PITTSBURGH – The people at the top may have changed but that doesn’t mean Flyers coach John Tortorella has to.
When word came down Friday morning that general manager Chuck Fletcher had been fired and replaced by interim GM Danny Briere, the coach knew he would still be pretty much operating in his comfort zone.
Despite this somewhat monumental change, Tortorella’s mission remains the same: A “build back better” policy is the best approach to the Flyers moving forward.
So while Tortorella allowed himself a sentimental moment or two describing his relationship with Fletcher – the man who hired him – the business of hockey waits for no man.
“He is the reason I’m here,” Tortorella said prior to Saturday afternoon’s Flyers-Penguins game at PPG Paints Arena. “I loved working for him. Very intelligent hockey guy who I think takes a hit for some other prior situations.
“And he never really had a full team that he expected with ‘Coots’ (Sean Couturier), (Ryan) Ellis, Cam (Atkinson) this year (all injured). . .losing TK (Travis Konecny). Some of the previous drafts put him in a spot when he takes over. A good man.”
Yet Tortorella understands hockey, like any pro sport, is results-driven. A third season out of playoffs was wearing on ownership, fans and the city of Philadelphia in general.
“Having said all that, he understands the business,” Tortorella said. “I understand the business. It happens to all of us. You’re going to get fired. But I have nothing but respect for the guy. I loved the time I worked with him. I wished I worked with him longer.”
One upshot from this transaction was ownership’s declaration that it agrees with Tortorella’s approach to getting the Flyers back into contention.
Tortorella disclosed he, Fletcher and team governor Dave Scott had an important meeting a few weeks ago and it seemed like everyone was on the same page.
“It continues,” the coach said. “I met last night with Danny for a couple hours last night. We’re on the same page. I don’t think it has changed because Chuck was fired because I believe we were all speaking the same language.
“I think we all understand what we have to do. As much as I miss Chuck, I look forward to working with Danny. He’s very bright. I’ve known him for a long time. I’m really excited for the opportunity with him also.”
In recent years, Briere had served as a special assistant to Fletcher. Prior to that, he had been affiliated with the Maine Mariners from 2017-2021.
What’s Tortorella expecting from his re-designed relationship with Briere?
“We’ve had a lot of discussions during the year anyway,” the coach said. “I’ve had many conversations with where we need to go here. It’s exciting for me to see a young man who has put him time in. I coached him when he first broke in, watched him throughout his career. First-class person.
“It’s exciting to see someone get started in something he really wants. I’m very fortunate to be part of it with him.”
On the ice, things might not look quite that different, at least at the start. But no doubt Briere’s influence will begin to show, especially if the interim tag is lifted after the season is over.
“We’ve already spoken with what we feel has to happen with the team,” Tortorella said. “Spoken about individual players. Asked him a number of times this year his thoughts on certain players that may have struggled with me.
“There have been a lot of different conversations about a lot of different things. The conversation stays the same, he happens to carry the GM title right now. As I’ve said, a good man loses his job, a good man comes in and takes it.”
Briere has worked on the ice with various players, including Konecny, who set a new career high for goals before he was injured a few weeks ago.
“He (Briere) has convictions as where he feels we need to go,” Tortorella said. “We’ve talked about situations as where we think we need to add to the team. He’s a class guy. Very unassuming but he’s strong, too. He has some strong thoughts about what has to happen here.”
The Flyers made it clear they are going to split the titles of president of hockey operations and general manager. Tortorella said he has no intentions of making any recommendations for candidates at either position.
“I’m going to coach the hockey team the best way I can,” he said. “In conjunction with Danny’s thoughts, we’re going to keep pushing forward here.”
Tortorella revealed Briere spoke to the players on Friday night. It was a 15-minute meeting where the new interim GM expressed his thoughts.
“They all know (about the business side of hockey),” Tortorella said. “I really enjoyed what Danny said. I think the players did. It’s a hard spot for Danny. He worked closely with Chuck, he respects him. But also is very excited about his opportunity.”
Briere comes from a Flyers pedigree. He played for five NHL teams but played the highest number of games here. It’s safe to say he’s really a Flyer “lifer.”
“He played in the organization, he’s been involved in some of the thoughts of trying to fix this, even prior to me coming here,” Tortorella said. “I think the game is ever-changing. I think he’s on top of things.
“He’s been in the organization longer than I have. He knows more about some of the prospects we have. That’s a big part of our job here, to get younger. But also continue to try to find our way with people we have in the organization, maybe even some of our veterans.”