VOORHEES, N.J. – Flyers general manager Daniel Briere sounds determined to not let the Carter Hart situation become a distraction while his team continues to enjoy unexpected success.
The goalie shook up both the Flyers and the professional hockey world on Tuesday when he requested and received an indefinite leave of absence due to personal reasons.
Hart has been asked questions throughout the season in regards to an incident which took place in 2018 involving a number of Team Canada players (connected to the World Junior Championships) who allegedly assaulted a woman in a hotel room in London, Ontario, Canada.
The NHL is currently conducting an ongoing investigation into the matter.
Late Wednesday afternoon, it was announced that five players on the 2018 team are facing charges of sexual assault by local police.
Those players were told to surrender to police in London to face charges, according to a report in the Toronto Globe and Mail.
While the players haven’t been named, five players on that 2018 team – Hart, the New Jersey Devils’ Michael McLeod and Cal Foote, the Calgary Flames’ Dillon Dube and ex-Ottawa Senator forward Alex Formenton (who now plays in Switzerland) — were granted indefinite leaves of absence from their teams over the past four days.
According to the Globe and Mail report, there is no statute of limitations on sexual assault in Canada. The Team Canada players are accused of sexual assault.
During a scheduled news conference (which had been planned before the Hart news broke) at the Flyers Training Center on Wednesday, Briere did his best to try to answer a multitude of questions regarding Hart’s status.
Inquiries about the state of his team took a back seat and really didn’t get addressed until all the issues surrounding Hart’s immediate future were discussed.
Briere read from a prepared statement before fielding questions:
“We are aware of this morning’s press reports on the very serious matter. We will respond appropriately when the outcomes of the investigation are made public. The NHL has been very clear that teams should refer all investigation-related questions to them. In the meantime, members of the organization, including players, will not be commenting.”
That said, Briere did his best to provide what information he could in the next few minutes.
Has this situation affected Hart’s play?
“I don’t know,” Briere said. “I really can’t tell. There’s modest speculation, that’s all we know. What I can tell you is (backup goalie) Sam Ersson has played well. He’s earned the right to more ice time. We’re excited by the way Sam has played.”
Briere said Hart gave no indication why he was taking a personal leave of absence or if it was affecting his play (12-9-3, 2.80 goals-against average, .906 save percentage).
“He did not,” Briere replied. When asked if he has a plan to keep Hart in the team’s plans once the investigation is completed, Briere shook his head.
“I cannot comment on that at this time,” Briere said. “We will be waiting for guidance from the league.”
Briere defended Hart’s performances this season.
“Carter Hart was having a very good season,” Briere said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen with Carter. The exciting part is that Sam has taken a big step (12-7-3, 2.44 GAA, .905 save percentage) forward. We’ll have to protect him as much as we can. He’s still developing, getting better and better.”
As for the new winning culture in the locker room and how this news might impact that, Briere wasn’t willing to speculate because it’s only been a couple days since the Hart news broke.
The GM said he wasn’t sure if the Hart matter might take an extended period of time.
For the time being, NHL veteran Cal Petersen (acquired in the Ivan Provorov trade with Los Angeles/Columbus) will serve as Ersson’s backup.
Briere indicated the Petersen acquisition was not done with the Hart matter in mind.
“One thing we wanted to do was bolster our goaltender position,” Briere said. “You saw last summer we drafted two good, young goaltenders with our second- and third-round picks. We believe in developing goaltenders.”
Briere has faith in Ersson.
“As a No. 1, definitely,” the general manager said. “I believe that. I think he can shoulder the heavy load, yes.”
According to Briere, there has been no communication with Hart other than the request for an indefinite leave of absence.
With or without Hart, the Flyers have been one of the pleasant surprises of the NHL season so far.
“There have been many (surprises),” said Briere with a grin. “I think it starts with the culture change. I believe it started last year with (coach) John Tortorella.
“The one thing we keep hearing from other teams is how hard we are to play against. That, to me, is exciting. It’s the basis of the foundation of what we are trying to build here. And now, having that in place, it gives us a chance to get better, take a step forward. We’ve seen that from many of our young guys. We wouldn’t have been able to do that without the play of our veterans. Not just the way they play but the way they carry themselves.”
Briere praised the play of some of those vets such as Sean Couturier, Cam Atkinson, Scott Laughton, Garnet Hathaway and Marc Staal.
The GM also said a somewhat milder Tortorella has been a key factor in getting everyone on the same page.
“I saw him for 20 years,” Briere said. “I saw the press conferences. Like everybody else, I had my doubts. When we started interviewing him, I was part of that process. I was really impressed with his preparation and how he wanted to attack and how he wanted his team to play. It forced me to change my mind. The more I got to know him, the more impressed I am.”
One other thing about Tortorella has surprised Briere: Contrary to the perception that the coach only worked well with veterans, he’s also shown a penchant for working with up-and-coming players. That could be why the Flyers have been so successful in year two of the Tortorella regime.
The March 8 NHL trade deadline is starting to factor into teams’ plans and the Flyers are no exception.
One thing we do know: Briere is not going after the quick fix. He’s not going to give up prospects for a veteran to fill a particular need.
The Cutter Gauthier to Los Angeles for Jamie Drysdale was an exception to that thinking because Gauthier made it clear he didn’t want to play in Philadelphia.
“We want to build a Stanley Cup contender for years to come, not one year in, one year out,” Briere said. “A lot will depend on the marketplace. We don’t want to make trades just to make trades.
“If there’s something that makes sense, something we feel makes us better for the future, we’ll consider it. The one thing I won’t be doing is trading prime assets just to make a (playoff) run. I’m not going to be trading first-, second-round picks.”