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Friedman and Marek Dissect Flyers, Shine Light on Brière’s Path and Rumours Surrounding Core Players

(Heather Barry Images, LLC)

With everything that has taken place in Philadelphia since the March 3rd trade deadline, it truly feels like it’s been a month or two that has passed, certainly not a week and a half.

For the first time in a long time, the Philadelphia Flyers are the talk of the town around the NHL and league circles and it’s finally about something positive. Everything that is slowly leaking out in regards to what the old guard and old regime was doing in the past few years is slowly going to dissipate when Daniel Brière and company come together in the offseason and start their rebuild. Whether he’s saying it because he knows it’s what has to be said or if he’s saying it because he’s true to the heart, Brière knows a rebuild is required and understands that his predecessor left him with a mess that will take several years to clear up.

By the sounds of things, it seems that the stopgap Flyers of the past are no more as we usher into a new phase of Flyers hockey where they will undergo the highly anticipated and much-needed rebuild to fix the cracks and the holes that have plagued this team since the early 2010s. Chuck Fletcher and even Paul Holmgren tried to fill in the gaps with patchwork ideas that never seemed to work, whether it was going after Rasmus Ristolainen and Tony DeAngelo to fix the always-dastardly backend, or signing Ilya Bryzgalov to a lucrative and ludicrous contract because of one bad postseason from a first-year goaltender that eventually won 2 Vezina Trophies elsewhere.

Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman, 2 venerable sources who have been on top of this situation almost as good as anyone, took to their 32 Thoughts podcast on Monday to further discuss the aftermath of Daniel Brière’s first press conference that took place on Sunday. They spent the better part of the first 25-26 minutes of their episode dissecting even further what had gone wrong in Philadelphia, what is currently taking place in the upper echelons of the front office, and what is to be expected at the end of this season and beyond.

Some of it we already knew being fans of the team, but some of it was more damning, like when Friedman mentioned that people in the Flyers organization would send tips around the league saying they specifically had nothing to do with a specific or certain move and it was someone else’s decision; essentially trying to get on top of the mess and the aftermath of a horrible trade, signing, or move.

Elliotte Friedman started with:

“Talk about some of the alumni that have very important says, from Bob Clarke to Paul Holmgren to Bill Barber to others, there’s other people in and around hockey ops, I think it caught people totally by surprise and to be honest, I think the media knew before Fletcher knew. It was kind of a wild scenario, like sometimes you hear that someone’s fired but they know before you do and the news just starts to leak out. I don’t think that was the case here, I think people in media knew before Fletcher knew and I think some people in the media knew before some of the other guys in the organization who are in important positions. What I think that could mean…is that the influence of certain people in certain positions is going to be shifted. We now hear that there is a new CEO, Dan Hilferty, and I think there are people closer to this situation than I am who believe that Dave Scott, who has been the longtime CEO and the individual running the organization, will be stepping down or retiring as soon as this summer. Initially when Hilferty was just hired, they were like he’s just another person to our structure, don’t read into it, stop the conspiracy theories, whatever. Now I think we’re starting to see where this is going to go. I don’t think we have all the answers yet but look, I do think there is a move to have Eric Lindros a part of the organization, not necessarily President but a part of the organization…what we saw on Friday was step one. Now what I’m curious to see is that is there going to be, in and around Briere, a whole new sphere of influence in that organization. I think a lot of people see this as step one of x but the question is what number is x. Just like grade 12 algebra, what is x?”

Jeff Marek then chimed in: 

“Some of the names we put forward on Saturday…Ray Whitney who worked with Brière as a manager for the Spengler Cup team, Brière has always been close with Shane Doan, here I mentioned Brent Flahr who we believe and Brière mentioned today at the press conference, he’s expected to stay with the organization. Someone mentioned to me on Friday an interesting name and that is Robert Esche who is the president of the Utica Comets as well who…who knows would be someone who make some sense here. These are some of the initial thoughts on who Brière could surround himself with as well and we’ll see what happens. And I’m with you here that this is going to be multi-stage and you know when Brière starts to build his team…his orbit, the sphere of influence around Daniel Brière and then I think that we look for pressure point days, days where we think things are going to happen…I wonder about the draft and Brière talked about that being a key opportunity whether its the players they pick or whether its the players on the roster they move out…it’s all going to be very calculated, very deliberate, very much follows a sequence that winks back to that idea of team building that I talked of a second ago, not just filling holes. You have a need, let’s fill that, it’s gonna be more…’what is our team plan going to be here’ and I think that is very much his thinking. Here’s the plan, here are the stages, and this is how we’re going to enact this.”

Friedman then reiterated that people want this job and it’s going to be a coveted position:

“There’s going to be a ton of interest, if there hasn’t been already. No matter how much the Flyers have struggled in the last little bit, people want this job. Flyers are a marquee franchise, they’re in a city with a fanbase that really cares, it’s an organization that has the resources that wants to win. They’re gonna have people lining up for these jobs in this organization. I think it’ll be interesting, the way these kinds of structures generally work is that the GM generally makes the hockey decisions and the President of Hockey Operations manages up. That person would deal with, whether its Dave Scott or Daniel Hilferty, whether its Valerie Camillo, that’s what that person normally does…I think Esche is a really intriguing name because he has the business history with Utica and he’s a former Flyer. I think they flirted with Ed Olcyzk before and all the names we mentioned, Ray Shero’s name is another one, obviously big connections to the Flyers…in the past it’s always been important that someone with major Flyer blood was a key part of this. Like Briere was a Flyer but honestly, I think of him more as a Sabre than a Flyer, and I wonder if that matters now, or is that still a thing now? He’s grown up in the Comcast organization…do the Flyers want another quote-unquote “Flyer” in there. There may also be people who may change jobs in the offseason, like who’s in the NHL right now in a job that they leave and say you know what, I might wanna do Philly instead. Then there’s going to be people who we don’t really think of, there always are. If you look at San Jose’s search, you look at Chicago’s search, they interviewed people who were completely off our radar, and I would assume Philly is gonna do some of that too.”

Then Marek and Friedman starting chiming in at the same time:

Marek: “Let me just add one thing onto that, one of the keys here is, and I don’t have a date, I don’t know but there’s one person that said they don’t want this to drag on, they wanna get it done quickly. I had another person say they’re gonna take their time and make the right decision, I’m curious when they want to make this hiring, the President of Hockey Operations.”

Friedman: “Why the rush? You have somebody in charge there, why rush?”

Marek: “I don’t disagree, I get that, I understand that, I just wonder if there is ‘we wanna have this person in a certain date by a certain time’.”

Friedman: F.T.R.H., you know what that stands for? Find the right human. I just made that up, can you tell?”

Marek: But the point being, if you wanna get this done by a certain date, that precludes people having an expiring contract right now, who they otherwise might wanna talk to.”

Friedman: “I don’t see how that should matter in this case, unless something happens here that indicates that Briere is not your person then you’ve got your guy in place there to run your hockey ops. I think they’re targeting the Cam Neely/Don Sweeney idea, the Joe Sakic/Chris McFarland idea. Name your situations where you have your President of Hockey Ops and then you have the GM. Don Sweeney does most of the hockey and Cam Neely manages the Jacobs. Chris McFarland now does a lot of the heavy lifting and Joe Sakic, while he certainly delivers his opinion, he manages up. You can run your organization like this now and again, I go back to this, the way Brière is talking, there’s no way that’s a surprise to the people running Comcast or the people above him in the executive chain…because they released that letter with Tortorella, the way Fletcher talked at the deadline, they were going down this path, if they wanna hire someone else to manage up…you don’t need to run in and do that, you have Brière doing this, you just have to make sure that you have someone that fits the vision of both Brière and what you want your President of Hockey Operations to do…I don’t think you have to rush.”

Friedman then changed the subject to the players and the roster:

“This is what the fans care about most…are the players. I think you’re bang on about Carter Hart, you talked about him on Saturday night, I think he’s going to be available. You know, we talked about Kevin Hayes, even though I don’t think they’ll be trading any of their young kids, a real interesting one would be Konecny because I don’t think Chuck Fletcher wanted to move Konecny at the deadline and I think that there will be a push. I don’t think they’re crazy about moving him, I think they’re definitely not crazy about moving him but they realize that they may have to do it to fit what they’re gonna try. I don’t think their young kids are going anywhere, I don’t think the Cam Yorks are going anywhere, the Noah Cates…Owen Tippett…I don’t think those guys are going anywhere, but I think the veterans who have 2-3 years left on their contracts, they don’t fit the timeline, those players I think are going somewhere.”

Marek on John Tortorella:

The other guy we should mention is Tortorella…someone said something to me that was very interesting, they said that they could see Tortorella moving into management or player development at some point, they think he’s talked about it but I think right now he’s too valuable where he is. Also he’s got a big voice where he is, if I was the Flyers, I would be saying…’you’re staying right where you are because our fans like you there and we like you there.’ I heard him and Brière had a big meeting on Friday, like a long meeting to go over everybody up and down the roster. The way that Tortorella talked about Cam York at training camp, profoundly different than how he talked about Cam York after 30-35 games at Lehigh Valley and when he came back and the responsibilities that he gave him. There’s the pat on the back and the kick on the butt and Tortorella seems to know when yo do both and specially around kids like I think that John Tortorella is completely comfortable…I’m of the mind that he would be completely fine with that (in regards to playing the kids from start to finish)…he’s totally fine with that idea, this guy is on board with a rebuild no matter how deep it goes.“

Ending their Flyers segment on a high, Friedman said:

“The NHL is a better place when the Flyers matter.”

This offseason is going to be absolutely pivotal for this organization and it will be the measuring stick of what Daniel Brière’s vision is going to be. If the Flyers are to finally commit to a full rebuild, then you have to believe and understand the reasonings behind trading players like Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny – and to a degree Carter Hart. With 2 years remaining on their contracts after the end of this season, both carry reasonable cap hits, both players would do very well on a much better team surrounded by quality teammates, the question that will remain is whether or not there’s a point in keeping them through a 3-5 year build.

They’ll both be due for lengthy extensions, probably even a raise from their current cap hits, and 2 years from now the Flyers are still going be out of the playoff picture and contending window. They’ve also been dragged in the mud of the trade rumours thanks to Chuck Fletcher and he was very close at times to executing a deal but backed out for a myriad of reasons. They were both discussed ahead of the trade deadline and you’d have to think, outside of Carter Hart, they’re the 2 veterans who would command the highest asking price from opposing teams – a price that would help your rebuild, get the rebuild going, and maybe even speed it up by a year or so.

As for Hart, it truly becomes a dilemma that the Flyers have to be absolutely sure about this summer. Hart is only 24 years old, he is signed through the end of the 2023-24 season, he will also be a restricted free agent at the end of his contract, and shouldn’t command anything egregious in terms of his next deal. The Flyers have been toiling for decades in goal and they finally found their franchise goaltender, but the last few seasons have been extremely tough for him considering the team in front of him has been putrid at best. He was statistically the worst goaltender in the debacle of a season in 2020-21, however he has improved vastly over the last two years and his numbers are rather comparable to some of the league’s best – he’s just stuck in front of a rut of a defense. Will that change in the next 2-3-4 years? Probably not, in fact it could get a lot worse if they decide to move Provorov and stick with younger, inexperienced options.

Which then brings us to the question of whether or not he’d want to stick it out for the next 3-5 years before the Flyers potentially become contenders. For argument’s sake, if the Flyers’ rebuild takes them to 2027-28, Hart will have to endure another 3 full seasons of rebuilding, something similar to what John Gibson has had to go through in Anaheim. Gibson is still with the club, he’s been a part of some trade talks, but he’s a part of their future since he still has 4 more years remaining on his contract. It all boils down to 2 things: 1) Are the Flyers prepared to take the risk on trading a young, not-yet-in-their-prime goaltender?, and 2) If they decide not to trade him this summer, will Carter Hart want to sign long-term at the end of 2023-24? He will be an RFA, so the Flyers have the leverage there, but even RFAs can force their way out – see Matthew Tkachuk.

This is truly the one move that will swing the rebuild one way or the other. Trading Konecny and Provorov is almost a foregone conclusion or expected at this point and since they’ve already been a part of the trade chatter for years, and the Flyers understand the market, even if it was Chuck Fletcher who was at the forefront of these dealings. With Hart, the Flyers need to make sure they know what they’re doing because goalies are a dime a dozen in the NHL, and in Philadelphia we don’t need to be reminded.

It was rather poetic in how Hart debuted on a Philadelphia team during the 8-goalie carousel season – how the wheels have fallen off since. They are confident in Samuel Ersson, who has been great in his first stint at the NHL level but he’s also only got 10 games under his belt. Carter Hart had a rather similar ascension in his rookie season, and it’s a real calculated risk to be that confident in someone’s ability.

As for the front office, it has become very clear that changes are actually afoot and it starts with Dave Scott. Whether or not it’s going to be him retiring or stepping down, remains to be seen, but it sounds like Comcast CEO Dan Hilferty will be taking over Scott’s position at the end of the season.

As for the Senior Advisors that have become the bugaboo of the team, city, and fanbase, they might finally be done with their lengthy tenures in Philadelphia. Bobby Clarke has been apart of this franchise in almost every capacity imaginable since 1969, with the exception of a few years. Paul Holmgren has followed that path as well since debuting for the Flyers in 1975 and Bill Barber – linemates with Clarke – spent some time in Tampa Bay in the early 2000s but has always found his way back to Philadelphia and has quietly been apart of the front office or coaching staff for decades.

The winds are blowing in Philadelphia and for the first time in a long time, they are talking about names that are somewhat refreshing and somewhat different. Ray Whitney, Shane Doan, Chris Pronger, Eric Lindros, Ray Shero, and Robert Esche have been discussed – not necessarily as the President of Hockey Operations, but to be within the organization in an important role.

Ray Whitney has been working with Daniel Brière on the Spengler Cup roster for Team Canada, Shane Doan is extremely close with Brière – both former Phoenix Coyotes – Chris Pronger was a Senior Advisor for 3 years in Florida and was Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations for 1 year, Eric Lindros has been linked to Philadelphia for quite some time and has been around the organization at a lesser degree since their reunification under Ron Hextall, Ray Shero obviously has a strong connection because of his father and has been around the front office of many NHL teams since 1993-94 to now, and Robert Esche has been the President of the Utica Comets since 2013-14. These are just some of the names that they’ve heard about, there are plenty of other options that will be considered, however it’s the newfound route that they will be looking to follow.

Which brings us to one of the more important things that they discussed in that Brière and the Flyers want to follow in the footsteps of the Boston Bruins and Colorado Avalanche. First of all, they are looking at separating the 2 positions and finding the right man for each job, but also with how venerated and successful they’ve been in recent years. Brière wants to break off the shackles of the past and usher the Flyers into the new modern era, where a lot of former players have taken up jobs with their former teams and have been very successful at it – Steve Yzerman and Chris Drury are other examples. So yes, in a way the Flyers might be digging into their alumnus again, but they’re not clamouring for that outdated, prehistoric diatribe that once worked in the 80s and 90s.

The time has finally come and it’s going to be painful at times, however the much-needed rebuild is upon us, and whatever happens from here on out is going to be done because there’s a bigger plan in motion. The Flyers won’t be fun to watch for another 2-3 years, but let’s be real, they haven’t been fun to watch for the last 3 years anyways. At least now there’s a reason behind their losing seasons rather than having an incompetent general manager making moves that half of his front office wasn’t in agreement with, as The Athletic’s Charlie O’Connor intimated that he got the sense “that by the end, it became more like one side would win on one thing (Ristolainen) and another side would win on another (extending Sanheim) & the result was no one was happy.”

It’s a step in the right direction, and that’s all we can ask for at this point in time.

Flyers fan born in the heart of Leafs nation

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