VOORHEES, N.J. – As important as the Flyers’ rebuild might be to the team’s future, there’s still that matter of maintaining a competitive product on the ice.
For a franchise as proud as this one, there’s no such thing as “tanking.”
General manager Daniel Briere said as much during a press briefing on Tuesday at the Flyers Training Center.
While Briere wants to integrate young players into his roster, he’s not about to let NHL pronosticators have their way when they pick his team to finish last in the Metropolitan Division and perhaps one of two or three least competitive teams in the NHL this season.
There’s nothing like a bad preseason “grade” to get players motivated and Briere hopes that’s the case with this season’s Flyers.
“Well, I read the predictions,” Briere said. “I see where everybody is picking us to be last or bottom three in the NHL. I hope the players use that as a motivation. I don’t know where exactly it’s going to go. We hope and believe that they’re better than what the predictions are out there. But at the same time these guys are going to be in control of that. It’s their chance to prove everybody wrong.”
Acknowledging all that, Briere makes it clear he’s not going to judge his team’s progress based solely on how many points it accumulates.
“It’s about the future, it’s about the development,” he said. “How we come together as a team. That’s how we’re going to judge success. We feel like ‘Torts’ (coach John Tortorella) did an amazing job last year creating the culture that needs to be in place to win. He’s going to keep going in that direction. Keep building that structure. That’s how we’re going to evaluate more than just on-ice success.”
If nothing else, you won’t see the 2023-24 Flyers just mailing games in, rebuild or no rebuild.
“I’m sure in the room the players aren’t thinking rebuild,” Briere said. “They’re not. I made that very clear with them that every game we expect them to win, go out there and give their all.
“Torts was able to get the best out of them last year, which was really impressive. We expect the same thing this year. We’re not tanking any games, we’re not losing on purpose. We’re going to do things for the future. But at the same time we expect these guys to win every game. 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 a winning culture in an environment where they leave everything on the ice. I hope our fans will respect that.”
Why should the Flyers feel good about their chances this season? Well, they’re getting back former Frank J. Selke (NHL’s best defensive forward) Sean Couturier and elite forward Cam Atkinson after both stars missed all of last season due to injury.
“Knock on wood, so far so good,” Briere said. “It’s been a good offseason. Obviously (injured defenseman Ryan) Ellis is not going to be on the ice. Otherwise it looks like everyone is doing well. Our vets, it’s exciting, they’re skating. They’re all on the ice it seems. Couturier and Atkinson, having not played last season, to see them on the ice, to see them skating and taking part in the contract drills, it’s exciting. Hopefully it stays that way.”
The development of young players such as Noah Cates and Morgan Frost was rushed a bit last season because they were forced to play in so many roles and absorb so much ice time. This season should be different.
“On the ice it’s a big change,” Briere said. “We’ve put a lot of stress on guys like Noah and Morgan last year because of that. I’m sure it was great for their development having to face top six players all year long. But at the same time it’s going to be nice to give them a little bit of help and strengthen that position a little bit. Let them breathe a little bit.
“Experience-wise, I think it’s going to be great for their growth as well. On the ice, adding those two guys (Couturier, Atkinson) in the locker room is huge as well. Last year we had a lot of young guys. Those (veteran) guys are going to help. Adding guys like Atkinson and Couturier to the room will help a lot on offense.”
Being competitive is one thing; challenging for serious contention is another. How many years until the Flyers become a threat again?
I’m not putting a timeline on that,” Briere said. “The players will decide that. We have our own idea but I don’t want to put that out there right now.”
Ultimately, bringing in a veteran such as defenseman Mark Staal will help with the transition to a much younger team. He can help tutor some of the young guys.
“You want to give the young guys a chance and Torts did a tremendous job of that last year,” Briere said. “But at the same time not putting them in a position to fail. That’s the part that we have to gauge. Put them in positions so that they can grow.
“That’s exactly why we added a guy like Mark Staal we felt to help some of our defensemen after losing Provy, adding a good veteran who can help cool the temperature at times. Understanding where he fits in, but at the same time helping out our young D-men. There’s a lot of change, a lot of young guys stepped up last year, mostly on offense. Hopefully we can see that a little more on the defense. At the end of the day the players are going to decide that. We’re not just going to force them back into the lineup, we’re going to give them a chance to get their confidence back.”