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July 02, 2024

5 Flyers thoughts: Matvei Michkov signing, Danny Brière's slow path to Cup contention and more

Now that Michkov is officially on his way, how is he going to meld with head coach John Tortorella?

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Matvei-Michkov-Danny-Briere-Flyers-NHL-Draft-2023.jpg Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports

Matvei Michkov will be putting the Flyers jersey on again soon.

Danny Brière tried to temper expectations on a couple of occasions that the start of NHL free agency on Monday was going to be a pretty quiet one for the Flyers.

And it for one expected, but nonetheless major item.

Erik Johnson got brought back on a low-cost one-year deal to be the experienced vet on the blueline, and Garnet Hathaway got a two-year extension into his mid-30s to be the same up front. It was internal and relatively unremarkable business. 

Then the team announced Monday afternoon that top prospect Matvei Michkov signed his entry-level contract to make it all official: He's a Philadelphia Flyer, he's on his way, and on opening night of the 2024-25 NHL season, he will be there in an orange and black uniform. 

It's really now what? 

Here are a few thoughts on Michkov and more after Brière spoke to the media later Monday afternoon...

He still has to earn it

Pen's been put to paper. Michkov is coming over, but there's still a bit of a ways to go here. 

Logistics, like visas and immigration, still have to be sorted out, which will be a process that will effectively keep him out of development camp this week. Plus there's the matter of getting acclimated to an entirely new country and city, a grace period that if you'll remember last season, goaltender Ivan Fedotov just didn't get at all. He got off the plane and got thrown right into the deep end of the NHL. 

With all that in mind, Brière still couldn't pin down an exact timeline for Michkov's arrival, but training camp in September is the goal, and it'll be straight to the NHL for the 19-year old. 

He'll still have to earn his keep when it comes to ice time and take to John Tortorella's coaching, but Brière was direct in that the Flyers simply don't have anyone else like him. 

"Just on the power play alone, we hope that he can help us there," Brière said. "As far as the rest of his game, yeah, he's gonna be in control of that and how much he's committed to playing 200 feet for Torts. 

"But look, to be honest, we don't have really anyone like him in the organization as far as a player, as far as a skill level. He's got a lot to learn, and he's not gonna be put above anybody else, but he's an exciting player and he's a very talented player."

How are Michkov and Tortorella going to meld though? If anything, Tortorella has shown, clearly, over the past couple of years that he won't hesitate to show a player the bench or the press box regardless of their status. But as Brière said, the Flyers haven't had anyone to the level of Michkov's status in a very long time. 

Will it work if things get contentious and the two clash?

"You know what, that's one of the things that I'm most excited about, too, the chance for Matvei to learn from a coach like Torts," Brière said. "I know he's gonna coach him the right way, just like he does everybody else. He's gonna be tough on him, he's gonna be fair, and he's gonna teach him the right way. 

"That's one of the, I think, best news about all of this: He's gonna come here, nothing's gonna be given to him, he's gonna have to earn it. Knowing how competitive we've been told he is, it's gonna be great, it's gonna be fun to see. I know I'm really excited about that matchup."

And what if Michkov struggles and does face the prospect of a benching from Tortorella? 

"Torts is hired to coach the team," Brière said bluntly. "John is gonna be in charge of the ice time and if he needs to scratch him because he doesn't play the right way or doesn't listen, coach has the authority to do that."

Cross that bridge if we ever get to it. 

As for adjusting to North America, Brière said the organization will be getting him a tutor to help him get more comfortable with speaking English. The locker room is going to help him settle in, too, especially with fellow Russians Egor Zamula and Ivan Fedotov there.

A learning curve is inevitable, but the Flyers want Michkov to have the best setup possible once everything is all finally squared away.

Dealing with dead money

When it came to going out on the open market, the Flyers didn't do anything, not like there was really all that much they could do in the first place. 

Cap-wise, they're up against it. Ryan Ellis' contract is going to continue to sit there, they're still retaining half of Kevin Hayes' salary at $3,571,428 (of $7,142,857) for two more years, have the buyouts of Tony DeAngelo ($1,666,667 for one more year) and now Cam Atkinson ($2,358,333 then $1,758,333 over the next two years) on the books, and are planning to just bite the bullets on the salaries of Cal Petersen ($5 million) and Ryan Johansen ($4 million) for the one more year they each have – all salary numbers via CapFriendly.

They're in a crunch, a self-imposed one that's more than likely going to leave them running it back with pretty much the same roster as last year plus Michkov – barring any hockey trades that could come up – but one that they were always well aware of. 

They had to take on all of that money last summer and into this one to clear out the names that weren't part of the picture anymore – Hayes, DeAngelo, Atkinson, and Ivan Provorov – and they've been bracing for it all to make this year especially a pretty lean one. 

But the cap situation is on a path to start easing up in 2025, and with all those picks suddenly stocked up for what is expected to be a very strong draft next year – or to be used as capital for something else. 

These next few months might be painful, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. 

"We knew coming in that the first three years would be tough as far as the dead money," Brière said. "This is probably going to be the toughest year coming into. After that things will ease off a little bit. 

"We hope so depending on what we do with other signatures, but yeah, it puts us in a tough spot right now."

Konecny's contract

The Flyers have to get Travis Konecny's next contract done, too, as he is now eligible to sign one with July 1 passing. 

Brière's update on where they're at with that:

"Nothing new," he said. "This is the first day that, officially, we could extend him. Like I've said from the beginning: I'm not going to negotiate through the media. 

"But we love Travis, and we hope he's here for a long time."

Previously, the rumors and speculation were that Konecny could end up tapping into the $9 million-plus annually range. 

But now it'll have to be seen how 1) Michkov's presence at right wing affects talks, and 2) how Sam Reinhart settling for eight years and $69 million ($8.625 million per) to stay in Florida will factor in.

Moving on from Hart

The Flyers issued their qualifying offers on Sunday night. Carter Hart did not receive one, rendering him an unrestricted free agent. 

The organization is moving on. 

Hart was granted an indefinite leave of absence from the team in late January and was charged by the London, Ontario police in the re-opened 2018 Hockey Canada sexual assault case soon after, along with several other former Canadian World Junior teammates from that year. 

Aside from each charged player's respective team keeping them on leave, the NHL took no further action, as they were all on contracts that were set to expire after this past season anyway, and with the Canadian court process for the case expected to take years. 

At the same time, the Flyers' publicly stated focus for their goaltending shifted to the duo of Sam Ersson and Ivan Fedotov. And going all the way up through the draft this past weekend, whenever Brière was asked about what the organization would do with Hart's contract rights, he consistently remained vague about it, citing that they were still in search of further guidance from the league on what their options would be. 

But they just ended up at the decision most expected them to make. Hart is gone. 

"We just felt it was the right decision at this time, unfortunately," Brière said.

Aiming for greater

The Flyers were in the playoff hunt all of last season until they melted down in the home stretch. 

Brière, president of hockey ops Keith Jones, and team governor Dan Hilferty have continued to preach that this is still very much a rebuild and that they have to continue to be patient, go so far as to recently say that making the playoffs for this coming season might not even necessarily be the next step. 

But now Michkov is on his way, your potential face of the franchise star is right there, and any team – and fan base – would want to kick it into overdrive immediately to go out and build themselves up for whatever run they could muster. 

But Brière and the Flyers don't want to do that. They don't want to just make the playoffs. They want to win the Stanley Cup, and they're trying to stick to their process, knowing that to actually build a team that can do that takes a whole lot of time – I mean, heck, just look at how much and how long it took the Panthers to do it

So let's wrap up on Brière's philosophy for where the team is at and how he intends to take them forward:

"The value that we got last year coming down the stretch, playing important games, it would've been nice to get in the playoffs and get that playoff experience also. I feel we'll be competitive. At the end of the day, we're not trying to build a team to make the playoffs, we're trying to build a team to win the Stanley Cup, so I want to be careful there. 

"For us, it's not just about making the playoffs. When we take a step forward, it's to become closer to being a contender. That's what every move is made for. 

"Do I hope we're in the running? Absolutely. I hope we can somehow get into the playoffs. That would be great for the experience of a lot of our young guys who haven't experienced it, especially here. The atmosphere of playing a playoff game in Philadelphia is pretty amazing, so I can't wait for this team to taste it again."

But that all goes back to something Tortorella said before this past season even started, in an anxious quiet within the Wells Fargo Center tunnels and with the city's undivided attention understandably fixated on the Phillies' postseason run across the street, the Flyers have to slowly but surely earn that all back.

Every last bit of it.

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