The first major dominoes of the offseason have officially fallen after the Philadelphia Flyers announced the hiring of Keith Jones as the President of Hockey Operations and the appointment of Danny Briere as the full-time general manager (GM). The roster for the 2023-24 season still needs to take shape over the summer. However, the members of the restructured front office have made the interview rounds to help paint a much clearer picture of the direction of the Flyers.
Flyers Front Office: Positives
New hires bring the promise of a bright future, especially within NHL organizations starving for success as badly as the Flyers. Dan Hilferty, Valerie Camillo, Keith Jones, Danny Briere, and John Tortorella presented a strong, united front to begin the “New Era of Orange” at their introductory press conference. They emphasized the importance of collaboration and complementary skill sets that could turn the Flyers into “the envy of the NHL” once again.
“I can assure you, they bring a fresh perspective and what it takes to restore a winning tradition. We are one unit, and we will be one unit with a common goal in mind to bring a Stanley Cup back to Philadelphia,” Hilferty said to the assembled media at the Wells Fargo Center after the announced hirings.
The recently-appointed franchise governor pointed to the “complementary skills, personalities, and experiences” of three individuals with tremendous reputations in NHL circles. Hilferty lauded the intelligence and extensive network of Jones, the impressive quick rise of Briere through the ranks of hockey leadership, and the veteran knowledge and attitude of Tortorella.
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Jones didn’t lean on old adages about the grit and toughness that made the Flyers great in past eras. He didn’t reiterate the tired point about how Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson could jump right back into the lineup after missing the 2022-23 season and add exactly what the team lacked. Instead, he spoke on 94 WIP about the same glaring unresolved issue on the roster that Chuck Fletcher brought up in January 2022.
“There’s a lot that needs to be done as far as addressing high-end talent. The best way to do that is through the draft,” the former NHL winger said with optimism about picking in the seventh-overall spot in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
Flyers Front Office: Negatives
While Hilferty and Camillo spoke proudly about the new “triumvirate” of leadership, they’re certainly not unaware of the hole the organization has dug by missing the playoffs in three consecutive seasons for the first time since the early 1990s. When you sink to the worst position in your 56-year franchise history, one of the most intense media markets in professional sports will have its fair share of criticism for any major move that is made.
Criticism against the organization for consistently hiring its alumni into positions as key decision-makers in hockey operations has become rampant in Philadelphia in recent years. The Flyers have at times honored their past to a fault with the persistent overreliance on franchise heroes who led them during the glory years of the Broad Street Bullies during the 1970s. The new leadership group now includes two former Flyers from more recent eras. Is this just a newer version of the same old Flyers stuck in the past?
Hilferty used strong rhetoric to defend the Flyers against the critics. He spoke about the need to honor and learn from history using the past as prologue.
“Let me share with you that during the process, our goal was to hire the two best candidates. It just happens that they’re former Flyers. We were inspired by the titans who won us championships in 1974 and ‘75. We need to channel the spirit of those early years as we build anew. Equally, we need to embrace today’s modern game, one that requires speed, power, and strategy like never before,” Hilferty said.
However, he didn’t make the best case for an internal candidate and a franchise hero when he spoke about the choice to hire Briere on a full-time basis.
“I can tell you from the first day that we really interacted, I viewed him (Briere) as the next GM of the Philadelphia Flyers. 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.”
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Hiring former Flyers is not an inherently flawed strategy. Plenty of successful people have grown from their time with the organization. However, the statement that there’s “no need for a process” to consider other candidates against an internal candidate who has less previous front-office experience than the majority of other NHL GMs doesn’t demonstrate the most open-minded approach (from The Athletic, Is Daniel Brière ready to be Flyers GM? Comparing his experience to current NHL GMs, 3/21/23).
Both Briere and Jones speak with an informed perspective about the modern NHL game. They don’t glorify the memories of Philadelphia’s past with an impression that team-building strategies haven’t changed during the salary cap era. However, their history as former Flyers will lead to skepticism from the media and the fan base. Whether it’s fair to them or not, the organization’s history of relying on internal thinking and failing to get ahead of the curve in the NHL has brought these consequences.
Gauthier, Laughton, Attard at Worlds
The Flyers have three representatives playing at IIHF World Championship in Tampere, Finland, and Riga, Latvia. Although the tournament falls as a secondary priority for star players in the Stanley Cup Playoffs or players who missed the postseason recovering from a brutal physical toll in the regular season, it still boasts its fair share of NHL talent.
Scott Laughton has worn the “A” on his chest for Team Canada, just like he did during the 2022-23 season for the Flyers. He has one goal and one assists for the Canadians, who narrowly trail the Swiss team in Group B with three regulation wins and one overtime win.
Flyers fans have their eyes fixed on Team USA to see Cutter Gauthier and Ronnie Attard. While Attard has scored one goal for the Americans, Gauthier is the true focus with the most consequential future for Philadelphia. The fifth-overall pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft has another opportunity to prove he’s capable of a standout performance against legitimate NHL talent if he succeeds at the Worlds. He has two goals in four games for the undefeated Team USA.
Flyers fans watched with a unique point of view as Dave Hakstol impressively led the Seattle Kraken to their first playoff series victory in franchise history, but the majority seemed happy when their old head coach went down in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They might think differently, however, about Rod Brind’Amour. The long-time Flyers center has built a reputation as one of the best coaches in the NHL, and his Carolina Hurricanes have an opportunity to break through in the Eastern Conference Final against the Florida Panthers after previous playoff heartbreaks.
Elliotte Friedman mentioned Flyers assistant Brad Shaw as a potential candidate for the Anaheim Ducks head coaching vacancy. Shaw came to Philadelphia in 2022 with previous experience coaching under Tortorella. His input showed through legitimate improvement from defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Nick Seeler in 2022-23. He also coached the Philadelphia penalty kill to their second consecutive 26th-place finish despite a lot of optimism about the shorthanded approach from his players and the local media.