PHILADELPHIA — Danny Briere is not reluctant to say the word his predecessor willfully avoided when plotting the best course for the forlorn Flyers: rebuilding.
Briere knows the Flyers are a mess – the depressed state of the team a topic former general manager Chuck Fletcher rarely addressed head-on – and is using what time he has as the interim GM to show he’s the right person to fix them.
That starts with the hard truth.
“I don’t think this is a quick fix,” Briere said. “That’s my belief and that’s why I’m not afraid to use the word rebuild.”
Briere was promoted to interim general manager and replaced Fletcher after he was fired following 4 1/2 seasons and only one playoff appearance. The Flyers have just 24 wins, their 59 points are third-fewest in the Eastern Conference and they will miss the playoffs for a third straight season.
Yes, the record was abysmal, but what ultimately doomed Fletcher was his inability to settle on a true plan to turn the Flyers into a perennial playoff team. He touted the Flyers this season as a playoff team, even with a mismatched roster of aging, overpriced veterans, too few prospects and so many injured players – such as Cam Atkinson and Ryan Ellis – it was easy to see it was going to be a long season in Philadelphia.
Well, easy for everyone except Fletcher.
Coach John Tortorella has been blunt about the hard days ahead from his first day on the job and never backed down from saying the Flyers need a multiyear process to become a playoff team. The low point came in December when on the same day at different news conferences, Tortorella said the team was “not even in the foundation, we’re at the footer,” while Fletcher said the Flyers were still in play for a wild-card spot and he expected them to remain competitive the rest of the season.
The Flyers, who open a seven-game homestand this week, have won two games since Feb. 9 and are on a three-game losing streak.
Briere championed Tortorella’s hiring and the pair are on the same page when it comes to the hard work needed to at least make the Flyers competitive, much less in the hunt for Philadelphia’s first Stanley Cup since 1975.
“What was really striking for me was how he was going to rebuild the culture over here,” Briere said. “Looking at the last couple of years, it was tough to watch, at times. I felt we were an easy team to play against. You don’t realize how important culture is until you lose it.”
The 45-year-old Briere, a beloved former Flyer who led the team to its last Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2010, has one caveat when it comes to rebuilding.
“I want to make sure rebuild doesn’t mean fire sale,” he said. “We’re not going to get rid of everybody.”
Briere seemingly will have a major say in the direction of the franchise. The interim tag isn’t expected to stick and his fast rise through the organization likely means he gets the job full time. Briere said the interim tag for now “was the right thing to do,” and team chairman Dave Scott said a “restructuring” of the front office was in the works. Fletcher also served as team president. The Flyers will now use two people in those roles.
Briere also was quick to say he respected the Flyers’ veteran consiglieres of Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, Paul Holmgren and Dean Lombardi but didn’t know how the foursome would factor into any future decision-making.
The Flyers have only three free agents – and Fletcher’s failure to deal James van Riemsdyk at the trade deadline was an organizational black eye – and loads of veterans such as Atkinson, Kevin Hayes, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov all on the hook for hefty salaries for multiple seasons. Moving them could be a challenge. Briere said while some younger players such as Noah Cates, Owen Tippett and Cam York could be foundational pieces, no Flyer is untouchable in trade talks this summer.
It’s now up to Briere to think ahead, not just this offseason, but to map out a future for many seasons beyond this one.
Draft the right prospects. Sign and trade for healthy, productive players. Keep their own talent from regression. Don’t take shortcuts. It’s a rewarding cocktail that has eluded the Flyers for a decade.
Briere is up for the challenge.
“Oh, there’s no doubt in my mind that I can do the job,” he said.