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March 12, 2023

Can Danny Brière save the Philadelphia Flyers?

The former Flyer, whose free-agent signing 16 years ago marked a turnaround for the franchise, is now tasked with the beginning of its rebuild as the interim GM.

Maybe Danny Brière's arrival is a good omen for the Flyers.

Go back to the end of 2007 and that team was bad, the league's worst in fact.

In an NHL that suddenly got faster coming out of the 2004-05 lockout, the Flyers...weren't. They were older, they were slower, and pretty banged up on top of it.

But they weren't staying that way.

Then GM Paul Holmgren already had a retool in the works, and by the summer – after months of rumors and speculation – Brière, an undersized but speedy, playmaking center who was the prize of that free-agent class, signed the big contract to become the face of it.

The Flyers were in the conference finals that very next season, and two years later, fell just two wins shy of the Stanley Cup.

Jump to 2023 and this team is bad. Not the league's worst by pure numbers, but many would agree that the past few years have been the direst straits this franchise has ever been in.

Chuck Fletcher, after numerous expensive band-aids and costly misreads left the team with a roster struggling to tread water, was fired as the general manager and president of hockey operations on Friday.

In the interim, though likely much longer than that based on the sound of it, the Flyers are turning to Brière as the new GM.

But unlike his run in Philadelphia as a player, this one is going to be no quick fix.

It's a rebuild, and Brière isn't afraid to recognize it as such. It's important to, though with a caveat.

"I believe it's needed," he told the media via a Zoom call Sunday morning. "But we have to be careful. I want to make sure that 'rebuild' doesn't mean 'firesale.' There's a big difference between the two, so I want to make that clear.

"We're not gonna get rid of everybody. We have some good players here, some players that are in certain roles that we're gonna keep as well. We're gonna look at every possible option out there to improve the team, but I don't think this is a quick fix. That's my belief and that's why I'm not afraid to use the term 'rebuild' but as long as you all understand those little asterisks that it's not a firesale. It doesn't mean firesale for me."

But it does mean a long and likely painful road forward to get it right, one that can only be taken one step at a time. 

The first, Brière said, will be to help head coach John Tortorella and his staff finish the season strong before moving into deeper discussions on player evaluations and the full plan moving forward, which will eventually bring them to the draft in June. 

At 24-31-11 following Saturday's loss in Pittsburgh, the Flyers aren't making the playoffs, but if things stay the course, they should at minimum have a pick within the top 10, and "that's gonna be important the next couple of months," Brière added. "To send the proper people in the right places to see who's out there and make sure we make the right pick."

He expects assistant GM Brent Flahr to stick around and help with the process, but as far as a timeline to full-time hires at GM and president of hockey ops, or any other changes within the front office – which are rumored to be substantial – Brière couldn't say much. It's going to require talks with Comcast Spectacor chairman Dave Scott and new CEO Dan Hilferty, who was mentioned quite a few times on Sunday. Plus, it's only been two days on the job. 

"At this time it's not about rocking the boat," Brière said. "It's more about evaluating everybody that's in place and evaluating our players, finishing the season strong, and being a help to the players, the staff, and everybody around me. 

"I'm not looking to change anything drastically right at this moment...It's not gonna happen overnight. This is gonna be a long process. Just like we talked about, doing things the right way, I think it applies also with everybody on the staff, not just the players."

As far as that concerns the fate of franchise alumni and senior advisors Holmgren, Bobby Clarke, and Bill Barber, who each have loads of frustration from the fanbase tied to them for the team's current state, there wasn't much to say there either. 

"I've had a quick chat with them," Brière said. "At this point, that's all that's happened. We'll see moving forward with what happens there."

What's crystal clear, however, is that things around the Flyers can't continue the same old way.

The priority has shifted towards tomorrow and no shortcuts can be taken to it. 

Brière has the interim tag on his job title, but he's operating with the long-term mission in mind and under the assumption that he will be here for the long haul, whatever his title may end up being. 

He is another former Flyer at the helm, which at face value may seem like another tired retread in a long line of them through the decades, but he's a rather unorthodox one and has been gearing up for this opportunity for a long time. 

When he was playing, he said he paid closer and closer attention to how his teams' GMs operated over the years – how Darcy Reiger built the Sabres toward back-to-back conference finals appearances, how Holmgren turned the Flyers around within the year he signed there, and how Joe Sakic handled the early stages of the Avalanche's rebuild into the defending Cup champions they are now.

He also jumped right into management after he retired, helping run the ECHL's Maine Mariners after Comcast Spectator purchased them in 2017 before rejoining the Flyers as an assistant to Fletcher last season, which was seemingly prepping him to eventually take on the GM role. 

But the job now, even in the interim, is going to be a lot. And it's going to take a lot, not just from Brière, but the staff and personnel around him too. 

Tortorella as the coach doesn't seem to be going anywhere, and there are some young players to keep in place and move forward with, but again, forward looks to be a long, painful road, one Brière is only 48 hours into. 

"All I can say at this point is I want to do whatever I can to help finish the season and help prepare the right way," he said. "Put a plan in place, hopefully for an important summer ahead of us."

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