VOORHEES, N.J. — Danny Briere and the Flyers’ new leadership have embraced the image of rebuilding.
For Briere, he was publicly open to the concept two days after being named interim general manager in March. At a decorated press conference in May, Keith Jones, the club’s first-year president, admitted the Flyers have “a lot of work to do.” Dan Hilferty, the face of ownership, emphasized patience and transparency.
But how does the rebuild talk work for the players? Especially the veteran players, the ones who very well might not be here when the expectations could flip?
This will be the challenge for the Flyers’ coaching staff and front office. Rebuilding but still motivating. Focusing on the future but not losing the players in the present. It’s a pivotal, inexact science to the Flyers’ mission of getting the franchise on track, convincing fans to stick with it and eventually being relevant again when the games matter most.
“I’m sure in the room the players are not thinking rebuild,” Briere said Tuesday at Flyers Training Center, two days before the start of the 2023 camp. “And I hope they’re not. I made that very clear with them that every game, we expect them to win and go out and give their all.”
The 2023-24 season marks the start of a telling era for the Flyers. The demanding and determined John Tortorella is in Year 2 steering the club behind the bench. The beloved former Flyer Briere is in his first full season as an NHL GM. Both have been forthright about the Flyers’ construction taking time.
Tortorella has extolled Briere for being a “deep thinker.” And Briere believes in Tortorella as a coach for a rebuild.
“I think there’s a wrong perception of Torts out there,” Briere said. “He’s great to work with, he wants to work with the young guys, he’s excited about this chance to build a team with young guys.
“We’re on the same page, we see the game the same way. It has been really easy working with Torts. He might be tough with some of you guys at times here and there, but he has been a blast to work with. I only have good things to say.”
The Flyers have missed the playoffs in three consecutive years for the first time since 1989-90 to 1993-94, when they went five straight seasons without a postseason berth. They’ve gone a combined 81-107-32 over the last three seasons. And they had an offseason in which they parted ways with an All-Star forward, a top-pair defenseman and their top scorer on the blue line.
Those are rebuilding moves. The Flyers wanted to get younger, gain future-centric assets and get a start on freeing up some cap space down the road. But they do still have veteran presence on their roster. Marc Staal (36), Cam Atkinson (34), Nicolas Deslauriers (32), Garnet Hathaway (31), Sean Couturier (30) and Nick Seeler (30) are all 30 or older.
Ideally, the Flyers want the experience surrounding their younger players to make for steps in the right direction and one happy family. The Flyers also can’t lose focus on prioritizing the long term when it comes to daily decision-making.
“It’s about the future, it’s about the development, it’s about how we come together as a team,” Briere said. “That’s how we’re going to judge success.
“It’s a fine line where you want to give the young guys a chance, and Torts did a tremendous job of that last year, but at the same time not putting them in position to fail. That’s the part that we have to gauge — put them in good positions so they can grow and get better.
“There’s no doubt that it’s critical to develop our young guys and think about the long-term prospect for this organization.”
As the Flyers open training camp Thursday, they’ll have prospects pushing for jobs. How quickly they arrive and develop will be a massive storyline in the Flyers’ process.
Veterans or prospects? Can both spur a rebuild? Can they coexist in a rebuild?
For the Flyers, it will be a constant, delicate balance.
“We’re not tanking any games, we’re not trying to lose on purpose,” Briere said. “We’re going to do things, obviously, for the future, but at the same time we expect these guys to go out and win every game. And I hope they know that. I’ve told them that and I’m going to reinforce that before camp starts, as well.
“We’re not trying to lose, we’re trying to develop our guys in, hopefully, a winning culture but an environment where they leave everything they have on the ice every single night. And I hope and think that our fans will respect that.”