PHILADELPHIA — The Flyers had been drubbed in yet another loss in April 2021 – a dreary preview for two more adrift seasons ahead – when analyst Keith Jones went on the televised postgame show and cut loose on the sorry state of the franchise.
“This is a team that’s in need of a major makeover, ” Jones said. “This is not something you fix overnight, this is not something you fix in a week and this is something I don’t think any of us saw coming.”
Two years later, the Flyers did at least finally complete their major front-office makeover, but the franchise still can’t be fixed overnight or in a week. Oh, and as for something no one saw coming, how about this – without a lick of management experience, Jones – affectionately known as “Jonesy” – was called out of the booth and into the front office and tasked with turning the Flyers from their rock-bottom state into Stanley Cup champions.
From calling the action to calling the shots, the Flyers named Jones team president of hockey operations.
“I consider the Philadelphia Flyers organization the gold standard of the NHL and professional sports,” Jones said in a statement. “I’ve seen how this city and these fans can rally around their team and there is nothing that compares to that feeling.”
The popular Philly sports website Crossing Broad wrote, “ This is not The Onion,” in a story about Jones as he makes the surprising career change after two decades cracking jokes as part of a talk radio morning show, all while juggling hockey broadcast gigs at NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBC, and most recently for TNT’s coverage of the NHL in each of the last two seasons.
The Flyers will hold a press conference to explain the decision. It will be a crowded dais at the Wells Fargo Center.
Jones was expected to be joined by general manager Danny Briere, who officially had the interim tag removed from his title, and other executives including Dan Hilferty, Valerie Camillo and second-year coach John Tortorella.
The Flyers billed the presser as the first time all five members of the “unified Flyers leadership group” will be together.
And here people in Philly thought Taylor Swift in town was exciting.
The Flyers had long been knocked for relying on former players to try their hand at the front office – see, Bobby Clarke, Paul Holmgren, Ron Hextall – and are back in the alumni well after an ill-fated stint with former GM and franchise outsider Chuck Fletcher. Briere led the Flyers to their last Stanley Cup appearance in 2010 when they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks and Jones spent parts of three seasons with the Flyers from 1998-2001 (where he notably helped save former star Eric Lindros’ life).
Not only are the Flyers leaning hard on former players, Briere is still learning the ropes in his new job and Jones has no previous management experience. The most veteran member of the construction of the franchise is now the 64-year-old Tortorella.
Jones and Briere have plenty of help behind the scenes with the salary cap and other business workings of the team. At best – for now – they are popular faces of the franchise that can get out among the fans and sell a vision of a promising future. Briere admitted when he was promoted in early March the franchise – which hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since taking consecutive championships in 1974 and 1975 – faces a long rebuilding process. Fletcher was loathe to admit the Flyers needed one.
“There is a lot of work to be done, but these last few months have only strengthened my resolve and made me even more eager to rebuild this team and deliver this city a Stanley Cup,” Briere said.
The Flyers are coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history and have missed the playoffs for three straight years. Briere and other members of a revamped power structure insist the Flyers have a cohesive plan for the future. Hilferty was named chairman late last season of the Flyers’ parent company, Comcast Spectacor, and was expected to have greater pull.
“This is a storied franchise with the most passionate fans in the National Hockey League. Our ultimate goal is to deliver them a championship. Achieving that goal will take time,” Hilferty said.
With an old-school coach, and two former Flyers, the franchise is back to its old-days methodology even as it unveiled a “New Era of Orange” slogan ahead of the announcements.
The Flyers hold key pieces needed for a rebuild. They hold the No. 7 pick in the NHL draft and are $9 million under the salary cap for next season. The Flyers have scores of veterans such as Cam Atkinson, Kevin Hayes, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov all on the hook for hefty salaries for multiple seasons. Moving some could be a challenge – and are among Jones’ first priorities.
Briere has said while some younger players such as Noah Cates, Owen Tippett and Cam York could be foundational pieces, no Flyer is untouchable in trade talks this summer.
Jones will certainly get time to prove his mettle in the front office and there’s no doubt he’s a smart hockey guy who knows his way around the league. But Matt Millen and Mike Mayock in the NFL, Ken Harrelson in baseball and Pierre McGuire in the NHL are among the scores of former broadcasters whose inside knowledge in the booth couldn’t help them in failed transitions to the front office. The Flyers can only hope Jones won’t need a new headset any time soon.
“We are unanimously committed to rebuilding and sustaining a winning culture,” Hilferty said, “and doing it the right way.”