Not surprisingly, after a player on a long term deal is traded, people want to know why.
Sometimes there are clear reasons - problems in the team's makeup, a lack of success, underperformance, salary cap issues, etx.
In the case of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, there were fairly obvious reasons - the Flyers had put themselves in serious cap trouble, especially with the Bryzgalov deal, and perhaps, for those interested in the frisson of controversy, the fact that Richards had a notably poor relationship with some of the media covering the Philadelphia locker room.
Sometimes, though, the obvious answers aren't obvious enough, and people will still want to know if there are "other" reasons, lurking mysteriously beneath the surface.
Today, a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News reported that a "party lifestyle" was the reason both were traded. Puck Daddy grabbed the piece and ran it basically as gospel, but perhaps we need to back off for a minute and take another look.
Let's start with the background of the columnist, Dan Gross, who produced this piece for the Daily News. You may have noticed that the column appeared not in the Sports section, but the Arts & Entertainment....because Mr. Gross is the Daily News' gossip columnist. Since I'm not really familiar with the Philly scene, I decided to reach out to Travis Hughes, head of Broad Street Hockey, to ask about his credentials.
Maybe there are benefits to living in the fifth largest city in America, but the news media generally isn't one of those benefits. Big cities mean lots of famous people, and lots of famous people mean assholes who get paid to dig up dirt on those people. In Philadelphia, our friendly neighborhood jerk is Dan Gross of the Philadelphia Daily News, who somehow finds enough celebrity gossip to fill a blog on a Philly.com and a column four days a week in the paper.
If you're thinking that's an impossible feat and that he might have to stretch the truth or make stuff up or print nasty, potentially libelous things from time to time, you are likely correct.
So, we have a person who generally produces material that may not stand up to 100% legal scrutiny and doesn't cover the team as a sports or beat reporter making these accusations. That doesn't immediately mean we should throw them out, but I would argue it means we need to take a big grain of salt with this news.
Let's also look at the reaction from Flyers GM Paul Holmgren. First, there's no indication whatsoever that off ice behavior, good or bad, had anything to do with the trade. In fact, he goes so far as to call that "preposterous." Holmgren appears to be upset about the fact that the "Dry Island" was discussed outside of the room, yes, but he also stated that it was not a mandatory polcy: "We carry 23 players and there wasn't 23 numbers up there."
Aside from telling us that Holmgren's grammar is as poor as his cap management, that means, basically, that the "Dry Island" was something that the coach asked players to be a part of if they chose to take part. This wasn't a case of the team insisting officially that players refrain from drinking during the season or outlawing alcohol. There's no indication of "party lifestyle" problems. It was simply a matter of a coach who is known to hold his players to a high standard of character asking players to make a personal choice. Not every player chose to do so, and it's entirely possible that there were members of that team who felt that they didn't wish to put themselves on that board because they preferred not to discuss those matters with their teammates, not because they were defying Laviolette.
For that matter, let's look at when this supposedly happened: Laviolette put up the "Dry Island" board in the first five months of his tenure as head coach in Philadelphia. That'd be December, 2009, and means the Dry Island saga lasted until....May, 2010? Carter wasn't even in the room for much of that period, as he was out for much of the late season and first round of the playoffs rehabbing from surgery after breaking his foot blocking a shot. When he returned, he came back and delivered 5 goals in 12 games as part of the effort, and for that matter, started the process of sitting down with the Flyers on a new contract.
If, and this is a BIG if, Carter and Richards' behavior was a problem, why was Carter offered a long term deal at that point? If Peter Laviolette was so concerned about the behavior, why was Richards left with the C on his chest? Why was Carter allowed to keep an assistant captaincy when he returned and into the following season? For that matter, why was he offered a deal that would include a no trade / no movement clause?
Let's also be honest - this is the age of Youtube. If Carter and Richards' partying ways are such a huge problem, why aren't we finding video of it? Patrick Kane
can't go out for a few drinks without showing up on cell phone cameras. Brad Marchand
has been learning some of the same lessons this offseason as videos and photos of the Bruins
partying surface, and that's been in the space of less than a month after the Bruins Stanley Cup victory. Are you seriously telling me that two very famous athletes are supposedly going out night after night and whooping it up in one of the largest cities in the United States and nobody got so much as a cell phone snapshot? That the only evidence we have at this point is a pair of "anonymous players" acting as sources? If this was a problem that lasted the better part of two seasons, we should be seeing plenty of footage out there. It's not as if Deadspin and TMZ don't exist.
Call me skeptical, then, about the entire affair.
Last of all...right now, does it matter?
Honestly, I think the answer is no. That may seem a bit of a surprise, given the hard time we previously gave players like Mike Commodore
or Jakub Voracek
over conditioning and fitness, but there's a difference. There's no indications that Richards or Carter's alleged behaviors ever impacted their play. We had those indications with Voracek and Commodore.
IF, and again, I stress this, IF Carter clashed with his previous coach over his habits, it would seem that didn't impact his ability to be a major contributor for that season, or the following season, and one in a major leadership position at that.
Jeff Carter may well have changed over the past two years. He certainly appears to be treating the move to Columbus as a fresh start, and perhaps we should as well. It's even possible that if he might re-evaluate some of his behavior in the wake of the trade, and if he does, good for him.
With that said, we're not asking him to be a saint or a monk. He's a hockey player, and a damn good one. He's being asked to play on the top line, and play well. That will demand much of his skills, and he will be expected to be in shape to perform. His teammates, his coaches, and the media will keep him accountable to that standard far better than rumor-mongering and waving fingers in his wake.
If he wants to indulge in the pleasures of life as a 20something with several million dollars in his bank account, but he still shows up, plays at 100%, and delivers a 60+ point season (again), there's a certain point where you have to say "He's an adult", and let him deal with the consequences on his own. He would not be the first professional athlete to enjoy loud music, alcohol, and late night hangouts, and I strongly doubt he's the last.
But before we all make judgements based on the words of anonymous former teammates, smoke, and rumor, perhaps it would be best to let Jeff step onto the ice, finish moving into the city, and take some time to show us his character himself.