Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Poetic justice for ex-Flyers in Stanley Cup Finals

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

While revenge may be a dish best served cold, redemption is more like a buffet, best walked through slowly, to be savored in its warming glow.

And as the Los Angeles Kings arrive at their first Stanley Cup Finals since 1993, there are a whole host of ex-Philadelphia Flyers players throughout the organization who find themselves on the cusp sooner than anyone expected.

Chief among them, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, whose whirlwind years began with their shocking departure from Philly roughly 11 months ago. Then there's Simon Gagne, troubled again by concussion issues, who played the good soldier in allowing himself to be deleted from a Cup Finalist roster two Julys back in a trade to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

All three were integral parts of a Flyers team that made their own surprising title run before falling short to Chicago.

Richards, once portrayed in the same light as Bobby Clarke, looking every bit the grizzled vet with beard in tow, ever the work-hound, author of "The Shift." Carter, his light-footed but heavy-handed comrade, always the goal-hound. Nowhere was that complementary relationship revealed than at the end of Game 5 in the Eastern Finals, Richards chugging away like he wanted to end it all and Carter picking up the garbage and scoring into the empty net.

Gagne, 11 years a Flyer, whose beginning and end in Philadelphia book-ended heartbreak. His reward may be extra sweet given the timing: finally cleared for contact just as the fourth of four rounds is set to commence next week. The man who kept the season alive with an overtime strike in Game 4 of the Eastern Semifinals against Boston, then tallied the winner in Game 7 of an epic comeback deserves some more positive karma.

Let's not forget Justin Williams.

So what if he already won once, thanks to help from another ex-Flyer in Rod Brind'Amour at Carolina six years ago? The native of Cobourg, Ontario is, by all accounts, one of the more genial and accessible players, so why not cheer for him again to stick it to the organization who traded him for the illustrious Danny Markov?

All three may also be able to put a damper on one of the most unlikely playoff heroes in NHL history, one who prevented the Flyers from advancing twice -- Ruslan Fedotenko.

If the Rangers end up being LA's opponent, and if the Kings win it all, then Fedotenko will be denied his third (yes, read that right, third) Stanley Cup. Remember how Rusty (the man who scored one of the two goals for Philly in 2002 against Ottawa) tore up the Orange and Black in '04 with Tampa Bay, netting the winner in Game 7? Remember how he was on the Penguins three years back?

Finally, there's Ron Hextall. A man most of us never thought would turn management. He who sweat, and made countless others bleed, in pursuit of winning: a Flyer through and through. He may be employed by LA but his heart is still here, probably still aching that he couldn't do enough to help us take it all.

Even though Hexy no longer has the immediate control of his crease, a win will erase at least some of the pain from an extraordinary 1987 and a forgettable 1997. That his chance comes again, after rising to the rank of assistant GM, on significant anniversaries can't be ignored.

You think there's some place deep down where he wishes to get one over on Clarke, Holmgren et al. if for nothing else than having the wrong bust presented during his "night" in 2007?

I floated the crazy idea prior to last season that perhaps Flyers West is nothing more than a breeding ground for future Flyers East. Richards and Carter shipped out, one day to return as more mature persons and players. Hextall to serve his apprenticeship before eventually taking over for Holmgren.

Winning a Cup will likely make that path an easier, and clearer one. It's not going to be easy for fans who feel jilted, but there's no reason not to wish your former favorites well. They're gonna play either New York or New Jersey, after all -- two franchises this year's Flyers couldn't overcome.

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