2013 In Review: Top 5 Transactions in Philadelphia Sports

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5. Flyers buy out contracts of Ilya Bryzgalov & Danny Briere

Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

In the most recent NHL lockout, a sticking point on both sides was a contract clause that allowed teams to rid themselves of some of the debilitating contracts that prevented them from progressing as a team. When the NHLPA and owners finally reached an agreement, it was decided that franchises would be allowed two compliance buyouts to be used when they so desired.

For the Philadelphia Flyers, an organization notorious for handing out huge sums over lengthy deals, this amendment figured to be key for them returning to prominence in the NHL. In less than five years, the Flyers had gone from a promising roster with a solid balance of youth and experience that appeared to be a goaltender away from a Stanley Cup, to a disjointed unit with more stories regarding locker room dissension and failed expectations than anything regarding a return to the finals.

After the 2011 season, one that saw the Flyers being swept in the 2nd round of the playoffs by the eventual champion Boston Bruins, owner and team president Ed Snider decided he would no longer allow his team’s struggles to be defined by their inability to develop a goaltender. Even though rookie Sergei Bobrovsky flashed the sort of potential that might indicate otherwise, the trigger-happy Snider decided he did not want to wait for the young Russian to progress naturally and broke out the checkbook. He would sign Phoenix Coyotes netminder Ilya Bryzgalov to a lucrative 9-year/$51 million contract to man the pipes for the Orange and the Black for seasons to come.

Although Bryzgalov had been notorious for struggles in the postseason and on the bigger stages, he had turned in back-to-back season with sub-2.50 goals against averages and, with the Flyers looking like one of the more gifted offensive teams in the league, many figured Bryzgalov would be a suitable fixture in net.

As far as Danny Briere goes, he was arguably the team’s best player on their run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010. He led the league in points in the playoffs with 30, and scored several key goals as the Flyers made their way through the postseason in the most dramatic of fashions. Even though the team fell short, Briere’s performance seemed to justify the Flyers signing him to an 8-year/$52 million deal in 2007.

Fast-forward to the end of the 2012-2013 season and the narratives on both players could not have been further from what the team expected. Although Briere still excelled in the playoffs and chipped in in a big way in the team’s exhilarating first round upset over the Penguins in 2011-2012, the slight Briere no longer had the skills to manipulate defenses and had become more of a liability than anything. Despite being one of the most likable players in team history and a fixture in the locker room and in the media, his struggles became impossible to ignore.

The struggles of Bryzgalov were not quite as painful to watch, in fact by the end of the season people were almost rooting for him to fail. The eccentric Russian had gone from a wacky goalie with endless soundbites, to a caustic presence in the locker room and a scapegoat for all of the team’s problems. Despite setting the franchise record in 2011-12 for longest shutout streak (249:43), his inability to ‘steal’ games for the Flyers on the big stage and his penchant for letting in soft goals made watching him all the more frustrating. It was almost insulting that he was making the money he was, and he did not seem to care about the mounting struggles of the organization. In two seasons, Bryzgalov’s contract was looking like one of the worst in franchise history which, considering the Flyers reputation, was quite the distinction.

In June, we got the first part of our answer, as general manager Paul Holmgren announced the team would pay Briere a fraction of the remaining $5 million owed to him on his contract and allow him to become a free agent. The departure of the gifted center was a heartfelt one, as Briere had nothing but positive things to say about the area and the franchise. 

Many wondered if Ed Snider had it in him to swallow his pride and pay Bryzgalov over $20 million to never play in Philadelphia again. It would cost $23 million to use the buyout, and while Bryzgalov was far from great, his play was not quite the detriment to the team that the aging Briere’s was. Still, the Russian’s antics had clearly worn thin on the organization and, if the Flyers wished to return to prominence, they saw no choice but to eat crow and let Bryzgalov walk.

In a statement by Bryzgalov through his agent, the netminder said he was grateful for his time in Philadelphia and appreciated what the organization did for him. Can you blame him? He no longer had to work in the high-pressure atmosphere and he was being paid enough to set his family up for life to do so.

Paul Holmgren gets as much flack as any general manager in the area, except Ruben Amaro Jr. (deservedly so). That being said, his position is not an easy one under the watchful eye of Ed Snider and one has to give credit where credit is due. For completely different reasons, it was not easy to admit defeat and allow Briere and Bryzgalov to walk with the owners money. Still, the moves look as if they will not come back to bite the Flyers as neither player is excelling in new locations. In the ultimate ‘addition by subtraction’ approach, the Flyers buyouts of Danny Briere and Ilya Bryzgalov come in at number five for top transactions of the year.