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June 08, 2023

How Danny Brière's first trade set the tone for the Flyers' rebuild

All it took was one trade for Danny Brière to prove that things really are different now. The rebuild is on. Play ball.

Remember that a few months ago this was the same organization that, despite all its stated efforts, just couldn't find any takers on James van Riemsdyk as a deadline rental. 

And that in the last two summers – among a spectrum of head-scratching roster decisions – this was the same organization that paid heavily in draft picks for Rasmus Ristolainen and Tony DeAngelo, then threw a hefty sum of money their way on top of it, all while shipping out Shayne Gostisbehere (with picks) for no return and having to buy out fan-favorite Oskar Lindblom just to afford the cap space. 

Yet all it took this week was one trade for Danny Brière to prove that things were going to be different now. 

On Tuesday, the Flyers completed a three-team deal with the Blue Jackets and Kings that, above all else, shipped the once-promising Ivan Provorov to Columbus and brought back the 22nd overall pick in the draft later this month along with a couple of future second-rounders. 

It was only Brière's first trade as the Flyers' general manager, yet it already exhibited more creativity and boldness than any move made during Chuck Fletcher's failed tenure, setting the tone for how this rebuild was going to go. 

"We have a chance to really kind of start building the team the way we want it, the right way that we've talked about," Brière said after the trade went through. "It kind of starts with that. 

"It wasn't an easy decision. Ivan has been a really good soldier for the Flyers for a lot of years. A lot of sweat, a lot of hits he’s taken, a lot of pucks he’s blocked, he's really poured his heart out into the Flyers. It wasn't an easy decision."

But it was a necessary one if the Flyers truly wish to get to where they want to be – and won't be the last either. 

"For us, what we were looking at is young guys and picks. We've said it from the beginning, so that was the major reason behind it."

And about as great a setup as any heading into Nashville for a pivotal draft at the end of this month.

The trade in full:

Flyers receive:Blue Jackets receive: Kings receive: 
2023 1st Round Pick (22)
via CBJ 
D Ivan Provorov
via PHI
F Hayden Hodgson
via PHI
2024 2nd Round Pick
via LAK
 D Kevin Connauton
via PHI 
2024/2025 2nd Round Pick
via CBJ 
G Cal Petersen
via LAK 
D Sean Walker
via LAK 
D Helge Grans
via LAK 

*Kings will retain 30% of Provorov's remaining salary for the next two seasons

Making this all work to begin with first took a great read of the NHL landscape on Brière's part. 

The Kings needed to free up money to sign one of their defensemen, the Blue Jackets were on the lookout for a defenseman, and the Flyers – seeking assets – had one where any potential still there wasn't going to be realized in Philadelphia. 

There was a way for all three to help one another. 

MORE: Collaboration is key, but Brière's is in the driver's seat

As this past season wore on, it became increasingly clear that Provorov wasn't going to get any better in Philadelphia. 

Once expected to eventually become the franchise defenseman upon his seventh overall selection in the 2015 draft, his growth as a player hit a hard wall coming out of the 2020 playoff bubble.

He was never the same after Matt Niskanen retired, no matter who the Flyers tried to pair him up with, and even though he was still routinely eating up top-pairing minutes from night to night, his performance got worse, his decision-making with the puck got sloppier, and an overall decline in his play coincided with the team completely bottoming out from 2021 onward. 

Often, he looked as if he was skating on an island, and isolating decisions throughout – like his boycott of the team's Pride Night initiatives – did him zero favors in the locker room or among the fan base.

He was lost as a Flyer and needed a fresh start elsewhere, and even though a $6.75 million cap hit would've been a steep one to move, him still being only 26 with reason to believe he might excel in a different city was enough for teams to stay interested. The Blue Jackets emerged as a fit and with a late first-rounder (via the Kings) they were willing to part with since they already have the No. 3 overall pick lined up. 

"The interest was really, really high on Columbus’ side,"  Brière said. "We started focusing on that a little bit more in the last couple of days."

L.A. factored into the deal from needing to clear cap space to sign Vladislav Gavrikov, who they acquired from Columbus at the trade deadline, which, ironically, went on to lead the Blue Jackets to Provorov. 

And with the Flyers not expected to be competitive for the time being, Brière was able to help them do that...for a cost. 

He took bottom-pairing defenseman Sean Walker – one year left at $2.65 million – and struggling goaltender Cal Petersen – two years left at $5 million per – off the Kings' books at the price of a 2024 second-round pick, 2020 second-round prospect Helge Grans, and the retention of 30 percent of Provorov's remaining salary over the next two seasons – take depth call-ups Hodgson and Connauton as an extra too. 

The key here is that the rebuild is going to allow the Flyers to take on short-term salary dumps like this so long as they're getting assets back in return, and adding a future second-rounder plus another conditional one from Columbus is vital after Fletcher exhausted them all through high-priced trades over the last several years. 

Whatever the 21-year old Grans, a big stay-at-home style defenseman, develops into, and whatever Walker and Petersen might give the team on the ice in the meantime is all a bonus. Not to mention, they can all be used as trade chips to gain more further down the line.  

MORE: Flyers front office changes

Brière's first trade had the anticipation of what other teams were after and the sound enough foresight to know that a short-term hit to the cap now can pay off later. 

The result is the Flyers moving on from a player in Provorov who no longer fit the organization's plans while getting probably the max value back in the process. After all, no one's ever going to complain about having an extra first-rounder, especially for a team that has its goals set on a better future. 

It was a bold, creative, and aggressive start to a rebuild. And likely just the first move of many to come over the next few months.

The current word is that the Flyers, for now, are at the very least listening to offers for Carter Hart. They might pull the trigger on Travis Konecny too if a call comes in that really wows them, and the expectation for a while now has been that Kevin Hayes won't be on the team anymore by the time the draft rolls around. 

"You have to give up good players and good assets in return," Brière said after trading Provorov. "You don't get first-round picks for players that don't have interest from other teams. You've got to play ball on both sides, and we had to give up a good player for that."

And make no mistake, Brière is ready to play ball. He has been. 

Things are different now, and hopefully, finally, the Flyers will be much better off because of it.

"We're open for business," he said. "We'll listen if it makes sense. If the value is there for us, definitely."

MORE: 5 thoughts on the Flyers' promise of a better future

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