Flyers GM Danny Briere was already scheduled to meet with the media on Wednesday morning before the news prior to Tuesday’s game was released. That news, that goaltender Carter Hart was taking an indefinite leave of absence, vaulted straight to the top of the list of topics to be addressed.
According to a report on Wednesday morning from Robyn Doolittle of the Globe and Mail, five members of the 2018 Canadian World Junior team have been told to surrender to London, ON, police to face charges of sexual assault. Hart was a member of the 2018 World Junior team, and this report comes within 24 hours of his leave of absence.
In addition, four other members of that team were granted a leave of absence in the last 72 hours. Dillon Dube of the Calgary Flames was granted leave on Sunday afternoon. Wednesday morning brought announcements that the New Jersey Devils had granted leave to Michael McLeod and Cal Foote, and that Alex Formenton was granted leave from his Swiss League team.
As expected, Briere wasn’t able to comment much on the nature of Hart’s leave of absence.
“We are aware of this morning’s press reports on this very serious matter. We will respond appropriately when the outcomes of the investigations are made public,” Briere said in a prepared statement. “The NHL has been very clear that teams should refer all investigation-related questions to them. In the meantime, members of the organization, including Flyers players, will not be commenting any further. That’s all we can say at the moment, unfortunately.”
The NHL had no further update. London Police had no comment early on Wednesday, but later did announce a press conference scheduled for Monday, Feb. 5, to provide further update.
Briere also spoke on the team’s performance through 48 games. Obviously, one of the key talking points in light of the news on Hart was Sam Ersson, who will now be getting even more playing time.
“Sam Ersson has played extremely well, has earned the right to more ice time,” Briere said. “We’re excited by our goaltending, especially the way Sam played, came up, and won some big games for us.
“We’ll have to protect him as much as we can. He’s still developing. He’s still a good young goalie, getting better and better. We’ll have to be careful, but we’re excited in his play and that he can carry us moving forward.”
Through 48 games, the Flyers have a 25-17-6 record and sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division. That is certainly above expectations for what many saw this team achieving.
What is the main reason behind it? Briere noted that there were many reasons, but pointed to one in particular that is organization-wide.
“There’s many of them. It’s been exciting how our team has played this year. I think it starts with the culture change,” Briere said. “I really believe it started last year with John Tortorella. The one thing we keep hearing from other teams is how hard we are to play against. That’s the basis, the foundation in what we are trying to build here. Having that in place, it gives the chance for young guys to get better, to improve, to take a step forward. We’ve seen that from many of our young guys.”
There was perception upon his hiring that Tortorella wasn’t the right coach for a team looking at a rebuild. Tortorella’s always been known as more of a win-now coach that can lean on veterans.
Briere understood that skepticism, and had some of it himself during the interview process, but explained how he continues to see that Tortorella is the right fit.
“Like everybody else, I had my doubts, until we started interviewing him,” Briere said. “I was part of that process and I was really impressed in his preparation and how he wanted to attack the team and how he wanted the team to play. It forced me to change my mind on him.
“The more I get to know him, the more impressed I am. Kind of like everybody else, I had the perception that John Tortorella was more of a coach that was good with the veterans. What I’m realizing, it’s not the case at all. He’s actually excellent for the young guys. He gets them at a young age, he can still mold them and build them the way they should be to be the ultimate pro.”
As a team in contention for the playoffs, many front offices would use that standing position as an opportunity to buy and get better at the deadline. The Flyers are in a unique position in that regard.
It’s the first season of their public rebuild, and they are right in the thick of the playoff race. How does that change the approach that they were ready to take from the prior offseason?
For Briere, it doesn’t. The big picture remains the focus, and Briere is not about to do something risky for one season of success when the bigger picture remains the priority.
“We’re still thinking about the future,” Briere said. “This is great, what’s happening right now. Our young guys are acquiring a lot of experience, having the chance to play in some really meaningful games. This is a great experience. We keep an eye on the future.
“We’ve said from the beginning we want to build a team that was going to be a Stanley Cup contender for years to come, not just one in, one out, like what’s been going on. The eye is still on the future.”
So the Flyers remain open to several moves over the next few weeks until the March 8 trade deadline. Briere will listen and work to make the Flyers better for beyond the current season, while maintaining the collection of assets the team already has.
“We’re not going to make trades just to make trades,” Breire said. “If there’s something that makes sense that we feel makes us better for the future, we’ll strongly consider it. The one thing that I won’t be doing is I won’t be trading prime assets just to make a run. I’m not going to trade first, second-round picks.”
You can watch the press conference in its entirety below: