ON THURSDAY, dump trucks hauled in 600 tons of dirt onto the Wells Fargo Center floor in preparation for this weekend's Professional Bull Riders tour event, symbolically burying the ice less than a week before the Flyers were to open their season.
Turns out, Claude Giroux and Danny Briere weren't interested in sticking around any longer to watch their season being torn apart.
Both Giroux and Briere signed deals on Thursday to join Eisbaren Berlin in Germany, just hours before the NHL announced the cancellation of 82 regular-season games through Oct. 24.
For the Flyers, that meant the cancellation of four regular-season contests, including three home games, with lost gross revenue valued at $1.9 million per home date.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly called the cancellation an "extremely disappointing but necessary decision." The regular season was slated to open on Oct. 11 in Philadelphia in a nationally televised game between the Flyers and Bruins.
Instead, no new bargaining proposal has been shared between the NHL and NHLPA since days before the lockout officially went into place on Sept. 16.
"The decision to cancel the first two weeks of the NHL season is a unilateral choice of the NHL owners," NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said in a statement. "If the owners truly cared about the games and the fans, they would lift the lockout and allow the season to begin on time while negotiations continue."
The league has said it is waiting for the NHLPA to make the next offer. The NHLPA, meanwhile, is playing the same game of cat and mouse.
Players were slated to receive their first of 13 paychecks for the season on Oct. 15. More and more will be cashing them from European teams instead.
Giroux and Briere, two of the Flyers' top forwards, are the latest big dominoes to fall overseas. There are now seven Flyers playing in Europe - also, Ilya Bryzgalov, Ruslan Fedotenko and Jakub Voracek in Russia, Matt Read in Sweden, and Wayne Simmonds in Germany's second-tier league.
Neither Giroux or Briere responded to phone messages seeking comment.
All players will remain property of the Flyers when (if) the lockout breaks. For Briere and Giroux, Berlin seems like the perfect fit. The "Polar Bears" are the most successful team in the history of the 14-team Deutsche Eishockey Liga, having captured six titles since the last NHL lockout alone in 2004-05.
The franchise is owned by deep-pocketed Anschutz Entertainment Group, the owners of the Los Angeles Kings and Staples Center, which is a rival of Comcast-Spectacor. They are two-time defending league champions and play in a world-class city in a new, 14,500-seat arena.
Plus, the team is highly Americanized. The coach, Don Jackson, is a Minnesota native who won two Stanley Cups as a player with the Oilers. Jackson has two Canadian assistant coaches on staff and six other North American import players already on the roster.
It is unclear at this point what level of compensation Giroux and Briere might be receiving. It is very possible that Berlin agreed to pay for their insurance expenses, which makes the decision to go overseas much easier. All players must have at least their current NHL contracts insured against injury before playing overseas.
For Giroux, who had been working out and skating in his native Ottawa to pass time, the insurance situation may have even been more complicated. He likely needed to not only insure his current deal (2 years left, total $8.5 million) but also a future, lucrative payday that would undoubtedly be coming after he is allowed to negotiate an extension next July.
Usually, imports in the German league can expect to make anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 per season, according to an American player who recently played there. Both Giroux and Briere could be earning significantly more than that.
Giroux, 24, is the fourth of the NHL's top five scorers from last season to sign in Europe. He had standing offers to join other teams in the Czech Republic, Russia and Switzerland. Briere, 34, will pass up time with his three sons in South Jersey to join Giroux. Briere skated with SC Bern in Switzerland during the last lockout.
More Flyers are expected to follow. Scott Hartnell, who owns 5 percent of the Finnish franchise KalPa with teammate Kimmo Timonen, is carefully weighing his options. Braydon Coburn, Jody Shelley and Nicklas Grossmann are all deciding whether to pack their bags.
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