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Flyers, Kings and Sharks witness bold trades paying off in NHL playoffs

Greg Wyshynski
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It's one game. It doesn't make a series, and it doesn't make a postseason. But you could excuse Paul Holmgren, Doug Wilson and Dean Lombardi if they wanted to slightly exhale for the first time since October — for one game, they all looked really, really smart.

Consider that Holmgren reconfigured his locker room last summer for two reasons: To expunge Mike Richards and Jeff Carter from a toxic environment, and to change the makeup of his Philadelphia Flyers roster into what he believed was a more competitive playoff team.

The biggest puzzle piece added was Ilya Bryzgalov, the bear-fearing space cadet acquired with the cap savings the Flyers created minus Richards and Carter.

For good stretches of the season, he looked more sieve than savior between the pipes, and those doubts carried through the first 20 minutes of Game 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. But instead of continuing the collapse until he was pulled — such is the way of the Flyers playoff goalie — Bryzgalov hunkered down, stopped 15 shots and was the backbone of the Philly rally.

When Carter was shipped to the Columbus Blue Jackets, two players came back the other way: Sean Couturier, acquired with the Jackets' top draft pick, who played 16:47 tough minutes (more than the Flyers' other rookies) in Game 1; and Jakub Voracek, who made the game-winning goal happen in OT and is earning "Jagr-level attention."

(Ed. Note: As was pointed out by a reader, Brayden Schenn also had a hell of a Game 1 for the Flyers, coming over in the Mike Richards trade.)

Again, one game; but valentines are being penned for Holmgren's bold moves and remaking of the locker room dynamic.

Richards ended up in Los Angeles where, like Bryzgalov in Philly, there was more talk about not meeting expectations than being a foundational player for a title run.  Consider that his points-per-game average (0.59) was his lowest since 2007; and, in fact, was lower than the player the Flyers acquired for him (Wayne Simmonds, 0.60).

In Game 1 against the Vancouver Canucks, however, Richards had perhaps the most impactful performance by a skater in the young 2012 postseason: one goal, two assists and a physical, agitating game that distracted the 'Nucks.

From the LA Times:

Canucks Coach Alain Vigneault matched Ryan Kesler, a Selke Trophy winner as the NHL's top defensive forward, against Richards but might switch that Friday. Vigneault said the Canucks need answers for Kopitar's line, for Penner, "who was a powerful force down low in our own end," and for Richards, who played "one of the best games I've seen him play since he's been in L.A. and not just offensively but physically, also."

Richards was flattered. But his ego, unlike his scoring, is in check.  "It was nice to have a game like that, but you're only as good as your last game and it's only one game," he said. "It's time for us to turn the page and look forward to [Friday] night. We did some good things that we can take, but there's also some things we have to improve on."

Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi acquired Richards because he was "universally recognized as one of the finer leaders in the game and one of its elite competitors."

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A little hyperbolic at the time, but Game 1 didn't disprove it.

San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson, meanwhile, so his playoffs-inspired acquisition shine as well: Martin Havlat, who opened the scoring with a power-play goal and ended it with a double-OT one-timer against the St. Louis Blues.

Said Wilson, when Havlat was acquired for Dany Heatley last summer:

"He's played extensively in the playoffs," said Wilson. "That's why he plays the game. He's a hockey player that wants to play in big situations, and that's a piece that we think is an important part of his makeup."

Havlat now has four goals and six assists in his last nine playoff games.

Heatley, meanwhile, had an outstanding regular season for the Minnesota Wild but won't show up in the playoffs. You know: the norm …

So these are three happy general managers.

Meanwhile, there's this other guy who traded for Jeff Carter to help the Flyers, traded Jeff Carter to help the Kings, traded Antoine Vermette to help the Coyotes, lost a draft lottery this week and has a franchise player demanding a trade … maybe you've heard of him ...

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