The lure of Germany’s rolling countryside and smoldering bratwurst was too sweet.
Just in time for the end of Oktoberfest, two of the Flyers’ top forwards are heading for Germany.
Claude Giroux and Danny Briere are joing Eisbaren Berlin in a package deal, as was announced on Twitter on Thursday, making them the 6th and 7th Flyers to sign deals in Europe. Wayne Simmonds is already playing in Germany, though he is in the second-tier Bundesliga with childhood friend and St. Louis Blues forward Chris Stewart.
Neither Giroux or Briere were available for comment on Thursday afternoon.
Giroux, 24, is the fourth player from the NHL’s top 5 scorers of last season to sign in Europe during the lockout. He had standing offers to join other teams in Russia, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. Briere, 34, enjoyed his time with SC Bern in Switzerland during the last NHL lockout in 2004-05.
Both players will remain property of the Flyers when (if) the NHL lockout is resolved.
The NHL canceled 82 regular season games on Thursday, through Oct. 24. The puck was supposed to drop on the Flyers' home opener on Oct. 11. Instead, 4 Flyers games are already off the docket.
Berlin, a world-class city, seems to be a perfect fit. They are the most successful team in the history of the 14-team DEL (literally translated: Germany Ice Hockey League), having captured 6 titles alone since the last NHL lockout. They are the two-time defending league champions and play in a new, 14,500-seat arena.
The “Polar Bears” franchise is owned by deep-pocketed Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), which also owns the Los Angeles Kings and the Staples Center. Their coach, Don Jackson, is an American who won two Stanley Cups with the Oilers. Jackson’s coaching staff also includes two Canadians (Vince Malette and Sylvain Rodrigue).
Aside from spending time together, Briere and Giroux will not be the only foreign players on Berlin’s roster, since there are already 4 Canadians and 2 Americans on the squad.
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.
At the very least, Giroux and Briere signing overseas cannot be viewed as a positive for fans who want to see NHL hockey. These players don’t see a quick ending to the lockout in sight. Ilya Bryzgalov (CSKA Moscow), Jake Voracek (HC Lev Praha) Ruslan Fedotenko (HC Donbass) are already skating in Russia’s KHL. Matt Read (Sweden) and Simmonds were the Flyers’ first North American-born players to make the jump.
Giroux and Briere were the Flyers’ first big dominoes to fall. Now, more Flyers are expected to follow. Scott Hartnell, who played in Norway last lockout, is closely weighing his options. Nicklas Grossmann, Braydon Coburn, Jody Shelley, and Kimmo Timonen are all deciding whether to pack their bags.
For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers