Can Flyers' splashy move pay off for a change?

Posted: July 04, 2013

Not so long ago, the Flyers' signing of Vincent Lecavalier would have been received with universal, almost celebratory, acclaim.

Lecavalier is the biggest star available in free agency this summer. The Flyers boldly locked him up Tuesday night. That's all a franchise can do, right? Go out and make the boldest moves possible in order to win?

A few years ago, that would have been the story here. Now? Well, things have changed.

The minute you hear about a player getting a big contract, it's like someone starts the clock running down to when everyone agrees that the contract was a big mistake.

It isn't Lecavalier's fault, heaven knows. He's a 33-year-old who led a team to the Stanley Cup a decade ago. He signed what he thought was a career-long contract extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning. There was no way he could have known he would be jettisoned in a "compliance buyout" precisely because of that contract.

(A word about that term: It suggests compliance between the player and the club, but it refers to compliance with the salary cap. The player is nothing but a cap hit.)

And it is only partly Paul Holmgren and the Flyers' fault that this move seems anticlimactic. The team just jettisoned a couple of its own best-known players, Danny Briere and Ilya Bryzgalov, for compliance reasons. So this feels a little like rushing directly from divorce court to the wedding chapel.

It is only partly the Flyers' fault because this is much bigger than the local hockey team. This is a malaise created by all the teams in town.

The Eagles' bold moves of the last few years - Michael Vick, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Demetress Bell - brought only misery and disappointment.

The Phillies won a World Series in 2008 with mostly homegrown talent. They have treated their fans to an endless parade of glittery, high-profile acquisitions: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cliff Lee again, Jonathan Papelbon, Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence. Some of those players have been terrific, but the end result has been a yearly decline since 2008.

The Sixers: Andrew Bynum. No more needs to be said there.

The Flyers have never slighted their fans when it came to big moves. But the recent ones - Briere, Bryzgalov, Chris Pronger - have ended in disappointment, even though Briere and Pronger delivered plenty of excellent hockey.

So a little blockbuster fatigue has set in, and it muffles the enthusiasm that would normally accompany a signing like this. We used to see the potential. Now we see the inevitable pitfalls.

Two years ago at this time, Holmgren blew up a team that had been to the Stanley Cup Finals the year before. He shipped Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and their big contracts away and went with a youth movement. Now he has signed Lecavalier, who is five years older than Carter and six years older than Richards. Bryzgalov had been brought in to be the elite goaltender the franchise sought like the Grail. Now he has been tossed away like a plastic cup.

Meanwhile, the glaring need for a rebuilt defense remains unaddressed, and there is considerably less cap space to accomplish it. The Lecavalier signing certainly suggests more moves are coming - maybe a big trade - but mostly it suggests a continued inability to create a sound plan and stick with it.

Lecavalier was one of the stars on the Lightning team that slipped past the Flyers in the 2004 Eastern Conference finals. He was outstanding in that postseason, which ended with the Lightning carrying the Stanley Cup. He was also 23 at the time.

The Flyers have been burned by giving big contracts to older players. Briere has not been the player he was for the better part of two seasons. Concussion issues ended Pronger's career. Mix in the no-trade clause that is reportedly in the deal, and it's too easy to picture the 38-year-old Lecavalier weighing the team down in 2018.

And that's the problem. The Flyers sign the best free agent available and your thoughts turn to Briere and Pronger and Halladay and Asomugha. Instead of getting set up for disappointment, you shrug and hope Lecavalier can be a pleasant surprise.

When you think about it, maybe that's not such a bad thing.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow @Sheridanscribe on Twitter.

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