Change is necessary when the same problems last too long, and the Philadelphia Flyers appear to have finally accepted that reality. They moved on from general manager (GM) and President of Hockey Operations Chuck Fletcher on March 10 with the intention of making two separate, permanent hires to fill the roles. Danny Brière will serve as the interim GM for the remainder of the 2022-23 season while the President role stays vacant.
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Just over two weeks later, the Flyers announced the upcoming retirement of franchise governor Dave Scott. Dan Hilferty, the newly-hired CEO of Comcast Spectacor, will replace Scott as Spectacor chairman on April 17 and franchise governor on July 1. The Flyers will fill the President position during the offseason, but how deep will the changes run within an organization that honors its tradition, legacy, and alumni as much as any other in the NHL?
Brière, Hilferty Highlight Flyers’ Changes
Scott transitioned into a role as a primary decision-maker for the Flyers when Ed Snider’s health became a concern in the final years leading up to his death in 2016. His tenure as the franchise governor has landed the Flyers in the worst position in their 56-year history for reasons both inside and outside his control. Fletcher also failed to react to circumstances that handcuffed the Flyers during parts of five seasons as the GM under Scott.
The Flyers hope that the emergence of Hilferty and the appointment of Brière will move them past their current string of three consecutive seasons outside of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, their longest drought since the early 1990s. Hilferty’s roots run deep in the Philadelphia area as the former CEO of Independence Blue Cross. He has been involved in outstanding local philanthropy efforts, and Philadelphia sports are near and dear to him. His successful bid to bring the 2026 World Cup to Philadelphia helped lead him into the new role with Spectacor.
Brière spent six seasons as a player with the Flyers from 2007-08 through 2012-13. He worked as the GM of the Maine Mariners of the ECHL, an entity of Comcast Spectacor. He’s done his due diligence by attending the Wharton School of Business at the University of Penn to help him in different realms of organizational management. It would come as a major surprise if he didn’t land the full-time GM job with the Flyers. All indications point to assistant GM Brent Flahr remaining with the organization also.
President of Hockey Operations
The vacant President role will go a long way in determining the future of the new front office structure. While Brière seems young and promising, he will need to develop an effective dynamic with the new hire. Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek spoke on the 32 Thoughts podcast about how the Flyers might look to build a similar dynamic to the Boston Bruins and the Colorado Avalanche.
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Former Bruins Cam Neely and Don Sweeney hold the President of Hockey Operations and GM positions in Boston, respectively. The Avalanche promoted Chris McFarland to the GM position after they won the Stanley Cup in 2022. Hall of Famer Joe Sakic now serves only as the President. The responsibilities of the President have more to do with handling ownership and other realms of the organization that impact hockey ops while the GM makes the majority of the roster construction decisions.
Friedman and Marek have mentioned Ray Shero, Shane Doan, Chris Pronger, Eric Lindros, Ray Whitney, Ed Olczyk, and Robert Esche as potential candidates for the President position. Pronger, Lindros, and Esche are former Flyers, and Shero’s father Fred coached the Flyers to their only two Stanley Cups in franchise history in 1974 and 1975.
While the iconic brand of the Philadelphia Flyers still carries weight throughout the NHL, any new hire will inherit a tough position. The team will finish somewhere in the league’s bottom 10 in 2022-23, and there is little salary cap flexibility, highly-valued prospects, or premium draft capital to work with. It’s a lost franchise in desperate need of a way out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves.
An NHL head coach usually impacts an organization heavily at a micro level on a daily basis while the changes upstairs have a macro-level impact. John Tortorella, however, has become the new face of the Flyers during his first season as head coach. His emphasis on a new standard for performance and his track record as a former Stanley Cup winner have won over plenty of supporters within the fan base and the organization.
Tortorella speaks frankly about his own point of view with authenticity and bullish determination. The two-time Jack Adams Award winner quickly gained more power over personnel decisions than any other head coach in recent franchise history while Fletcher was the GM, and he will likely keep a significant amount of influence in roster construction under the new front office.
He spoke on March 2 in a radio interview with 97.5 The Fanatic about internal problems off the ice that have existed in the organization for a long time.
“When I took the job, I didn’t realize there was so much minutia going on all around us, some of the things outside of hockey and getting things straightened out, our medical stuff, a lot of different stuff that goes on in the organization. I didn’t realize that some of it had to be cleaned up. I do think we’re on the right track both off the ice and on the ice,” he said.
The Flyers have very little to show for themselves in the standings in 2022-23, but Tortorella has helped some young players like Cam York, Owen Tippett, and Noah Cates develop at the NHL level. The future Hall of Fame coach has an understanding of the problems facing the Flyers, and he has his mind set on a path towards a solution in Philadelphia. His voice will carry weight in all impactful decisions made within the organization.
Questions Facing Flyers
The organization has leaned heavily on former players in the front office since Bobby Clarke’s first stint as GM beginning in 1984-85. Franchise legends Clarke, Bill Barber, and Paul Holmgren have maintained a renowned status internally over the past decade despite the lack of recent success on the ice. All three Flyers Hall of Famers have been removed from jobs within the organization in the past, but they all currently hold positions as senior advisors in the hockey operations department.
Candidates for the President role like Pronger, Esche, and Lindros will all face skepticism from the media and the fan base if they are hired partly because of a playing career with the Flyers. Brière has faced the same criticism. It’s not perfectly clear how much influence Clarke, Holmgren, and Barber have in hockey operations. However, Friedman spoke on the Nasty Knuckles podcast about how Brière thinks highly of Holmgren, the GM who signed him as a free agent to play in Philadelphia in 2007.
The NHL is a tight-knit network. Successful organizations like the Bruins and the Avalanche hire former players like Sweeney, Neely, and Sakic to lead them to Stanley Cup contention. No candidate should be disqualified because of his playing experience with the Flyers. However, familiarity cannot determine the decision. The organization has spent too many years unsuccessfully relying on its own past to help its future, and a fresh start is only helpful if enough change is involved.
Tortorella continued his radio conversation in early March with a strong statement that was not directly tied to questions about any former players or named members of the organization.
“I just think when people are there a long time, players, staff, everything, there’s a sense of entitlement. Listen, we’re pretty much nonexistent in the National Hockey League as far as respect. We need to earn the league’s respect, and that’s about staying together, getting the right people involved in all this, and doing it the right way. And understanding that no one is above anybody else, no matter how long you’ve been there: player, personnel, staff, whatever it may be,” Tortorella said sternly.
Members of an organization that has fallen as hard as the Flyers need to take a statement like that one at face value. If they don’t do an honest internal evaluation, none of their changes will make much difference anyway.