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May 12, 2023

Five thoughts on the Flyers' promise of a better future

Danny Brière was finally introduced as the full-time GM and Keith Jones as the president of hockey ops, with the Flyers committing to a rebuild that will take a lot of time and patience.

Late Friday morning, on the floor of the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers' brass made a promise. 

It won't be realized for years, if it ever does, but as Danny Brière was introduced as the full-time general manager and Keith Jones as the new president of hockey operations, they made their mission clear. 

Brière, Jones, head coach John Tortorella, Comcast Spectacor CEO and team governor Dan Hilferty, and Spectacor Sports and Entertainment president and CEO Valerie Camillo are all going to be on the same page, they're going to commit to the rebuild, and together, they're going to bring the Philadelphia Flyers back to relevance and, above all, Stanley Cup contention. 

But it's going to take time, and patience (a lot of it), as a press conference outlining their grand ambitions and what the organization is marketing "a new era of orange" are only a couple of small steps on a long road they've just set out on. 

But now that they're on it, with two fan favorites in Brière and Jones at the wheel, here are five thoughts on where the Flyers are trying to go and how they intend to get there:

How is this different?

Jones and Brière sat onstage as the new hires to the Flyers' front office, and of course, both as former Flyers. 

Hilferty knew exactly what it looked like, Tortorella too, they all did. 

An organization claiming it wants to start anew, yet once again looked from within to try and solve its problems, how is this supposed to be any different?

"I know some people are thinking 'Here they go again, hiring two former Flyers players isn't a fresh start,'" Hilferty said, but he insisted that their thinking and approach to the game and vision and dedication to the franchise made them both the best candidates for their respective roles. 

In a way, he is right. Neither Jones or Brière are like any of the Flyers front office hires from within that have come before. 

Brière began thinking about a post-career management role and studying for it while he was playing, taking note of how his various GMs – Darcy Regier in Buffalo, Paul Holmgren here, Marc Bergevin in Montreal, and Joke Sakic in Colorado – went about building their teams each at various stages of contention. Then, once he did retire, he immediately got to work, doing scouting and aiding in development camps, spending a stint operating the Maine Mariners in the ECHL, taking business courses at Penn, and then rejoining the Flyers as a special assistant to the since fired Chuck Fletcher. 

He only has about two months of NHL-exec level experience now, but he's put the work in and has a data-driven approach that better serves today's league – just look at Travis Konecny's turnaround this past season as proof. 

Likewise, Jones, thanks to his now former role in the broadcast booth, has spent years traveling around and seeing all the teams and how they operate, fostering connections with all the coaches, presidents, and GMs, and getting a good feel from the view upstairs of what he likes and doesn't like in a given player or system and how to communicate that. He's seen up close over the past two decades, especially when it comes to the Flyers, what works and what doesn't. 

They're much better attuned to the modern NHL, but again, both are former Flyers in the front office, which has grown – especially this past season – into one of the main complaints from an exhausted fan base as to why this franchise has stagnated over the past few years, or decade if we're really being honest here.

How is this supposed to be any different? 

Tortorella's take: "I want to make a point – and I don't want to speak out of turn – but I don't get sometimes when, in this process, when people start talking about Flyers alumni, Jonesy an ex-Flyer, Danny an ex-Flyer, what has happened? Why do people think that they're diseased? That if you're an ex-Flyer, you come from the organization, that you shouldn't be in this organization, that we need to look outside? 

"It's the person you're looking at. So I'm proud that they're Flyers, I'm proud of these guys over here [pointing to more Flyers alum and current players on his right] and other alumni that care about this organization. That's what thrills me the most. I think we have strong personalities and I think they care, and I don't get some of the thinking out in this city 'Oh, it's an ex-Flyer again, they're doing it the same way' G** damn. It is so important to have that belief, so I'm thrilled. I can't wait to get to work and already starting to do it."

Never one to hold back. 

You just have to hope this time actually is different.

A link to the past

In a similar vein, there was regular reference back to the Flyers' past and how good they used to be, how impactful they were, and how badly the new regime wants to get back to that. 

Fans, understandably, are tired of the same old Flyer way that's gotten the team here in the first place, but the organization doesn't seem intent to run or shy away from it. The Flyers' history is part of who they are and, for better or worse, will play a part in shaping what they become going forward. 

"What is past is prologue," Hilferty said. 

Added Jones when he stepped up to the podium: "We want this to be a city that everyone wants to come to. When I arrived here in Philadelphia 25 years ago, I flew in from Colorado – a tremendous franchise – and when I got the call and was informed it's the Philadelphia Flyers, I couldn't get here fast enough. When I landed here, I looked around at the city and I said 'I just can't believe I'm part of the Philadelphia Flyers.' 

"We are going to get back to that. It's got away from us. We are off to a very good start based upon what happened last year. I'm arriving at the right time and I'm convinced that, together, collaboratively, we are going to get there." 

Because doing so for Jones, and Brière too, not only gets the Flyers back to competing again but honoring the person who was at the core of it all: Late owner Ed Snider.

"This is Mr. Snider's team," Jones said. "This is the Philadelphia Flyers. We're gonna work hard to honor that, to get out there for him. He did a lot for all of us, so we're not gonna lose sight of that."

Not for sale

Hilferty also wanted no mistake to be made Friday that the rebuild the Flyers are about to undergo doesn't carry any ulterior motive. 

During his opening remarks, and completely unprovoked, he brought up that during the president of hockey ops search (no GM, more on that later), a question that frequently popped up was if the Flyers were for sale.

And to the crowd, he replied: "Let me emphatically say: No.

"Comcast Spectacor intends to have a long and successful run as owner of the Flyers." 

As the team went into rapid decline, fan frustration also grew with Comcast Spectacor's ownership, which, naturally, led to demands from a subsection of the fan base to sell the team. Adding fuel to that fire too was the ongoing process up north to sell the Ottawa Senators with celebrity interest coming from Ryan Reynolds and now Snoop Dogg, on top of an Instagram post from actor and avid Flyers fan David Boreanaz back in March that seemed to hint at pursuing ownership of the team. 

But, like it or not, Comcast doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. 

Belief in Brière

So here's how the roles were broken down for the Flyers' leadership group:

• As the president of hockey ops, Jones is in charge of overseeing the big picture and making sure every aspect of the team ultimately stays the course with the long-term vision. In terms of hockey moves, he'll give his input to Brière and Tortorella whenever they need it and be public-facing in communicating what's going on to the fans. 

• Camillo is in charge of the business side and making sure the marketing personality matches the on-ice personality the team develops. 

• Tortorella will be back to run the bench and be in charge of everything that happens once the puck drops night-to-night.

• And Brière, as the full-time GM, is at the controls for every trade, signing, and draft pick. He'll have input from Jones and Tortorella, and all three were forthright that there won't always be agreement on it, but in the end, the roster is his to construct, and the Flyers are placing a lot of faith in him to do it right. 

"I'm here for Danny Brière," Jones said. "Whatever he needs, whenever he needs it. I will give my opinion to Danny and then Danny will make the final decision on players, personnel, trades, etc. He's gonna be on the phone a lot. He's gonna be busy, there's no doubt. But I will be there for him at all times."

"We're going to do this right and together," Brière said. "The fact of the matter is that it's only made me hungrier to turn this thing around. We are on our way already and I consider it my highest duty to rebuild and restore this team to its winning ways for years to come." 

The confidence is strong too. 

It was poorly kept secret for a while, but once Fletcher was fired and Brière was promoted to GM in the interim, he was heavily expected to lose that "interim" tag soon enough, and Hilferty confirmed as much on Friday.

"Interim tag or not, I can tell you from the first day that we really interacted, I viewed him as the next GM of the Philadelphia Flyers," Hilferty said. "So, the process went on in my head, conversations with Valerie, just watching how he and Torts interacted, we just felt strongly there was no need for a process. We had our general manager."

Why now for Jonesy?

Locally and nationally, Jones had a highly successful broadcasting career as a color commentator and admitted on Friday that he never had much interest in using it to spring into an executive role for a team. 

But when the Flyers came calling, he interviewed, got the offer, and said yes immediately. So why here? Why now?

"It was not an easy decision," said Jones, who played just over a couple of seasons for the Flyers in the late 90s before retiring and transitioning into broadcasting. "But this is the only team that I would've ever thought about doing something like this. I would not have interviewed anywhere else. 

"I have only done my job on television to do my job on television. I never campaigned to get into a position to get a job like this. I just wanted to do the best job I could in relaying the message to our fans here in Philadelphia on what our team was doing on the ice."

But from the booth, Jones had a good look at the Flyers' collapse over the past few years, and his feelings on it were in line with just about every fan, this was painful. 

"Two years ago this was not a fun team to follow," he said. "I felt and was in the same boat as the fans. I was covering it closely and I know our fans – had many conversations with them – and that was not acceptable.

"Last year was a step in the right direction. We have more work to do."

And it's going to take patience (a lot of it) while they're at it.

"I think patience is a key word," Jones said. "It's going to take some time. We have a plan, we are going to get together and really work on that plan, which is probably going to take a little while, but we do have a little bit of time."

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