Philadelphia Flyers fans have met the new boss. Some are still trying to figure out if he’s the same as the old boss(es).

It’s been a little more than a year since general manager Daniel Briere took over. The early returns are generally positive for the 46-year-old. His first major decision, trading Ivan Provorov to the Blue Jackets in a three-team deal, was a home run. Key young players made progress. More draft picks have been stockpiled. A promising Russian goalie, thought to be lost, was found. Attendance improved.

It hasn’t been all sunshine and lollipops, of course. The Flyers were forced into trading one of their top prospects, Cutter Gauthier, in a deal that could end up biting them. The John Tortorella-Sean Couturier miscommunication wasn’t a good look for anyone, nor was the eight-game losing streak in late March/early April that ultimately cost the Flyers a playoff spot.

But as disappointing as that late collapse on the ice was for the organization and the players, making the playoffs isn’t a priority yet for Briere, president of hockey operations Keith Jones or chairman Dan Hilferty. They’ve all offered reminders of that in recent weeks.

Yet some corners of the fan base are already bemoaning the direction of the team, despite some of the encouraging steps it took throughout the 2023-24 season. I never like to put too much stock into what’s posted on social media, as those are often loud, and, in many cases, misinformed attention-seekers. But between posts on X and other outlets — including our own comments section — one opinion that seems to be gaining steam is that the Briere Flyers are just the same old Flyers they were under previous administrations, which all have failed to win a Stanley Cup for a half-century now. That is, handing out long-term deals to players who are at or nearly past their prime, and signing aging veterans that block the paths of younger players.

Listen, this isn’t to say that the Flyers are undoubtedly on the right path, one that ultimately will lead to a parade down Broad Street. Briere and everyone else has a ton of work ahead of them to make this team a Stanley Cup contender. They’ve admitted it. This thing can still go any number of directions. For all the progress that was made this season, there were still some mistakes.

But being overly critical now, considering how much of a mess things were when Briere took over, seems senseless — particularly when it’s been reinforced by Briere’s bosses that the timeline to compete is still at least two years away.

There are two moves likely coming that seem to have drawn the bulk of the ire. Briere has strongly indicated that he’d like to lock up Travis Konecny to a long-term extension, keeping the feisty winger in orange and black for the rest of his career. He’s also interested in re-signing veteran defenseman Erik Johnson. A league source told The Athletic on Monday that Johnson, too, is interested in returning. A cheap one-year extension here could be inevitable.

We’ve already touched on Konecny. His value to the team extends beyond his scoring 64 combined goals over the last two seasons, in which he’s also been the team’s top point-producer. He was named as an alternate captain in February for a reason.

As for Johnson, he would simply be filling the role that Marc Staal played in 2023-24: an experienced defenseman who been through it all and can help guide some of the younger players through their early-career trials and tribulations.

Tortorella would almost certainly welcome back Johnson because of the value he places on having those kinds of players in the dressing room that others can lean on. When asked about Staal last October, for example, he said: “We most of the time foul things up as coaches when we over-coach. … I just think when you start having players going to veteran guys asking the questions and leaning on them, that’s really healthy for a locker room.”

In other words, Johnson would help to keep the Flyers’ room a cohesive and productive place, something that Briere prioritized as soon as he took over, as evidenced by his wasting no time in dealing Provorov — who reminded everyone why the Flyers needed to cut ties with him just moments before the season-opener in Columbus last October.

I know that sometimes in this era of numbers, stats, spreadsheets and Moneypuck that selling fans and some bloggers on culture isn’t always easy. I get it. There’s so much information online available to comb through that helps form strong opinions.

But I’ve seen first-hand, from talking to players, coaches and management, how much a team’s culture can impact what happens on the ice. I watched as the San Jose Sharks failed to value a guy like Joe Pavelski, whose departure to Dallas as a free agent both helped the Stars become perennial contenders and launched the Sharks into obscurity. Just read some of the reactions to Pavelski’s planned retirement from many of his Dallas teammates if you’re wondering the kind of off-ice impact he had on that club that made it past the second round in three of the five seasons he was there.

The whole culture issue also reminded me of something I wrote three years ago. At the time, the Sharks were trying to fix their broken, Pavelski-less dressing room, and one of the books that then-coach Bob Boughner read in the offseason was by Bay Area-based sportswriter Joan Ryan. That book, “Intangibles,” delved into those facets of various sports that can’t be measured by numbers but can be essential to success.

There was hardly any hockey among the pages, as Ryan never covered that particular sport on a daily basis. But as she told me, after she spoke at MIT at a sports analytics conference (of all places), among those that approached her afterward, “at least 60 percent” were hockey people.

There’s a reason for that. Ned Colletti, who took the unique career path of former Flyers beat writer to Los Angeles Dodgers general manager to Sharks pro scout, said: “In my opinion, hockey has an opportunity for a tighter culture. None of it’s easy, but I think hockey can get there somewhat easier than baseball can.”

In the Flyers’ case, Konecny and Johnson have already been labeled as good culture guys by Briere. Ditto for Nick Seeler, whom the team re-signed to a four-year extension in March. The last thing Briere probably wants to do at this stage of the rebuild is risk undoing all the steps that have been taken in regard to the culture so far. That’s surely going to be reflected in the moves to come.

There’s another part of what seems to be the Briere philosophy that would be reflected in a Johnson extension. That is, if young players are going to break through to the NHL, they’re going to have to truly earn it.

Young defenseman Egor Zamula took steps and showed he could be an everyday player, but he had to do it by outplaying Staal, who just one year earlier was a key piece on a Florida Panthers team that nearly won the Stanley Cup.

Promising forward Tyson Foerster was a healthy scratch for the season opener. But months later, it was Foerster getting time on the top power-play unit and in the top six, ahead of guys such as Cam Atkinson. Foerster was arguably the league’s best two-way rookie forward this season.

When Atkinson had a brief stretch of success in January, it was rookie Bobby Brink who came out. Brink got some valuable time in the AHL, and when he came back, he promptly scored goals in back-to-back games. Brink surely has a better idea this offseason of what it takes to play in the NHL every night.

One way to derail a rebuild is to hand young players jobs without them earning it first. One former general manager once equated it to me as “organizational suicide.” Teams such as the Buffalo Sabres, to take the most glaring example, have surely realized that by now. Guys such as Staal, Johnson and Seeler offer a reminder to the players in the system that if you want to play in the NHL, there is a certain level you have to reach first. If you don’t, or you can’t, in the AHL you’ll stay.

And it’s not like Seeler or Johnson is blocking anyone in the immediate future, anyway. The two most important defensemen in the organization right now are Cam York, 23, and Jamie Drysdale, 22, both of whom are likely to start in the top four on opening night. Having veteran defensemen on the bench and in the dressing room likely will be beneficial to a couple of players that the organization hopes are vital pieces of the team when it plans on contending again.

It’s all part of what seems to be Briere’s big-picture vision. It’s been formed after years of playing and then working at different levels. It may or may not work. But it’s still vitally important to consider with each move that he makes, minor or otherwise, as the so-called rebuild continues.

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Kevin Kurz is a staff writer for The Athletic NHL based in Philadelphia. He previously covered the New York Islanders and the San Jose Sharks for 10+ years and worked in the Philadelphia Flyers organization. Follow Kevin on Twitter @KKurzNHL

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