It started off like any other NHL game that the Flyers would play. The players took the ice, introductions were made, the national anthem was sung, and the teams lined up for the opening face-off.

From the jump, the game unraveled on the Flyers. A penalty 28 seconds in turned into a power-play goal for the Penguins 45 seconds in. The Flyers were chasing the game from there.

But within minutes of the Penguins scoring the first goal in an eventual 4-1 loss for the Flyers, a typical night of hockey quickly shifted with the unexpected. The Flyers announced a trade involving one of their top prospects, Cutter Gauthier.

It was so unexpected, that a rare occurrence came with this trade – there was no reported trade or confirmation needed. The two teams, the Flyers and Anaheim Ducks, just made the announcements on social media. Completely out of the blue…and less than five minutes into the Flyers game that night.

However, this was a trade months in the making. And much like the Flyers kept things on the down low about drafting Matvei Michkov this past June, Danny Briere and company did the same with Gauthier.

Briere was transparent about the whole ordeal in his media availability between the first and second period on Monday night. The Flyers were informed in May, after World Championships, that Gauthier no longer wanted to be a Flyer, and therefore wouldn’t sign an entry-level contract.

That left the Flyers with essentially two options: trade his rights for whatever you could get or let him play out his college career for an additional two seasons and get a second-round pick in compensation for Gauthier becoming a college free agent.

The Flyers initially opted for a third choice: give Gauthier space. They kept their distance, as Gauthier did not attend the team’s development camp over the summer. They continued to be patient, all while keeping things quiet about Gauthier’s intentions. Still, word started to leak out to teams around the NHL Draft, and that’s when Briere said he started to field calls.

“The reason why we didn’t want to say anything was not to hide anything from our great fans. It was to try to protect the kid,” Briere said. “We were hoping at some point he would change his mind. He had already changed his mind. He looked at us at the draft and told us he was built to be a Flyer, wanted to be a Flyer. A few months later, he told us he didn’t want to be a Flyer.

“In our mind, at first, we said we have to protect him, because if he changes his mind again and it’s out there that he doesn’t want to play, it’s going to be tough for him to put the uniform on. When we realized that they refused to talk to us, now it’s been months, and he didn't want to be a Flyer or be in Philadelphia, it was time to make it happen.”

Still, the Flyers weren’t accepting any offers just yet. Gauthier was clearly displaying his talent, scoring seven goals in 10 games at World Championships, and the fan base was buzzing about his pending arrival in the future, especially after the Flyers drafted Michkov as well.

So far this season, Gauthier has shined both at the NCAA level and internationally. He’s tied for third in the NCAA in goals this season and tied for the tournament lead at World Juniors in a gold-medal run for Team USA. He scored the game-winning goal to send USA to the Gold Medal Game just this past Thursday.

And as another week began, he was suddenly no longer a Flyer.

Briere and Keith Jones both traveled to World Juniors in Sweden last week. This proved to be their last-gasp effort to speak with Gauthier and try to change his mind.

“Nothing happened. We tried to, but they would not engage as far as a reason why,” Briere said. “We just wanted to be able to present our case and tell them what we were doing here and where this organization is going. Unfortunately, we never got the chance."

For the first few weeks of the season, Jamie Drysdale was out with a lower-body injury, one season removed from only playing eight games before a season-ending shoulder injury. He had just returned to the Anaheim lineup on Dec. 21.

The timeline matched up perfectly for the Flyers. Gauthier was delivering at World Juniors on an international stage. Drysdale was back in the lineup and the Flyers had a chance to see him prove his health was in order. After Gauthier and Team USA claimed gold, Briere and the Flyers felt the value wasn’t going to get any higher than this before word ultimately spread about the situation.

With Drysdale’s name on the table, they pulled the trigger, also adding a 2025 second-round pick to the mix.

“At some point, we had to make a decision. We thought with what happened a few days ago, this was our time to probably get the highest value,” Briere said. “Not very often you get to find a Jamie Drysdale that you can add to your lineup. When that came about and his name was made available, we got really excited. The chance to add a player of this caliber to a premium position, as a right-shot defenseman for a left winger, just made a lot of sense and we felt it was the right time to do it.”

Trade Reaction: The Team Responds

To that point on the evening, everything was a whirlwind. Somewhere between the announcement and Danny Briere’s press conference, 20 minutes of hockey had been played and the Penguins had a 2-1 lead. Not that anybody will really remember it. Overshadowed was an understatement.

However, some of the other between-period activity continued to create sound bytes for around the league.

Jim JacksonBrian Boucher
At the same time,

“You don’t want to be a Flyer, you’re not going to be a Flyer.”

“We’re Philadelphians, and we want people who want to be here with us.”

Forget the hockey aspect of this trade for a moment and just focus on the message. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think the Ed Snider Legacy Game carried over to Monday and Dan Hilferty was playing the part. This was as close to an Ed Snider moment as Flyers fans were going to get in 2024.

Similarly, Jones’ message sounds like a proclamation. If you’re not with us, you’re against us. No one likes us, we don’t care. You don’t want to be a Flyer, you’re not going to be a Flyer.

And the strong words didn’t stop there. After the game, there were additional worthy sound bytes. As is typical postgame, players spoke first, and Travis Sanheim sure didn’t mince words.

“The only thing I’d heard was the development, not wanting to be there. As a player in this locker room, that was something that stayed with us,” Sanheim said. “For as long as I know, you show up to development camp whether you skate or not. If he doesn’t want to be here, we’re happy to move on and get the pieces that we did.”

And then came John Tortorella, who is never one to shy away from calling it as he sees it. What was his response to the situation?

“Then we don’t want you,” Tortorella said.

When asked about having previously met Gauthier, Tortorella shot back.

“I don’t know Cutter from a hole in the wall. I’m not too interested in talking about him. I’d rather talk about Jamie. He’s the one coming here.”

So, let’s talk about Jamie Drysdale.

The Return: Jamie Drysdale

The next game for the Flyers will mark the official halfway point of the season, Game No. 41. And before the Flyers have sold off any pieces, as was highly anticipated, they actually acquired a player without disrupting the current roster.

Jamie Drysdale was a highly-touted prospect in his own right. As a right-handed defenseman, he’s a hot commodity for teams. His combination of skating ability, offensive prowess, and defensive presence can certainly be of value to teams.

That’s how Drysdale became the sixth overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. As an 18-year-old, he started playing immediately for the Anaheim Ducks. That season, the 2020-21 season, was the 56-game schedule with all-divisional play. Drysdale played in 24 NHL games, scoring three goals and eight points. He also had four goals and 10 points in 14 AHL games with the San Diego Gulls.

The next season, Drysdale was 19 and up in the NHL for good. He scored four goals and had 32 points in 81 games.

Then the injuries started to pile up. Drysdale only played in eight games in 2022-23 before a shoulder injury ended his season. He played two games to start the 2023-24 season before a lower-body injury sidelined him until mid-December. In 10 games this season, he has one goal and five points.

Drysdale figures to slot in among the right defense rotation and Tortorella said he would also get power-play time right away.

“We’re really excited about the opportunity. 21-year-old right-handed shot. We’re going to put him on the power play, one of them. He’s just starting,” Tortorella said. “Kid’s head is spinning right now. It’s his first time at this. We’re really excited about the opportunity and we get a second rounder. I think it’s a really good deal for us.”

In the seasons prior to being drafted, Drysdale was never a prolific goal-scorer. His career-high in juniors was nine in his draft year. But he also had 38 assists to reach 47 points in 49 games with the Erie Otters.

So how does the player with only 45 points in 123 NHL games get more offensive. Tortorella wants to promote a style that could help.

“Aggressive up-ice, a good offensive player. He’s going to fit in just fine. It’s how much we give him. We just want to slowly go about it. The part for me, as I watch the tape, I just don’t think he’s up the ice enough offensively,” Tortorella said. “The first time I see him face-to-face, that’s what I want to tell him. I want to see him get going that way and try to help us offensively. We’ll teach him the defensive part of it. I want him to get going offensively.”

The Rebuild: How Does This Impact It?

With their hands tied regarding Gauthier, the Flyers did the best thing that they could do: acquire something for the future. If Drysdale can overcome the injuries, stay healthy, and be close to the projected top-pair potential that he displayed during his development, this could be a move that works for both sides.

In the immediate aftermath, Tortorella focused on how the timing of Drysdale’s career, both in age and experience, can be beneficial to the Flyers.

“It’s such a good age for us. That’s what is exciting,” Tortorella said. “A 21-year-old, ready, skill, lateral movement. It’s such a good deal for us. It’s a reminder, in the process that we’re at right now, it’s perfect timing.”

But as much as Drysdale could become a staple of the back-end for the Flyers, an area they want to build out with a strong foundation, they generated 37 shots on goal in the 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh and saw their scoring woes continue. Trading away Gauthier, no matter the circumstances, further set back the Flyers forward depth.

One thing that stood out in Briere’s press conference was two mentions that the Flyers considered Gauthier a left-winger, when he’s been playing center at both Boston College and in World Juniors. The Flyers are already thin at center to begin with. Sean Couturier remains the top center the Flyers have. Morgan Frost and Noah Cates are passable in the middle six, but there’s a clean talent disparity from high-end talent.

While making the trade now before losing all leverage is certainly the right move for the Flyers, it goes to show just how far away they are from finishing the process, no matter what the standings say.

And lately, the standings and your play on the ice are starting to tell you something. A regulation loss to Pittsburgh took the margin between third and seventh in the Metropolitan Division and reduced it to two. In a matter of days, the Flyers could be on the outside looking in. We have reached the 11th hour. The white glistening carriage is about to leave the ball, and there’s really no glass slipper to leave behind for Danny Briere to find and try to solve the problem.

A trade like this only furthers that discussion. Yes, the Flyers get back a talented, young defensive player who could have a bright and extensive future in the NHL. But they also, forcibly, give up more offense that would make them more equipped to keep up with teams.

The Bottom Line

There will be a lot made about the unknown reason behind Gauthier refusing to sign with the Flyers. It becomes their J.D. Drew story. It enters the wayback machine and shows up as another Eric Lindros draft story. And there will be reports that Kevin Hayes, who was also a BC product and remains tight with Gauthier, misled him about the Flyers organization or that the No. 1 reason Gauthier didn’t want to play for the Flyers was because of Tortorella.

Unless another similar situation arises, it’s not worth much fanfare. The reason doesn’t matter. Gauthier’s cold shoulder to the Flyers organization said everything loud and clear, regardless of why.

But in Philadelphia, why he didn’t want to play for the Flyers won’t matter. The simple fact that he didn’t, with no completely revealed reason, will make him an immediate villain to Flyers fans.

It’s why the Flyers’ brass so quickly shifted from disappointment to doing their part to make the best of the situation.

“At first, yes. When he told us, there’s a period of time where we were disappointed that he didn’t want to play here,” Briere said. “But at some point, you have to move on. We had done that. We felt this was the best time to get the most value for him. That probably helped close the deal.”

Plenty needs to go right for this deal to become a potential win for the Flyers. Drysdale needs to stay healthy, and we’ll see if Tortorella and Brad Shaw can work with him to make something happen.

Briere can have another impactful move added to his resume or this could become another day of infamy, a potential turning point in the Flyers rebuild and another stepping stone to the final destination.

Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN. Follow him on social media @Kevin_Durso.

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