If you’re like me, you’re genuinely excited about the Philadelphia Flyers’ future for the first time in several years.
The Flyers suddenly have direction, a prospect with superstar potential, and a management team that is on the same page with the fans.
Oh, how refreshing. Oh, how this franchise finally gets it. Oh, how Ed Snider is smiling from somewhere.
There will be growing pains during this rebuild, for sure. The Flyers will likely miss the playoffs in 2023-24 for the fourth straight season, and they have the look of a bottom-five NHL team.
And so, yes, it will take time before the Flyers become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
But at least that now looks like it could happen down the road, and that’s something that was difficult to imagine during a decade of chaos and bad decisions, a decade in which the Flyers put Band-Aids on shortcomings that needed major surgery.
The Flyers now have a general manager, Danny Briere, who thinks outside the box and isn’t afraid to make daring moves.
I love the patience of Briere. Building a team. No quick fixes.
— Lord Jeff Lee (@jeffersed) June 29, 2023
Fact is, Briere made more bold moves in a little over three weeks than his predecessor, Chuck Fletcher, did in his five seasons with the Flyers.
Bold Move No. 1: Briere traded his top defenseman, Ivan Provorov, and got a solid return that included a No. 1 pick, two second-round selections, and a very good defensive prospect.
Bold Move No. 2: Briere and scouting guru Brent Flahr drafted Russian right winger Matvei Michkov, 18, who is multi-talented but considered a gamble because there are no guarantees he will ever leave Russia. He was considered the second-best player in the draft, but fell to No. 7 because of the risk factor.
Michkov is under contract in Russia’s KHL for the next three years. No worries. Hey, it figures to take that long before the Flyers have their rebuild ready to take the next step. Assuming Michkov has no problems leaving Russia, he will be 21 when he joins a Flyers lineup that, at that point, will also feature heralded prospects Cutter Gauthier and Tyson Foerster, among others.
Michkov, who was thrilled the Flyers drafted him, has so much ability that he could become just the franchise’s first superstar since Eric Lindros. (To me, Claude Giroux was a star, but falls just below the superstar level.)
Bold Move No. 3: Philly chose 6-foot-3, 186-pound goalie Carson Bjarnason in the second round. He was the best goalie in the draft, and the Flyers went for another highly touted netminder, Russia’s Egor Zavragin (6-3, 183), in the third round.
Some wondered why Brière and Flahr would use high picks on goalies when they have Carter Hart in the house. Well, down the road (assuming Hart is still here) it will give the Flyers healthy competition for the most important position on the ice.
Why all the goalies?
From here, you can never have enough quality goaltenders in your system. They are like talented starting pitchers in MLB. The more the merrier, and if there’s a logjam, the goalies have great value in the trade market.
That explains why Briere felt comfortable rolling the dice, and you have to like his moxie.
Bottom line: It has been a refreshing offseason for the Philadelphia Flyers, and when is the last time that could be said?
The Flyers now have people in their front office — Briere, club president Keith Jones, and chairman Dan Hilferty — who are much more connected to the fans than the previous regime.
They don’t sugarcoat things, don’t pretend the Flyers are just a few players away from being a Cup contender, don’t make patchwork moves to try to sneak into the playoffs.
Under past management groups, the goal was simply to get into the playoffs. “Once you’re in, anything can happen” was the mantra.
That’s backward thinking. The goal should be to build a team that is ready to challenge for a Cup, not just inch into the playoffs.
Briere and Co. seem to get that.
Again, the Philadelphia Flyers aren’t going to be an overnight success. The transformation from also-ran to contender will have plenty of bumps along the way.
Back when the Flyers were winning Cups in the 1970s, the years leading up to their mini-dynasty had potholes, too. In fact, two years before winning the Cup in 1974, they didn’t even make the playoffs because of a goal with four seconds left in the regular season. (Long-time Flyers fans still shake whenever Gerry Meehan is mentioned.)
But even in that Meehan-ruined season, you could see promise in the future.
You can see promise now, too. So buckle up for the long, fun ride.
For the first time in a while, getting to the destination appears doable.