Flyers “New Era” Raises Risky Questions
Taylor Swift brings her Eras Tour to Philadelphia this weekend. What does that have to do with the Flyers? Well, if you’re anything like me, you tend to listen to music and may hear a line that strikes a chord or triggers a thought that goes deeper than the music.
Prior to officially announcing the hiring of Keith Jones as President of Hockey Operations and removing the interim tag from GM Danny Briere, the Flyers released a statement promoting a “new era of orange.” Within it, the focus was that while the history of the franchise is certainly revered and valuable, there will be “new voices, new perspectives, and new plans” with the same goal of winning. To do that, it means continuing to set a standard, where you are “expected to show up and work your ass off. Every. Single. Day…No excuses. No shortcuts.”
To put it in Taylor Swift terms: the old Flyers can’t come to the phone right now.
At least that’s what that messaging implies. Until it is formally stated, many won’t believe it. Hiring two ex-Flyers like Jones and Briere, with the fanbase in its current state, is very much the literal playing out of a song from The Who.
“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” The fans aren’t about to get fooled again.
As the BeeGees once sang, “it’s only words.” That’s all this is to the Flyers faithful. It’s another plea of trusting the process, now headed by a different leader at Comcast, an old-school head coach, and two ex-Flyers at the top of the management chain. Without actions to show that this is different, to show that there is progress in entering the realm of the top teams in the game today, there isn’t going to be that belief that the franchise is doing anything but spinning its wheels.
Is the process going to take time? Yes. Are the fans willing to put in that time to eventually come out on the other side with potential to reach the mountaintop? It appears so. Is it fair to have doubts that this is the group that can do it? Yes.
The lack of experience is going to be a huge reason for that. Dan Hilferty, the new CEO and Chairman of Comcast and governor of the Flyers, may be a tenacious Flyers fan as self-described and may have decades of experience in business, but he’s a newcomer to the hockey business. Briere may have gone through a tedious road of learning the business of the game and the hockey operations side at the ECHL level, but this is his first NHL job, and he’s only been doing it on a daily basis for 15 months. Jones went straight from playing to broadcasting, making this his first front office job.
That is a risk, to have such little experience in charge of such a massive task. Jones is a fine hire based on what the Flyers seem to describe the President role to be: to be a communicator between ownership and the hockey operations side, which will be led much more by Briere and head coach John Tortorella than Jones.
Jones becomes more of a public figure for the franchise, leading the “strategic direction for all aspects of the hockey operations department while collaborating on business goals.” His many years in broadcasting have already helped foster relationships around the league that should help him assemble a team capable of this task. As a broadcaster, he has also seen the overall direction the game is going.
Briere will be in charge of all hockey decisions, including signings, trades, draft picks, and overseeing scouting, players development, and roster construction. By choosing Jones as more of a hands-off President of Hockey Ops, the Flyers are pushing all of the chips to the center of the table on Briere, giving him the vote of confidence that he can make the right decisions from a player personnel standpoint in this rebuild.
And then there’s Tortorella, who will also provide input on various management topics. This is certainly a more innovative approach, as coaches typically don’t get as much involvement in management as Tortorella will be granted.
That’s another interesting part of this structure. Outside of the ownership representation of Hilferty and Valerie Camillo, the longest-tenured member on the hockey side is Tortorella, even after just one season behind the bench. He will have input on how the team looks. And for as much as he has spoken about having conversations with Briere and being on the same page, it’s also fair to wonder just how much input Tortorella will have on these decisions.
In addition, the Flyers still have to formally address the elephant in the room. If it’s a “new era” with “new voices, new perspectives, and new plans,” what becomes of the Broad Street Bullies and their presence around the front office in an advisory role? Are Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, and Paul Holmgren getting moved into the more traditional alumni role, or will their input still be heard and valued, especially with two ex-Flyers holding the keys to strategy and decision-making?
That’s a question that may be answered in due time. And if it is such that the voices of the past very much fade into it and a new era dawns, then it’s worth a shot to see if this truly works. It could become one of the great success stories in Philadelphia sports history, or it could be a total flop of epic proportions.
And maybe that’s the most important question to be asked out of all of this. Does it feel like another hiring from within the network? Sure it does. Does it feel like there isn’t enough experience at the table? Yes. But does this new leadership deserve a chance to prove all the naysayers and doubters wrong? Absolutely.
So as much as this so-called new era feels like more of the same, as much as it is a feeling Flyers fans know all too well, it’s the new era the Flyers are welcoming in. Are you ready for it?
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.
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