Briere: Flyers Success This Season Will Be Measured in Development
Following his first offseason as GM, one that was heavily centered around the message of rebuilding and focusing on the future, the next step in the development of the Flyers under Danny Briere is about to begin. Training camp opens for the Flyers on Thursday in preparation for the 2023-24 season.
For Briere, while the message remains focused on the rebuild and the development for the long-term future, the 82-game schedule ahead plays a big role in getting to the final destination.
The team enters camp fully healthy, having spent the last several days holding informal on-ice sessions leading up to camp.
“Knock on wood, so far so good,” Briere said. “It’s been a good offseason. Everybody’s doing well. The guys are healthy. It’s exciting and hopefully it stays that way.”
Two of the main pieces the team gets back are forwards Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson. Both are well-established as veterans, so how do they fit into the rebuilding plan? Briere feels that more depth will help younger players.
“We’ve put a lot of stress on guys like Noah Cates and Morgan Frost last year,” Briere said. “I’m sure it was great for their development to have to face top six players all year, but at the same time, it’s going to be nice to give them a little bit of help and strengthen that position.”
This presents the question, could veterans potentially block younger players? Briere feels like the chance is there, but they want to use the opportunities on the Flyers roster to cultivate an environment of successful development.
“It’s a fine line. You want to give the young guys the chance, and Torts did a tremendous job of that last year, but at the same time, not putting them in a position to fail,” Briere said. “That’s the part that we have to gauge. Put them in good position so they can grow and get better.
“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 bit more on defense. At the end of the day, the players are going to decide that. If they’re not ready to play, we’re not going to just keep forcing them back into the lineup. It’s critical to develop our young guys and think about the long-term prospect for this organization.”
When you make a statement as the Flyers did this offseason, going fully into rebuild mode, it’s going to naturally lead to predictions of where the team will finish. The predictions are hardly flattering in the early years of a rebuild. Briere hopes that the players use this as motivation to leave everything on the ice and be a hard-working team that builds a culture of winning, while still focusing on the development.
“I read the predictions. I see where everyone’s picking us to be last or bottom three. I hope the players use that as motivation,” Briere said. “I don’t know exactly where it’s going to go. We hope and we believe that they’re better than what the predictions are, but at the same time, these guys are going to be in control of that. It’s their turn. It’s their chance to prove everybody wrong.
“I’m sure in the room, the players are not thinking rebuild. And I hope they’re not. I made that very clear with them, that every game we expect them to win and go out 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 trying to lose on purpose. We’re going to do things for the future, but at the same time, we expect these guys to go out and win every game. We’re not trying to lose. We’re trying to develop our guys in hopefully a winning culture, but an environment where they leave everything on the ice every single nice. I hope and think that our fans will respect that.”
Briere remained steadfast in not offering any timeline for when the rebuild would be nearing completion and the focus would shift to competing for playoff spots and contending for a Stanley Cup. He’s judgment of success this season will come in the form of development and culture.
“It’s about the future. It’s about the development. It’s about how we come together as a team,” Briere said. “That’s how we’re going to judge success. We feel that Torts did an amazing job of that last year, creating the culture that needs to be in place to win. He’s going to keep going in that direction and keep building that structure. That’s how we’re going to evaluate, more than just on-ice success.”
There will be many roster spots available. While management may focus on development and offering the chance for younger players to have a bigger role, the Flyers have an old-school coach in John Tortorella. How certain are the Flyers that Tortorella will also have the same long-term vision of development vs. playing veterans to win?
“I think it’s a perception out there that’s not quite right about Torts. We assume – and I’ll be honest, I was one of those too before we hired him – Torts was just going to lean on the vets,” Briere said. “You look at what he did last year. He wasn’t afraid to use rookies or young players in tough situations. He’s excited about this, about working with the young guys. He’ll use the player that’s deserving and the players he feels are ready for it. Rookie or not, they’ll get the chance.”
Briere feels this confidence in how Tortorella treats his players. While being demanding, he has a way of showing he cares for his players and wants to get the most out of them.
“Torts is a demanding coach. He’s fair. He’s to the point. He has a knack to let the players know he cares,” Briere said. “And he has a knack because it’s genuine. When you hear him talk about his players, he really cares about them. He wants the best out of them. He doesn’t care what they think of him. He just wants to get the most out of them because he knows how far he can push them.
“He’s tough on them because he knows they have another gear, another place he can take them to. That’s why he’s respected. That’s why I feel good about him in place as our head coach.”
One of the potential battles will be in the crease. While Carter Hart is the team’s top goaltender entering camp, there is a logjam of netminders that could be the backup.
“Carter is our No. 1. Carter has proven that he’s a No. 1 goalie in the NHL and he’s still our guy. After that, it’s fair to say that it’s wide open,” Briere said. “We’ll see who steps up.”
Of course, there remains the question of Hart and the Hockey Canada scandal that has yet to reach a resolution. There was belief that there would be more information out sometime following the draft and free agency in July. Now training camps have arrived, and things simply remain “ongoing.”
“We asked, but we don’t know much. We’re not being told much. They’re still investigating. I have no clue. I thought something would have been done by this summer,” Briere said. “They’ll tell us when they’re ready to tell us something. We’re like everybody else. We’re waiting to see what happens.”
Training camp opens in Voorhees on Thursday with three group sessions starting at 8:30 a.m. Practices will continue through the weekend ahead of the Flyers first preseason game on Monday night on the road against the New Jersey Devils.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN. Follow him on social media @Kevin_Durso.
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