Philadelphia is consistently considered one of the best hockey markets in the National Hockey League, particularly in the United States. Sports Illustrated’s Michael Farber wrote in a 2007 article arguing for Philadelphia to replace Detroit as Hockeytown, USA. A survey conducted by ESPN.com revealed that players thought Flyers fans were the “most intimidating fans in hockey.” The orange and black, although lacking the Stanley Cups recently to prove it, are known for winning year after year, making the playoffs 16 of the last 18 seasons. They’ve also been able to land star free agents such as Jeremy Roenick, Peter Forsberg, and Danny Briere. With a history like the Flyers have, coupled with incredible fan support, a large hockey market, and consistent success, what free agent would not want to play for the Flyers?
But with the recent debacles the front office has had, most recently with the handling of soon to be ex-Flyer Ilya Bryzgalov, the question might be changed just a bit.
What free agent would want to play for the Flyers?
Is it still a great hockey market? Of course it is. Even this passed season in a lockout shortened year and the team missed the playoffs, the Wells Fargo Center was sold out each and every game. According to an NHL Attendance Report that tracks attendance since 2000, the lowest the Flyers have been in total attendance has been 7th, while they still sold out 98.9% of their home games.
Are the Flyers still a contender? Sure they are. Core guys such as Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell, along with the young studs in Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn, and Sean Couturier have this team in an exciting time for them to grow together into a Stanley Cup winner.
What could possibly keep away some free agents then?
The answer: Paul Holmgren and the Philadelphia media.
As we all came to find out, Paul Holmgren likes to play games when it comes to long, lucrative contracts with players. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter found this out the hard way. In November 2010, Holmgren gave Carter an 11 year contract extension worth $58 million. Richards was also given an extension, this one for 12 years. Both signings should have made them Flyers for life. But a year removed from a Stanley Cup final appearance, and a sweep by the Boston Bruins the season after changed everything for the orange and black.
As you well know, the two reunited in Los Angeles and won a Stanley Cup in their first year since being let go from Philly, whilst Schenn, Couturier, and Voracek have had success to a lesser degree.
The big repercussion that came from this? No matter who you are, what you’ve done, you are shown no loyalty. This happened again on Monday when the Flyers used their second compliance buyout on Ilya Bryzgalov. Only two years into his 9 year $51 million dollar deal, the goaltender that Ed Snider so desperately wanted, needed, and dreamed of was gone. Instead of backstopping the Flyers to a Cup, he’ll be collecting checks until 2027 while, since its bound to happen, winning a Vezina Trophy with another team.
Of course, this all isn’t just the front office’s fault. The Flyers media is not exactly helping either. When Bryzgalov was bought out Monday, immediately after talking to the goaltender, Courier Post beat writer Randy Miller went on a twitter tirade of all the negatives he encountered while covering the goaltender. Bryz was attacked by members of the media relentlessly, and finally lost it at seasons end in April. It wasn’t just Bryzgalov who have spoken out against the media however. After signing with the Blackhawks in 2011, Dan Carcillo told the Chicago-Sun Times that the Philly media “make stories out of nothing.” And who can forget the media battle with captain Mike Richards? The media blew “Dry Island” out of proportion, according to Richards, while writers were quick to state there was a divide in the locker room between Richards and Carter against teammates and even coach Peter Laviolette.
Sure, any professional athlete knows that the game they play is still part of a business and one can’t take anything personally. However if that player signs a long term extension and is told right to their face they won’t be traded, and then they’re traded shortly afterward, one would have to be a little ticked off. If I’m a free agent, I’m a little wary to come sign a contract knowing that it could mean absolutely nothing to a person with a track record like Paul Holmgren.
And of course in a big hockey market comes more media trying to pick at stories, digging and digging to get something to write about no matter how ridiculous. It’s understandable given the nature of the job. But given what Ilya Bryzgalov had to endure this year (some criticism deserved, but mostly uncalled for), would a big star really want to deal with these types of media members?
Philadelphia still has the appeal that many hockey cities do not. From the passionate fan base, to the tradition of winning, and playing in a large market, I’m not arguing that it would be the worst place to play in the league. It’s still a better place to play then Phoenix, Florida and Dallas. But the Flyers are spinning out of control. And if Paul Holmgren comes knocking to any free agent stars this off season, I would bet they’d check twice before signing the dotted line.
So how about it Bobby Ryan? Want to come home?