(Philadelphia) Common thread? Or blue wire? The dial turns, the seconds count down.

So, shall we cut the red thread? Or blue? Or even black?

This is pretty much the clearest image that can illustrate the way in which Daniel Brière had to manage the Cutter Gauthier file over the last eight months. A time bomb that had to be handled with care, because it could explode at any moment.

On Monday night, the Philadelphia Flyers general manager surprised the entire NHL by announcing he had traded 19-year-old Gauthier to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Jamie Drysdale and a 2025 second-round draft pick.

The American forward, selected fifth overall in the 2022 draft, informed the Flyers last May that he did not wish to sign a contract with the organization.

The news took everyone by surprise. “Surprised” and “confused,” Brière and his advisors began actively searching for a solution. “If he doesn’t want to play in Philadelphia, where is he going to play? “, asked the Quebecer again, Tuesday morning, during an interview with La Presse, at the club’s training center. His tone and his gaze change when he emphasizes the words “in Philadelphia”, as if to recall to what extent it is a prestigious market on the North American professional sports scene, where the team of hockey enjoys a long and enviable reputation. A city and a team that the former Drummondville Voltigeurs himself chose in 2007 as a free agent.

Broadly speaking, three options presented themselves to the Flyers.

The first: let Gauthier hang around at Boston College. After all, the organization held its rights until 2026. It would take advantage of two more years to develop the file. The risk of fueling the player’s discontent was, however, real, and sooner or later, other NHL teams would be made aware of the situation.

The second: quickly convince him to change his mind. After all, he had already done it, since he had assured, at the 2022 draft, that he intended to join the Flyers. However, the channels of communication with him have become impassable. We never managed to talk to him. We tried to contact his family and his coaches at the university. Members of management even went to Sweden for the recent World Championship. Rebelote. Gauthier would no longer speak to the team that drafted him.

To this day, Daniel Brière claims to know nothing of the exact reasons behind the player’s refusal to wear the orange and white uniform.

“They just told us that it would be better for everyone if it remained secret,” says the CEO. We said: OK, but could we have the chance to talk to each other, to meet? To repair links? To explain our vision of the future with the organization? »

The answer was no. “That’s probably the most incomprehensible thing in history. »

So only the third and final option remained: exchange him. Here too, discretion was golden. Because it is anything but usual for one of the most anticipated prospects in the league to become available before even having played a single game.

The administrator first tested the waters on the sidelines of last summer’s draft in Nashville. The choice of words was important.

“It was quite tricky. We asked [general managers] what they would be willing to pay for a player of the caliber of Cutter Gauthier. We wanted to see if there was interest. »

History has taught us that the attacker did not find a buyer. New poles were stretched in the fall, to no avail.

Fast forward to the early days of 2024. Gauthier wins the gold medal with the American team at the World Junior Championship. The big guy was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Forward and found himself on the all-star team.

Brière then launched a new round of calls to his counterparts, whom he again asked to keep secret.

The list of potential destinations was shorter than you might think. “Several teams were scared. They didn’t want to get into it because they didn’t know if the player wanted to sign [with them]. » The manager could not confirm it, but he is led to believe that Gauthier’s agent also made attempts. “I have a feeling that the most interested teams knew he was ready to sign. »

The Flyers, on the other hand, had very specific requests: “Primarily a defenseman or certainly an equivalent player in terms of value. » We turned down “a lot of offers,” including a collection of draft picks and lower-ranked prospects.

The answer finally came from Anaheim. The Ducks have agreed to trade Jamie Drysdale, 21, selected sixth overall in the 2020 draft. The right-hander, former Canadian junior hockey star, has dealt with serious injuries over the past year, but his potential remains enormous , especially on the offensive level. He will quickly be called upon to contribute on the power play, his coach, John Tortorella, has already warned.

With a clear head, Daniel Brière said he was “very happy to get his hands on a defender of the caliber” of Drysdale. Players of his age and profile “are rarely available,” he notes.

This reminder is reminiscent of Marc Bergevin’s remarks after he traded P. K. Subban to the Nashville Predators. To fans furious to see Subban leave, the general manager of the Habs had underlined, in broad strokes, to what extent the possibility of acquiring a player like Shea Weber does not happen often.

Brière’s relief is evident. The bomb he had in his hands did not explode in his face. He cut the right wire at the right time.

During the summer, he cut significant chunks of his squad. He showed the door to his best defender, Ivan Provorov, who was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets. He agreed to take on half of Kevin Hayes’ expensive contract for another three years to send him to play in St. Louis. And he bought out Tony DeAngelo’s contract.

Can we see some continuity in the still fresh exchange of Cutter Gauthier?

“Certainly,” Brière retorts. We were ready to understand that he is a young player, a teenager who is trying to discover himself in an adult world. But at the same time, once we realized that he refused to be communicated with, we said to ourselves: we might as well move on. If he doesn’t want to play for us, we might as well not have him here. It won’t be good for anyone if he comes here. »

He wants to build his team “a bit like Philadelphia.”

“We want to give our fans a competitive team that fights every night. […] We may not have the sexiest team, but they develop together, they form strong bonds. I experienced it as a player: when players are ready to fight for each other, you can do damage. »

Happy coincidence, or not, it translates into surprising successes on the ice. And now, more than ever before, those who are not interested in the project know where the door is.