Flyers analysis

5 Flyers takeaways from Briere's jam-packed midseason press conference

The Flyers are in third place of the Metropolitan Division

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Danny Briere had plenty to discuss Wednesday at his midseason press conference, leading with the glaring uncertainty surrounding the Flyers' franchise goalie.

Carter Hart is out indefinitely for personal reasons, a development potentially linked to the 2018 Canadian under-20 world junior team sexual assault allegations.

"We are aware of this morning's press reports on the very serious matter," Briere, the Flyers' general manager, read in a statement. "We will respond appropriately when the outcomes of the investigations are made public. 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."

For now, the Flyers will move forward without Hart as they try to continue a surprise playoff push. Despite losing four straight, the club holds a playoff spot over halfway through a season that was widely viewed as a rebuilding campaign.

How will Briere treat the NHL trade deadline? Is the Flyers' culture dealing with some turbulence?

Let's look at that and more in our five takeaways from the GM's press conference.

1. The new No. 1?

John Tortorella has always been high on Samuel Ersson, going back to the head coach's first training camp and preseason in the fall of 2022. The Flyers were clearly high on him last August when they signed him to a contract extension.

They're now giving the rookie the keys to the net. The Flyers have faith in his potential to carry the workload.

"Of a No. 1? Definitely," Briere said. "I believe that. At the same time, we have to be careful. We don't want to put too much pressure early, because he's developing, he's still young, he's still acquiring experience. This is a great opportunity for him to shoulder a lot of the heavy load and we'll see."

Over his last 21 games (20 starts), Ersson has gone 12-6-2 with a 2.12 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and three shutouts. He has been very reliable. But as well as he has played, the Flyers need to be prudent with how often he plays. He's only 24 years old and was limited to just five games in 2021-22 with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley because of injuries.

No Hart is absolutely going to test the Flyers. They recently had the luxury of rotating Hart and Ersson without really missing a beat. They're going to have to up their strategy in finding good times to spell Ersson and play Cal Petersen.

2. Goalie developments

The Flyers were busy last summer with their organizational depth chart in net.

They inked Ersson to his extension, signed Aleksei Kolosov to his three-year entry-level deal, acquired Petersen in the Ivan Provorov trade and drafted Carson Bjarnason in the second round and Egor Zavragin in the third.

Were they preparing for the possibility of losing Hart at some point? Briere said no.

"One thing we wanted to do was bolster our goaltending position," he said. "You saw last summer, we drafted two good, young goaltenders with our second- and third-round picks. We believe in developing goaltenders."

Right now, the Flyers have Ersson, Petersen and Felix Sandstrom in the immediate picture. They'll have to wait and see how the precarious situation with Hart's status develops.

"We felt Carter was the No. 1, we felt that Felix, Sam and Cal were all good options to carry us forward, they were all goalies that could come and play some games," Briere said of the Flyers' outlook last summer. "So that was the belief, that was the mindset going into it — let's make sure we have strong goaltending in front of a young team."

3. 'Moving in the right direction'

Briere and president of hockey operations Keith Jones have not had it easy this month.

The Flyers were forced to trade top prospect Cutter Gauthier about two and half weeks ago and are now having to navigate a delicate situation with Hart.

But they feel their locker room has been fortified this season and the overall standard of the organization has improved.

"We're moving in the right direction," Briere said. "I'm extremely happy with where it's at at this point, but there's always room for improvement. We want to keep building toward it. The next part is just the experience part, winning on a nightly basis."

The Flyers are on a season-worst losing streak (0-4-0). They also dropped four in a row Dec. 29-Jan. 4, but two of the defeats came after regulation. For a team that had three double-digit losing streaks over the previous two seasons, the Flyers have shown growth in preventing ugly skids.

They're 25-18-6 and own seven wins over top-10 clubs. Last season, they were 20-21-8 through 49 games.

"I love how we're coming into games thinking we're going to win every game," Briere said. "We've had some good stretches and down stretches here and there. Part of the culture has limited us from going down the tailspins. But as we get better, the culture is just going to keep improving, in my mind."

4. 'The eye is still on the future'

The Flyers very well could give Briere some tough decisions at the March 8 trade deadline.

The team has exceeded expectations and, as a reward, Briere might not want to significantly break it up.

But the GM said the Flyers' vision hasn't changed despite the rebuild looking a bit expedited.

"We're still thinking about the future," Briere said. "This is great, what's happening right now, this is great because our young guys are acquiring a lot of experience. Having the chance to play in some really meaningful games and it's going to keep going over at least the next couple of months — this is great experience, so I'm really excited about that.

"But we've said from the beginning we wanted to build a team that was going to be a Stanley Cup contender for years to come and not just a one in, one out, one in, one out [of the playoffs] like it has been. The eye is still on the future."

The Flyers won't be making major additions. Perhaps, though, Briere won't be selling as hard. He's in a good position to be flexible at the deadline — open-minded and aggressive, but not desperate.

"A lot of it will depend on the marketplace," Briere said. "We're not going to make trades just to make trades. 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."

The Flyers Pregame Live crew broke down the team's outlook for the March 8 NHL trade deadline.

5. Re-sign Seeler?

Before the season, Nick Seeler looked like he'd be a clear-cut trade chip for the Flyers come March. He is the type of player contending teams covet and has a team-friendly, expiring contract to boot.

But the Flyers have had success and Seeler has played an important role in it. The 30-year-old defenseman is beloved in the locker room and is the team's truest defender.

Are the Flyers open to re-signing him rather than move him?

"Definitely," Briere said. "He's an important piece, he has played great. You saw him the last few games, how many shots he blocked. He's well-loved by his teammates, great character guy. He's part of the reason why we're having success."

Seeler is having a career season. He's a team-best plus-14 and is among the NHL leaders in blocked shots.

"I don't want to get ahead of myself, there's still lots of time before the trade deadline," Briere said, "but we love what Nick Seeler has provided us. We thought he'd be a sixth, seventh defenseman for us and he has played way above that, he has played in our top four for most of the year, him and Sean Walker. They've both been really impressive."

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