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Building Daniel Briere

What are the lessons from his experience around the NHL Briere can apply to Philadelphia?

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NHL: NOV 15 Flyers Black and Orange Game

Danny Briere understood why he was here. It was obvious. The Flyers fell well below their standard and significant changes were needed.

“After the season they had last year,” Briere said, “they’re trying everything possible to turn that around.”

This wasn’t about his recent promotion to interim general manager. This was about the first time he was tasked with fixing the Flyers in 2007.

The last full season the Flyers played was the second-worst in franchise history. Briere first arrived following the worst. He helped lead the team within two games of a Stanley Cup as a player, and now, even with an interim tag, it appears he’ll have the opportunity the return the Flyers to prominence as an executive.

At Briere’s introductory press conference, he made a point of how long he’s wanted this job and how he studied the general managers for whom he played. Briere mentioned four general managers – Darcy Regier, Paul Holmgren, Marc Bergevin, and Joe Sakic. What could he learn from them?

Darcy Regier

His Buffalo Sabres may not have won the Cup, but they remain a memorable team for helping define the sport after the lockout. Despite three last-place finishes heading into the work stoppage, the Sabres came back a much more effective club, built on puck movement and speed. Buffalo finished in the top five in scoring in Briere’s final two years in Buffalo, losing in the Eastern Conference Final each season.

While the league has become more accepting of offense-first, diminutive players of late, the Sabres were quick to realize the future of the league. While the Flyers were sinking with plodding dinosaurs like Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje, the Sabres were shocking the sport with speedy, skilled players like Briere and Brian Campbell.

Hockey may not undergo any dramatic shifts like it did after the lockout while the Flyers are under Briere’s watch, but there is value in being forward-thinking. The Sabres were built for where the sport was going. Briere will have to position the Flyers well for hockey’s future. Is Chicago’s model the future? Is Tampa on to something with its disregard for picks outside the top of the draft? Can an analytically-inclined front office like Carolina’s find market inefficiencies?

Paul Holmgren

While the Flyers were at the bottom of the standings when Briere signed, the team had a young nucleus on the verge of breaking out. With Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Simon Gagne already in the fold, the team made aggressive plays for Briere, Scott Hartnell, and Kimmo Timonen. He also flipped Joni Pitkanen for Joffrey Lupul. An aggressive offseason helped the team rebound from last place to an appearance in the Eastern Conference Final the next season, as well as a Stanley Cup appearance two years later after Holmgren brought in Chris Pronger.

The Flyers have always fallen somewhere under chaotic on the alignment chart and it’s become easy to view this as a negative, but Holmgren’s aggressiveness pushed the team into contention for several years. The Flyers had a young core on the precipice of becoming standout players and complemented them with a number of big-name acquisitions, almost leading to a Cup. Eventually Holmgren was unable to plug the holes that popped up from injuries, namely Pronger’s, or salary cap constraints and it led to his downfall, but he showed there was value in being hyper-aggressive if a good opportunity arises.

Briere is likely years away from thinking about this approach, but if he can clean up the salary cap and find some young building blocks, there may come a point over the next few years where it makes sense to accelerate the timeline and shift into a win-now approach.

Marc Bergevin

Bergevin’s best move was taking over a team with a burgeoning Vezina and Norris candidate (Carey Price and P.K. Subban, respectively), so there’s not much Briere can apply to his position. Bergevin’s first three years included two division titles and a trip to the Conference Finals in Briere’s lone year in Montreal, 2013-14. Subban won the Norris in 2013 and Price won the Vezina and Hart in 2014.

If there’s anything to glean, it’s that stars can take you a long way. As the pair exited their primes (and Montreal, in Subban’s case), the team descended into mediocrity before Price led a surprise run to the Cup Final in the Covid bubble year. While it’s easier said than done, acquiring elite players is crucial, and can even lift some pretty pedestrian teams into contention.

This probably seems like a good time to discuss Carter Hart. If Briere thinks Hart can take another step into the elite tier of goaltenders, and be his Carey Price, there is value in keeping him around. But, if the 32 Thoughts guys are on to something, it appears Briere may agree with Philadelphia’s smartest, best-looking writer.

Joe Sakic

Briere mentioned he didn’t want sell off every piece of this Flyers roster. It may have to do with his time in Colorado.

Sakic’s first pick in charge of player personnel was Nathan MacKinnon. The Avs won their division the following season before finishing seventh (Briere’s lone season in Colorado), sixth, and seventh, respectively, in the seven-team Central Division the following three years. Sakic kept a steady, patient approach, hitting on draft picks and finding stars to build around MacKinnon, as well as Gabriel Landeskog, before the team developed into a juggernaut.

In total, Colorado’s rebuild encompassed the early-to-mid 2010s. Sakic let the cake finish baking. Sakic had a strong understanding of his roster and did not try to push his chips in before it had enough young pieces worth complementing. Time will tell if the Flyers’ fanbase and ownership will afford Briere the same patience, but it could take time to build properly.

Briere didn’t fit the mold when he signed in Philadelphia as a free agent. Forty-eight years since their last Cup, the Flyers are still defined by a team known for its pugilists. Briere is 5-foot-9 and played at less than 180 pounds. He wasn’t the stereotypical Flyer. But with a bevy of big goals and iconic playoff runs, he became one of the most memorable Flyers of his generation.

He’s going to have to redefine what it means to be a Flyer again. Like their physicality, the Flyers have a reputation for trying to compete every season. Briere already openly discussed the likelihood of a rebuild.

He may need to lean on the lessons he learned from around the NHL, but if Briere is going to fix this team, it’s not going to be because he did it the Flyers way. Much like his career, it’s going to be because he did it his way.