To be positioned nineteenth in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, the Philadelphia Flyers had to make a trade. The perfect trade partner for the Flyers to gain a first-round pick was the Columbus Blue Jackets. Out a first-round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Philadelphia had to sweeten the pot for the Blue Jackets. In the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, the Flyers selected Luca Sbisa.
When the Columbus Blue Jackets traded Adam Foote to the Colorado Avalanche, they received a conditional fourth-round pick in 2009 and a conditional first-round pick in 2008. For the Blue Jackets, the condition to receive the Avalanche’s first-round pick was that Colorado made a 2007-2008 playoff appearance. As Columbus found themselves with a surplus of first-round picks, they were a match for the Philadelphia Flyers. The other Blue Jackets pick in the first round was the sixth overall pick, Nikita Filatov.
A combination of a player and a fourth-round pick was enough to gain the Columbus Blue Jackets first-round pick for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. That player in that package deal was RJ Umberger, who ranked fifth in scoring on the Philadelphia Flyers in 2007-2008. Now, the Flyers had a first-round pick to go with their two third-round picks, a sixth, and a seventh-round pick in 2008. Sharing the same headspace as John Stevens and Paul Holmgren in 2008, Philadelphia could continue with a defenseman, or replace RJ Umberger.
Don’t Replace RJ Umberger
In hindsight, it wouldn’t have made sense to replace RJ Umberger after he was shipped to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Consider that the Philadelphia Flyers knew that they had to sweeten the pot and send a top-five forward to the Blue Jackets. The Flyers had a wealth of talent at the center position in 2007-2008. Even with Umberger being the fifth leading scorer in Philadelphia, he was the fourth-best center. Mike Richards, Danny Briere, and Jeff Carter were keeping Umberger company.
Trading RJ Umberger and a fourth-round pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets was a trade that the Philadelphia Flyers could easily afford. In 2008-2009, Umberger was replaced by Glen Metropolit and Darroll Powe. The Flyers were still a playoff team without Umberger. It makes sense to keep with the same state of mind that Paul Holmgren and John Stevens shared.
Improving the 2008 Selection
Two other defensemen make sense to select back in 2008 not named Lucas Sbisa. Those two players are Michael Del Zotto and John Carlson. In this draft, Del Zotto was taken the pick immediately after the Philadelphia Flyers selected Sbisa. Del Zotto was an offensive defenseman out of the gate, registering 37 points. Where Del Zotto struggled was on defense, finishing with a +/- of -20. To put that into perspective, Del Zotto would have been the worst defensive player on the Flyers.
A great defenseman shows a balance of production on offense that compliments stable defensive traits. John Carlson, selected eight picks after the Philadelphia Flyers selected Lucas Sbisa, was miles ahead of Michael Del Zotto. Carlson only tallied nine points but finished with a +/- of 11. A season later, Carlson performed better than Del Zotto across the board. As Carlson blossomed with the Washington Capitals, Sbisa was traded a year later along with Joffrey Lupul, a first-round pick in 2009 and 2010, and a conditional third-round pick for either 2010 or 2011 to the Anaheim Ducks for Ryan Dingle and Chris Pronger.
Chris Pronger in Philadelphia
All of the Philadelphia Flyers fans felt like they won the lottery when the Chris Pronger trade went through. In the very first season that Pronger was on the Flyers, Philadelphia came within two games of winning the Stanley Cup. Everything was right in the world. After that season, wear and tear would limit Pronger to fifty games in 2010-2011 followed by recurring post-concussion syndrome in 2011-2012 that ended his playing career. Though he is an NHL Hall of Famer, the Flyers would have had the same quality and more longevity if they drafted John Carlson.
Had the Flyers Drafted Carlson…
The Philadelphia Flyers wouldn’t have made a trade for a defenseman. This includes keeping a pair of first-round picks, a third-round pick, and Joffrey Lupul. Draft capital stays with the Flyers and Lupul likely continues some of his best career years in Philadelphia. Adding John Carlson provides an NHL All-Star defenseman. Over the last three seasons, Carlson has produced career highs. This season, before the pause of play, Carlson was on pace to have his best season to date.
On this day, John Carlson would be the best defenseman on the Philadelphia Flyers. We know that the Flyers have a more than formidable defense with Ivan Provorov, Matt Niskanen, and Travis Sanheim. Carlson shatters Travis Konecny’s lead in points scored while maintaining a +/- of 12. Comparably, Carlson wouldn’t have cost anything and was as good as Chris Pronger since he has been in the NHL. Drafting Luca Sbisa was a big miss in comparison.
Imagine the Philadelphia Flyers defense anchored with an improving NHL All-Star in John Carlson with a good, young defenseman in Ivan Provorov. Matt Niskanen and Carlson proved that they were great teammates with the Washington Capitals, so that synergy belongs to the Flyers. Surround younger defenseman like Travis Sanheim, Philippe Myers, and Robert Hagg and Philadelphia possesses arguably the stoutest NHL defense. A simple reroute from the 2008 NHL Entry Draft makes the Flyers more of a Stanley Cup favorite than they were in 2019-2020. By the way, Philadelphia has a pair of goaltenders now.
Shayne Gostisbehere and Mark Friedman would rotate from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Justin Braun wouldn’t have been a Philadelphia Flyer in 2019-2020 if John Carlson was selected in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Though there were talks of trading Gostisbehere this season, I do not doubt that Gostisbehere would have been shipped if Carlson occupied a roster spot with his quality of play. Under Alain Vigneault, there is no reason to believe that the Flyers wouldn’t be in the Stanley Cup Finals. Philadelphia is an even stronger team than imagined, more elite than what they’ve shown in 2019-2020 with Carlson.
Mandatory Credit – © James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports