Hail to the Flyers: The Philadelphia Flyers Have Become the Washington Redskins of Hockey


With yesterday’s signing of Vincent Lecavalier, I realized that the Philadelphia Flyers have become the Washington Redskins of the NHL.

The Redskins are notorious for “winning the offseason” every year.  Under the regime of owner Dan Snyder, they have constantly made flashy offseason moves in an attempt to win a Super Bowl as quickly as possible.  They’ll spend money on big name free agents, or traded away draft picks for veterans, only to see the team flame out once the games begin.

Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder. Image Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Sadly, under owner Ed Snider (must be something about the name Snyder/Snider) and general manager Paul Holmgren, the Flyers have taken the same approach.

If a “name” player becomes available via trade or free agency, the Flyers are a lock to get involved; if that player is on the backside of his career, even better.  And if the player’s salary will cause some issues with the salary cap down the line, then it is a pretty safe bet that he will be the next member of the Philadelphia Flyers.

Lacavalier is a perfect example.  He used to be one of the best players in the NHL.  He once scored 50 goals in a season and helped lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup.  But he is clearly on the back end of his career, and has had trouble staying healthy in recent seasons.  If he doesn’t remain effective, he’ll be a real burden on the Flyers’ finances over the next four seasons.

The Flyers have never shied away from a high payroll.  Blessed with supportive fans, a good television contract, and an owner who is willing to spend whatever money is necessary, the team is always one of the league’s top spenders.

The “outspend your competitors” technique to team building became less effective in 2006, when the NHL instituted a salary cap.  The Flyers have been slow to adjust to this new reality.

For an example, look at what happened two years ago.  The Flyers had a talented core of young players, headlined by centers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.  What they didn’t have (or at least what they didn’t think they had) was a goalie capable of winning the Stanley Cup.

After two straight years of the team’s goaltenders being largely responsible for a playoff series loss, the team’s executives had one mission: Find a goalie who could carry the team to the Cup.

While I’m not privy to the exact process, it seemed like the team was determined to identify the best available option, and then set out to acquire that player regardless of the cost.  And so, the Flyers traded for Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.

Two years ago, Bryzgalov seemed like the Flyers’ best option in goal. Image Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

At first, Bryzgalov looked like a strong choice.  He was a former Vezina Trophy runner-up and was part of a Cup-winning Ducks team in 2007.  But there were whispers that Bryzgalov wasn’t that strong of a player.  Some of his teammates weren’t exactly broken up about his departure, and some people had doubts about how he would thrive in a hockey-centric market like Philadelphia.

Regardless, the Flyers had acquired his rights, and would now be required to offer him a hefty new contract.  The team was likely busy seeing just how much money they could offer Bryzgalov when someone mentioned that any deal they made would have to fit under the salary cap.

It became imperative that they trade away some players in order to free up cap space.  Suddenly, the talk from the Flyers was that their core of Richards and Carter (The young stars whom they supposedly loved up until now) wasn’t really all that special.  In two separate trades made on the same day, Richards was traded to the Kings, and Carter was sent to the Blue Jackets.

Maybe Carter and Richards weren’t that good, yet after being reunited in Los Angeles, they helped the Kings win the Stanley Cup.  So they’ve got that going for them.

Bryzgalov turned out to be a horrible fit.  His first two years in Philly were filled with bizarre quotes, inconsistent play and what seemed like deliberate attempts to alienate both fans and teammates.

Sergei Bobrovsky may have found consistency. Image Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Ironically, the team might have had the solution already on the roster.  Second year goalie Sergei Bobrovsky had shown flashes of brilliance in his first two seasons, but his inconsistency was a large reason why the Flyers flamed out of the playoffs in 2011.

Apparently, young players can sometimes be inconsistent, but the Flyers don’t seem to realize this.  Any time a player doesn’t look like a star by his third season, they tend to trade him.  This is what happened to Bobrovsky who went on to win the Vezina Trophy last season.

The Flyers were now paying big money to a goalie who hadn’t proven to be the answer, and they also had several other holes and not much space under the salary cap to fix them.

In most sports, the salary cap limit will increase over time, but the NHL is different.  As part of the collective bargaining agreement signed in 2012, the NHL’s salary cap actually decreased for the 2013-2014 season.  This caused an issue for teams like the Flyers who were already close to the cap limit.

Fortunately, the new agreement also provided teams with an escape clause: Each team was permitted to designate two players whom they could “amnesty.”  The player would be released, and while the team would still have to pay them the majority of the money owed, their salaries would no longer count against the cap.

The Flyers used their two amnesty clauses on veteran center Danny Briere (another big name player the team had signed to a large deal) and Bryzgalov.

Given the additional salary cap space, do you think the Flyers quietly accessed their options to determine the best way to spend that money?  Or did they jump at the two biggest names they could find in yet another attempt to “win now.”

Mark Streit is yet another veteran acquisition by the Flyers. Image Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Naturally, they went out and acquired Lecavalier as well as defenseman Mark Streit.  I’ll concede that both players have the potential to improve the team, but they’re also both well over 30 and aren’t coming cheap.

Even after the signings, the Flyers still have holes.  How are these holes likely to be filled?  By trading away some of their young players, of course!

Sean Courtier was one of the main pieces the team acquired from the Carter deal, and they used his talent to help justify the trade.  But after two seasons with the team, he hasn’t blossomed into a star yet, so there are rumors that the team would be willing to trade him, likely for another veteran player.

And so, the cycle continues…

I’ll admit that the Flyers haven’t been as painful to watch as the Redskins have been.  At least the Flyers can usually be counted on to make the playoffs, and they’ll even mix in a deep run every few years.

But if last season is any indication, even that level of success may be over.  With the tighter salary cap, teams won’t be able to spend their way out of trouble.  The Flyers will need to develop young players, which is something they haven’t shown they have much pateince for.

Last season was only the second time the Flyers missed the playoffs in the past twenty years.  If they don’t change their approach, it may not be the last.