Right before their last home game of the season, the Philadelphia Flyers announced their end of seasons team awards. Of all the awards given, the most surprising was the recipient of the Yanick Dupre Memorial for Class Guy: Justin Braun. The award is voted on and presented by the Philadelphia chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association in memory of Yanick Dupre, who played in three seasons with the Flyers before passing away after a battle with leukemia. It is awarded to the player who best illustrates character, dignity and respect for the sport both on and off the ice.
So, why Braun? Why does he best exemplify the spirit of this award? When I first saw that he was named this year’s recipient, my first thought was, “Really?”….but then when I thought about it, it made total sense.
When the Flyers traded for a second and third round pick for him in 2019, they were getting a seasoned veteran defender with lots of playoff experience. It was expected that he would help to stabilize a defense in flux.
The Flyers got just that. He was never flashy. He never put up big points. He was not a hard hitter or a brawler. He was not particularly speedy. He wasn’t sloppy or reckless with the puck. He didn’t do anything that made you notice him.
But then again, maybe that was one of his strengths. He didn’t do anything to cause your attention to a plethora of mistakes he was making. Likewise, he didn’t put a lot of focus on himself because of how he played. He was all business. He went out on the ice and simply did his job to the best of his abilities game in and game out.
Last year, Philadelphia traded him to the NY Rangers for a third round pick in the 2023 draft. Not a bad haul for an older blueliner who was heading for free agency. To be fair to Chuck Fletcher, that was a good trade. Then, he surprisingly came back for a $1.75 million deal for one year.
When he returned to Philly, a lot of people questioned the deal. The Flyers were supposed to be starting a youth movement with a new coach. Why would they sign a 35 year old defender when they were cash strapped?
At the beginning of the season, Braun realized the situation he was in: a older veteran on a rebuilding team. When asked about it, he said:
"“I got to keep working. I’ve got kids coming for my job. I’ve got to be ready every day. That’s how it goes. I came up, took someone else’s job, and it just kind of keeps rotating until the end of time.”"
John Tortorella added this about Braun after training camp.
"“The biggest thing with Brauner; if I’m a young player and I’m looking at the ‘try’ that he has, it’s a great lesson for a player just to see how hard he works at everything. Certainly not the most gifted skater, not the most gifted passer, not the most gifted shot, but there’s not too many people here in this building that tries as hard as he does. I think young guys should be looking at that. I think you become a player in the NHL, not just with skill, but with the will. That guy has that.”"
He started off the beginning of the year as a third line blueliner. By Christmas, he was playing less and less as the team began to look for younger players, like Cam York, Egor Zamula, and Ronnie Attard. He would go weeks without playing. When he did play, he was usually paired up with some of the call ups, such as Adam Ginning, to give them a steadying influence.
As February rolled on, he seemed like a logical choice to be traded at the deadline. That didn’t happen. He remained a Flyer without a true role. It’s only been lately that he’s been given an opportunity to play again. He’s had just two assists all year. That puts him at 199 points for his career. One more would crack the 200 point milestone. For a 36 year old, that’s a nice offering. He also has a +/- rating of 0; which again is remarkable considering how lousy the team has been this year.
Braun won this award because he’s done it without complaint. He helps in the pregame skates. He is there as a mentor to the younger players. At the same time, he’s played in just 50 games this year and has been a healthy scratch on many days. Despite his hard work and effort, it’s clear that this team is moving on from him.
He will be a free agent this offseason, but there is a good chance he could retire. If he does retire, the Flyers could and should ask him to stay on as a defensive coach. With a young corps of defenders like York, Attard, Zamula, Emile Andrae, and Linus Hogberg waiting to make their mark, they could learn a lot from Braun. He has a lot to offer them. Tortorella has also praised his work ethic and if he could make little clones of himself, Torts would be happy with that.
However, it would’ve been a nice gesture to have tried to trade him to a contender this past March. Several teams could’ve used his skills. You wouldn’t have gotten what you got the previous year for him, but anything would’ve been better than to just see him walk off into the sunset in June. He deserved more from this franchise considering how selfless he’s been this year.
Likewise, I would not be opposed for him returning as a player, if he understood he may only get to play in a part time role. That could help groom him for a coaching role down the line. If he’s up for it, and if the price is less than what he’s getting now, I’d be for bringing him back.
To have a veteran player not openly complaining about lack of playing time and opportunity is rare these days. Braun winning the Yanick Dupre Award is well deserved. There are quite a few players on this team that can learn from his example.