The rebuild won't be a fire sale–and that's the right decision
Interim General Manager Danny Briere isn’t afraid to call the multi-year process ahead of the Flyers a “rebuild,” but that doesn’t mean it’s a fire sale.
In his first meeting with the press after assuming the role of Interim General Manager last month, Danny Briere acknowledged the Philadelphia Flyers need to rebuild–with a caveat.
We have to be careful. I want to make sure that ‘rebuild’ doesn’t mean fire sale. There’s a big difference between the two. So I want to make that clear. We’re not going to get rid of everybody.
While most in the Flyers community are on board with a rebuild, there’s a lot of room for debate about how exactly to go about it. I wrote extensively about the process a few other NHL teams took, and I also projected the timeline the Flyers might take for their own rebuild. I glossed over Briere’s comments about a fire sale, but maybe I shouldn’t have. A lot of fans have seen what the Chicago Blackhawks have done and think that’s the best way forward for the Flyers, but Briere’s right: a fire sale isn’t feasible, nor logical.
For starters, the 2023 draft is unique. Not only is Connor Bedard–a projected generational talent–sitting at the top as the crown jewel, but Adam Fantilli, Matvei Michkov, Leo Carlsson, and maybe Will Smith all project as elite talents at the NHL level. The rest of the top ten? Projected top-line to all-star level players. A team drafting in the top five is almost assured a franchise-altering, elite talent, and the rest of the top ten are getting a very good to great prospect.
Drafts this deep do not happen often, if at all. The closest comparison is probably the 2015 draft that saw Connor McDavid go first overall, with Jack Eichel as the consolation prize. Other notables from that top ten are Mitch Marner, Timo Meier, and Mikko Rantanen–even the Flyers’ own Ivan Provorov was drafted number seven that year, and Zach Werenski (eighth overall) has excelled for the Columbus Blue Jackets until he was sidelined with an injury this season.
The 2024 and 2025 drafts, on the other hand, don’t have a generational talent sitting at the top–at least not yet, but it seems unlikely. Those drafts also don’t appear to have four or five players after number one–let alone a rock solid top ten–that could become elite players in the NHL. If the Flyers went full-Blackhawks, selling off everyone not tied down by an NMC, those are the draft years they’d be gambling on.
That is a bad risk to take. The Blackhawks traded Alex DeBrincat, a young, two-time 40-goal scorer for practically nothing; they moved Kirby Dach, a promising 21-year old at the time, to Montreal for, again, very little. They traded their franchise star, Patrick Kane, to the New York Rangers for a pittance. For all that trouble to try and nab Bedard, they’ve only just become the worst team in the league!
Still, you can see the logic behind it: gut the team, finish in the bottom three, and either win the lottery for a generational talent or walk away with a franchise-altering, elite player as a consolation prize. It makes sense, and Chicago already has one of the better prospect pools in place, along with loads of draft capital for the next few years. They’ve executed the fire sale and subsequent tank to near perfection, building a solid foundation of young talent that will see the franchise ascend once again in the coming decade.
Chicago’s process, however, only makes sense for this particular draft. If ever there were a year to burn it down and start over, the 2022-23 season was it–and the Flyers missed the memo. The late season point streak, Tortorella bemoaning mail about tanking, settling into drafting seventh overall (barring some lottery luck)–all of these things are products not of the season itself, but the 2022 offseason. The Flyers are just reaping what Chuck Fletcher sowed last summer: a hockey team with enough talent and high-end coaching to not be truly awful, but nowhere near the level needed to contend and not bad enough to be in the race to the bottom. It's too late to tank for this year's draft.
That doesn't mean the Flyers should take that approach now, however. Starting a scorched earth rebuild this summer would be an abject disaster, worse even than the “aggressive retool” that landed the team in its current position. Without the promise of a projected generational or franchise player--a player that may not exist in the 2024 and 2025 drafts--the Flyers would become the next iteration of the Buffalo Sabres: a decade or more of directionless rebuilding.
Besides, per Torts, this upcoming offseason will be one of subtraction--most likely the departures of Ivan Provorov and Kevin Hayes, and possibly Travis Konecny and Carter Hart. If even half of those players are gone next year, the Flyers are going to be bad--maybe even bad enough to be a lock for a top three draft pick in 2024. There's no need to dump young players and gut the roster at that point: the marginal gains in draft positioning for moving, I dunno, Owen Tippett, pales in comparison to the departure of TK or Hart.
The Flyers will be bad next year, even without a fire sale, and absent a franchise-changing talent emerging in the 2024 or 2025 drafts, there's no reason to embark on a Chicago-style rebuild. Briere seems to recognize this and, if he loses the "interim" part of his title, his more measured approach should prove the correct course of action over the next few years.