PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The head of the Philadelphia Flyers understood the optics of a franchise going on 48 years since winning a Stanley Cup deciding to hire more former Flyers in the front office to try and win one.
But the Flyers did it anyway.
“I know some people are thinking,” Comcast Spectacor chairman Dan Hilferty said, “here they go again, hiring two former Flyers isn’t a fresh start.”
The Flyers on Friday introduced Keith Jones — yeah, their former long-time broadcaster — as team president and stamped general manager Danny Briere as one of the leaders of the franchise. Jones and Briere each played for the Flyers and both have remained connected to the franchise in retirement.
They both remember when the Flyers were an elite franchise — Briere as a star postseason player that led them to the last Stanley Cup Final in 2010 and Jones as a sharp-witted analyst affectionately known as “Jonesy” that watched it happen from the broadcast booth.
But it’s been a long time since the Flyers were good, even longer since they were bona fide Stanley Cup contenders and the rowdy atmosphere that once gave them one of the toughest home-ice edges in the NHL has melted into scores of empty sections and turned game night into the dreariest atmosphere in Philly sports.
At their introductory presser, Briere and Jones were light on specifics other than offering the cold reminder that building the Flyers into winners would take time. They preached patience for the fans and promoted that the leadership group — including second-year coach John Tortorella — was unified in the rebuilding path needed to reach their goals.
And that they’re former Flyers? So what, Hilferty said. They were the best candidates for their jobs and “it just so happens they’re former Flyers.”
Jones said there was no other team he had an interest in working for other than the Flyers. He thought 23 years as an analyst for Flyers telecasts on NBC Sports Philadelphia and years spent on national broadcasts on NBC and TNT gave him a unique perspective on the league and an insider’s edge that could make it easier to navigate a rookie year in the front office.
The Flyers hired multiple search firms and interviewed several candidates all to land on a candidate who simply had to surrender his press pass to get the job.
“I don’t get sometimes when in this process, when people start taking about Flyers alumni, Jonesey an ex-Flyer, Danny an ex-Flyer, what has happened, why do people think that they are diseased if you’re an ex-Flyer?” Tortorella asked. “That you shouldn’t be in this organization, that you need to look outside. It’s the person you’re looking at. I’m proud that they’re Flyers.”
Philadelphia is coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history under Tortorella, who led Tampa Bay to a Stanley Cup in 2004, and has missed the playoffs for three straight years. The Flyers haven’t won a Stanley Cup since taking consecutive championships in 1974 and 1975.
Briere was promoted to interim general manager after Chuck Fletcher was fired in early March as the organization started to shuffle the front office ahead of a lengthy rebuild. Hilferty was named chairman later that month of the Flyers’ parent company, Comcast Spectacor.
As empty seasons piled up, the Flyers continued to lean on former players such as Bobby Clarke, Paul Holmgren and Ron Hextall to jump to the front office and hope what they learned on the ice in the glory days could transfer into a winning culture in the front office. The in-season results were mixed. The postseason play results were not, empty offseasons without a championship.
“I’m proud that these guys over here and other alumni care about the organization,” Tortorella said. “That’s what throws me the most. I think we have strong personalities and I think they care. I don’t get some of the thinking out of this city.”
The short answer, the old-school methodology anchored by executives who last played in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s caused the franchise to fall behind in various modern aspects of the game, from successfully managing the salary cap (founder and former owner Ed Snider threw the most money at the best players), to a glaring lack of patience in a long-range plan to win to failing to identify the best players in the draft caused the Flyers to sink into irrelevance.
Briere, Jones, Tortorella and other executives all vowed they’d work together to restore the Flyers to their former glory. And they’ll do it under the Comcast Spectacor banner.
Hilferty firmly reiterated the team — despite many inquiries — is not for sale.
“Comcast Spectactor expects to have a long and successful run as owners of the Flyers,” he said.
Let the journey under Jonesy begin.
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