In 1975 the two time defending Stanley Cup champion Philadelphia Flyers made headlines by trading Bill Clement, Don McLean, and the 18th overall pick to the Washington Capitals for the number one overall selection.
Bridgman went on to play nearly 1000 NHL games and served as a captain for five seasons so he could never be considered a first overall draft bust. But he did not fulfill the immense expectations many had for him.
That, according to Bridgman, was largely due to circumstance.
"In a way, I sometimes wished I had come up with the team that wasn't quite so good. I could have gotten more ice time and maybe move my career I had a little faster. But that's hindsight. The good thing about coming to the Flyers was that I learned about winning and to be a winner. That kind of development is as important as individual development."
"I learned a lot about winning and being a winner. That kind of development is just as important as individual development and statistics. Would it have been nice to play on a team where I would have gotten more ice time and more powerplay time? Maybe. But I also know that a big reason for my longevity in the NHL is that I developed in a winning environment."
Bridgman had an amazing final season of junior. In 66 games he scored 66 goals, 91 assists and 157 points while accumulating 175 penalty minutes.
He would never emerge as much of an offensive threat. With Clarke and Rick MacLeish ahead of him at center ice, Bridgman was asked to play a checking role from the start, and he was often moved to the wing.. Yet in 977 career games he scored 701 points, including 252 goals. Six times in fourteen seasons he scored 20 or more goals.
But offense was never what he was known for. He was a scrappy warrior who thrived defensively, both as a shutdown forward and penalty killer and faceoff expert. He was also lauded for his leadership, his reliability and his toughness and tenacity. He was absolutely fearless.
"He had a special determination. When Mel went after the puck, he was like a bulldog. He had his mind set. If you put a wall between him and his assignment, you would lose that wall," said Flyers coach Pat Quinn.
He was a warrior on the ice, and was absolutely ferocious when dropped the gloves. He would rarely lose, even when engaging in battle with the likes Clark Gillies and Terry O'Reilly.
"In order to be effective, I had to work as hard as I could. I had to go into the corners and not worry," said Bridgman.
Quinn had enlisted Bobby Clarke as an assistant coach for the 1979-80 season. It was an unconventional choice as Clarke continued to play. One of Clarke's earliest decisions was to give up the team captaincy since now he was also a coach. He chose Mel Bridgman to succeed him.
"Mel was worth what the Flyers gave up to get him," said legendary Flyers coach Fred Shero. "He could do so many things well, but best of all, he was big and strong. He wasn't afraid to go after the puck and take a shot to get it, and he could give a shot to knock someone off the puck."
Bridgman captained the Flyers all the way to the Stanley Cup final in 1980. Aided by inspiring play from youngsters like Brian Propp, Paul Holmgren and Ken Linseman and the continued excellence of veterans like Clarke and Reggie Leach, the Flyers came up just short, losing to the New York Islanders in the championship round.
Times became tougher for both the Flyers and Bridgman after that loss. Bridgman, a very articulate individual who took university classes in the summer time, became distracted and disappointed in a bitter contract negotiation. He admitted it affected his play on the ice, and eventually led to the stripping of his captaincy by 1981.
Not surprisingly the end of the line in Philly was near. Despite a spectacular start the 1981-82 season (seven goals in the first nine games) he was traded to the Calgary Flames in exchange for defenseman Brad Marsh. In Calgary Bridgman finally got some power play time and he responded with career highs of 33 goals and 87 points.
Bridgman, who wound up his career with brief appearances with Detroit and Vancouver, would retire in 1989. He finished his business degree at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and by 1992 he became the first general manger in the history of the modern day Ottawa Senators.