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Recapping an Eventful First Season as Flyers GM for Daniel Brière

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Sometimes it really doesn’t feel like Daniel Brière has been the Philadelphia Flyers’ general manager for just one season but the turbulence that is Philadelphia hockey makes one year feel like 5 or 10.

Most general managers are usually handed a dumpster fire when they are brought in, especially if they’re initially stapled as the “interim”. At one point in time, the Flyers didn’t seem like they were going to relieve Chuck Fletcher of his duties until perhaps the end of the 2022-23 season at the latest but the backlash he received after his trade deadline debacle ultimately forced them to expedite their decision.

Nevertheless, Brière was now in charge of giving life to a sunken ship. He had to deal with the off-ice issues between certain players and their head coach, core players that no longer fit the vision, hefty contracts that needed to be moved, his first draft, and much more. It certainly wasn’t going to be an easy job, the Flyers still needed to find a new President of Hockey Operations and finally decide on a path moving forward. After years of either re-tooling or aggressively rebuilding under Fletcher and company, Brière ushered the Flyers into a New Era of Orange alongside Dan Hilferty, newly named President Keith Jones, and head coach John Tortorella front and centre.

The first move was a big one as the Flyers traded disgruntled defenseman Ivan Provorov to the Columbus Blue Jackets as part of a three-team trade that also involved the Los Angeles Kings on the 6th of June, 2023. Provorov had essentially run his course with the Flyers after 7 seasons, he became very obviously dissatisfied with the team – whether that was front office, coaching staff, his own teammates – and the Pride Night debacle wasn’t really appreciated by the organization.

The Flyers acquired goaltender Cal Petersen, defenseman Sean Walker, prospect Helge Grans, a 2023 first round pick, a 2024 second round pick, and a 2024 or 2025 second round pick. The Kings received Kevin Connauton and Hayden Hodgson – while the Blue Jackets received Provorov with 30% of his salary being retained by the Kings.

Los Angeles needed the cap relief to extend Vladislav Gavrikov, the Blue Jackets were looking to re-tool their back-end on the fly with Provorov and Damon Severson added to the mix, and the Flyers received picks and a highly-rated prospect with two throw-in contracts.

Following the Provorov deal, Brière continued to work hard in the shadows as he had a proposed deal to send Tony DeAngelo back to the Carolina Hurricanes. On the 25th of June, it was reported that the deal hit a “snag” and the Flyers had to look elsewhere. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun mentioned the following day that,

“… the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement includes a clause stating that once a team trades away a player, that team cannot reacquire said player less than one year later due to potential cap circumvention purposes, especially if there is salary retention involved.”

The Flyers were trying to expedite the move by eating some of his remaining salary but the NHL wouldn’t allow that since the Flyers acquired him from the Hurricanes initially less than 12 months prior. Fletcher moved a second, a third, and a fourth round pick for the restricted free agent and a late round pick before signing him to a 2-year, $10 million deal.

With the DeAngelo trade being held up, Brière turned his attention to the St. Louis Blues and almost executed a blockbuster trade. The details started to pour out on Twitter but ultimately Torey Krug vetoed the deal because he did not want to play for the rebuilding Flyers. We don’t know the intricate details of the trade but Kevin Hayes and Travis Sanheim were going the other way and Krug and at least a first round pick were supposedly coming to Philadelphia.

Ultimately, the Flyers stuck to their guns and traded Hayes one day before the NHL Draft to the Blues for 2024 sixth round pick with Philadelphia retaining half of his $7.14 million cap hit for the next 3 seasons. A lot of people were unhappy because the Flyers coughed up Hayes for a late round draft pick while also being on the hook for dead cap for the next 3 seasons but based on his relationship with Tortorella, it had to be done.

With the Flyers now having moved on from at least 2/3 of the disgruntled trio, they were focusing on the draft where they were scheduled to pick 7th overall. While many were looking at prospects like Will Smith, Ryan Leonard, and even David Reinbacher, there was always the slightest chance that Matvei Michkov might slip just enough for the Flyers to nab him.

His draft stock took a hit after several media outlets reported his apparent attitude problems and the likelihood that he’d never make it over to North America. For the most part, scouting in Russia was also very limited compared to previous seasons due to a variety of factors but none more pressing than their war on the Ukraine.

Michkov who at one point was neck and neck with Connor Bedard was going to escape the clutches of the top-4 and essentially either go to Montréal at 5 or Philadelphia at 7. Arizona for whatever reason was never believed to be in the hunt despite drafting two Russian prospects within the top-12.

Montreal decided to go with Reinbacher, Arizona took defenseman Dmitri Simashev at 6, and the Flyers got their man in Michkov at 7. Later in the round, the Flyers drafted defenseman Oliver Bonk out of the London Knights in the OHL to round out a rather successful first round.

Once the draft was complete, it was time to shift their focus to the free agent window that was set to open up a few days later. The Flyers signed depth pieces in Ryan Poehling, Rhett Gardner, and Marc Staal before ending the night with a surprise signing of Garnet Hathaway. It was never meant to be a busy day for the Flyers as their number one focus was finding cheap depth options to round out their roster.

Two weeks later, the Flyers placed DeAngelo on unconditional waivers for the purpose of a buyout, where he eventually returned to the Hurricanes on a cheap one-year deal. The saga continued later in the summer when the Hurricanes traded prospect Massimo Rizzo to Philadelphia in exchange for the signing rights of David Kaše. It was widely believed that Rizzo was the prospect that the Flyers were going to receive had the DeAngelo trade not fallen through ahead of the draft.

Now that the offseason was over with, it was time to start the 2023-24 regular season. The Flyers jumped ahead to a surprising start and grabbed onto a playoff spot very early on – one that they would hold for about 4 months. However, as is the case with Philadelphia hockey, there never seems to be a restless season.

That much became evident on the 8th of January, when the Flyers announced that they traded Cutter Gauthier to the Anaheim Ducks for Jamie Drysdale and a 2025 second round pick mid-game. It came as a shock to everyone involved because Gauthier had really separated himself from the pack after having been drafted with the 5th overall pick during the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. He was having a Hobey Baker Award-caliber season for Boston College, he had just won gold for Team USA at the World Juniors, and was tabbed as one of the best prospects in all of hockey.

Information was filtering out during the game, but it was being reported that Gauthier had informed the Flyers that he did not want to play for the organization back in 2023. Reasons were unknown but he didn’t take too kindly to returning to Boston College ahead of the 2023-24 season as he felt he was more than ready for the NHL. However, Brière believed it was best for both player and team if he returned for one more season of development before potentially making his debut once his collegiate season came to a close in the early parts of 2024.

Surprisingly, news of this magnitude enough never filtered out and while there were reports being thrown around at times that he might have been unhappy with the Flyers, they never gained traction. Brière did a fantastic job of working the phones with the rest of the NHL, all the while keeping it from ever getting out to the media.

It was also being reported that Brière attempted to trade Gauthier ahead of the 2023 NHL Entry Draft to the Montréal Canadiens in exchange for their 5th overall pick. He had even offered him to Colorado for Bowen Byram but it was Anaheim who ended up with his signing rights in the end. Drysdale was an intriguing enough prospect, a right-handed shooting defenseman, and a power play quarterback, which was exactly what the Flyers were looking for.

If the offseason wasn’t turbulent enough and trading Gauthier wasn’t wild enough, the goaltending situation brought about even more challenges and hurdles. The ongoing Hockey Canada investigation was looming and midway through the season it was announced that Carter Hart was one of the five players involved. He was initially granted a leave of absence before gaining Non-Roster status.

His final game came on the 20th of January while the Flyers were holding onto a playoff spot with a 25-15-6 record. In his absence, rookie goaltender Samuel Ersson was thrust into an unenviable position and played the majority of the remaining games, which came back to bite them when they lost their playoff spot with just a week remaining in the regular season. The Flyers finished the year going 13-18-5 after Hart’s departure but there were a few other factors that also played into their downfall beyond their goaltending.

Less than a month later and as the season continued to roll the Flyers defense took several hits in February as they lost Rasmus Ristolainen, Nick Seeler, and Drysdale to long-term injuries right before the trade deadline. What made things slightly more complicated was the fact that there were internal discussions taking place about whether or not to keep Sean Walker around for the future after such a great start to the season.

The Flyers held contract negotiations for both Walker and Seeler even with the amount of trade interest that both defensemen were generating but eventually decided to keep the latter and trade the former. Brière stuck to his guns and received a first round pick – in 2025 – from the Avalanche in exchange for Walker but the caveat was that they had to take on the contract of Ryan Johansen. He held a $4 million cap hit and was under contract through the 2024-25 season, he never suited up due to a mysterious ailment, and rumours were circulating that he had no intention on playing in Philadelphia.

However it wasn’t all bad news as reports started to slowly filter out that goaltender Ivan Fedotov had his contract terminated by CSKA Moscow and that he was en route to Philadelphia for the remainder of the 2023-24 season. At one point in time it seemed improbable that the 6’8” goaltender was ever going to suit up for the Flyers, let alone any North American club. After a year in the army followed by a year where he played for CSKA Moscow despite not being allowed to, Fedotov touched base with the Flyers and even signed a 2-year contract once the season ended.

He will assuredly need time to acclimate to his new surroundings and playing the North American style of hockey compared to the European style but based on his track record, he should be good to go with a full training camp under his belt. Ersson desperately needed a running mate, Petersen and Felix Sandström did not help out whatsoever during the season, and Fedotov should slide into the 1B role to Ersson’s 1A ahead of the 2024-25 campaign.

If two goaltending controversies in one season wasn’t enough, the Flyers were treated to a third problem in the middle of May. Almost out of thin air, a Belarusian hockey page on Twitter posted a report that goaltending prospect Alexei Kolosov was essentially home sick and was having trouble adapting to North America, while the Flyers refuted the report and never truly divulged into the rumours either. However only just a couple of weeks ago, the earlier report of his uneasiness was backed up by another media outlet in Europe, where they stated that he’s “unconvinced with the project in Philadelphia”.

It seems that the goaltender wasn’t too keen on assignment to the AHL, where he had to sit back and watch Petersen take the reins during their playoff push. As far as the Flyers are concerned, Kolosov is expected to take on the lion’s share of starts for the Phantoms in 2024-25 as they have high hopes for the 22-year-old.

Which then brings us to the very recent present where the Flyers are expected to be active ahead of the NHL Entry Draft. The buyout window opened on Wednesday, the NHL Draft will take place on Friday and Saturday, and the free agent frenzy will commence the following Monday. It is going to be a jam-packed week but the Flyers have been doing their due diligence on the open market for quite some time.

They have inquired on the availability of restricted free agent Martin Nečas from the Carolina Hurricanes, they have had conversations about moving up in the draft with Utah and Ottawa, and it is believed that there is a framework for a larger deal between the Senators that should take place in and around the draft. It could include players, it could involve the 7th overall pick that Ottawa holds, but these two teams have engaged in trade talks for quite some time now.

There has also been talks surrounding Cam Atkinson and whether or not the Flyers will buy him out. Brière was engaged in trade conversations with the San Jose Sharks but Atkinson isn’t too keen on that situation so it’s quite possible that the Flyers go through the buyout process to alleviate cap space and a roster spot.

While those talks are fluid and ongoing, Brière pulled out one more rabbit out of his hat. While he was not directly involved in the termination of his contract, he definitely played a pivotal role in Michkov’s eventual arrival to North America. At the very earliest, Michkov was expected to arrive in Philadelphia by 2026 as he had to play out the rest of his contract with SKA St. Petersburg. However after just one season, they have mutually parted ways as the youngster is in line to sign his ELC in the coming days.

Brière has definitely formed fantastic relationships over his short tenure as general manager. Fletcher had almost alienated himself from the rest of the league and the Flyers were always looked upon as being desperate under his regime. In just over a year, Brière has potentially changed the fortune of this franchise with the arrivals of Fedotov and Michkov, among other moves. Let’s not forget that at one point in time, it was seen as an improbability that either would player would suit up for the Flyers but Brière found a way to get both of them in the fold within months of each other.

All eyes will now shift to the draft where the Flyers currently hold the 12th overall pick and either the 31st or 32nd pick in the first round. They could also have 2 second rounders depending on if Columbus defers their pick this year. Nevertheless, Brière has 20 picks in the next two drafts and potentially even more depending on what he has going on under his sleeve.

At this juncture, it might be safe to exclaim that we are finally under the guidance of a competent general manager.

Flyers fan born in the heart of Leafs nation

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