guessed Bob would win the Vezina his first year out of Philly? Don’t act like you did. I, personally, figured Bob would turn into a good goalie (maybe not a Vezina winner but a top 15 starter) at some point or another because of his natural talent and work ethic. It should be remembered though, that Bob only played 38 games to win the Vezina (which is a little more than the average backup sees) so I wouldn’t call him proven by any stretch. I’ll be rooting for him though.

No matter what, Philadelphia sports fans’ will always find something to complain about, whether it’s a trade, a coach, a player or a particular game because that’s just how it is. It’s human nature to want answers but not always to find the right ones. Accepting something without questioning it is a lot less work than digging deep and finding the truth. Hopefully, after reading this blog, you won’t just accept what you’re told because I know from experience that if the majority of people believe something, the chances are it’s flawed or not the whole truth.

But I digress. To close let’s take a look at some recent trades that went in the Flyers favor; it’s only fair to discuss the good with the bad:

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Voracek has blossomed as a Flyer.

- Daymond Langkow traded to Phoenix for Phoenix’s 2nd round choice (later traded to Tampa Bay, later traded to San Jose – San Jose selected Dan Spang) in 2002 Entry Draft and Phoenix’s 1st round choice (Jeff Carter) in 2003 Entry Draft, July 2, 2001.

- Pavel Brendl traded to Carolina with Bruno St. Jacques for Sami Kapanen and Ryan Bast, February 7, 2003.

- Alexei Zhitnik traded to Atlanta for Braydon Coburn, February 24, 2007.

- Nashville’s 2007 1st Rounder (previously obtained – Jonathon Blum) traded to Nashville by for the rights to Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell, June 18, 2007.

- Ole-Kristian Tollefsen traded to Detroit  with Philadelphia’s 5th round choice (Mattias Backman) in 2011 Entry Draft for Ville Leino, February 6, 2010.

- Jeff Carter traded to Columbus for Jakub Voracek, Columbus’s 1st (Sean Couturier) and 3rd (Nick Cousins) round choices in the 2011 Entry Draft, June 23, 2011.

Look at every NHL team and you’ll see trades that worked out and trades that didn’t. It’s part of the business of hockey. All we can do, as fans, is hope that one day we’ll see our team hoisting the Cup.

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Categories: Editorial, Flyers

Author:Nick Hlywiak

Junior at Drexel University studying business with a concentration in legal studies. Lifelong Philadelphia Sports fan and passionate about hockey and baseball in general. I get existential sometimes.

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3 Comments on “The Lost Flyers: Justin Williams, Patrick Sharp & Sergei Bobrovsky”

  1. Rimas Melnikas
    June 21, 2013 at 9:29 pm #

    Good stuff, hope to read more!

  2. lisa
    June 21, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

    Great article. Lot’s of insight. I still miss Justin Williams

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Flyers Spinning Out Of Control - August 7, 2013

    […] us of that until he stepped aside. Sharp was traded for Matt Ellison, supposedly because he didn’t get along with Ken Hitchcock. Seidenberg was tossed aside for Petr Nedved. Esche was forced to split time with Antero […]

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