Flyers: Hilferty, Jones Reflect on 1st Season of ‘New Era,’ Look to Future

Flyers: Hilferty, Jones Reflect on 1st Season of ‘New Era,’ Look to Future

It’s been just over seven weeks since the Flyers saw the 2023-24 season come to an end in Game 82. In the days that followed, head coach John Tortorella and GM Danny Briere met with the media for their exit interviews to pick up the pieces on the late-season collapse and start to look ahead to the future. On Wednesday, the two highest figures in the organization did the same.

Flyers Governor Dan Hilferty and President of Hockey Operations Keith Jones spent Wednesday morning looking back on the first season under the “New Era of Orange,” and bridging together the hockey side with the business side of the organization. Here are five takeaways from their availability.

Hilferty ‘Thrilled’ with Leadership Group

As the season came to an end, there was a lot of talk about John Tortorella’s future, both behind the bench and within the organization. Hilferty and Jones had both already confirmed that Tortorella would be returning behind the bench before the season even ended, but Hilferty continued to show his support for the entire leadership group on Wednesday.

Primarily, that support was around the creation of a better environment and improving the culture within, at all levels of the organization.

“We talk about entering the second year of the ‘New Era of Orange.’ I feel and I think, Keith, you would agree that this first year was all about creating an environment, a culture, where we accepted nothing but the best, where excellence is what we’re striving for,” Hilferty said. “If you look around this practice facility and all the work that’s being done now, will go on for the next year or so, it’s about creating an environment where players, coaches, us in the management part, strive for excellence. That’s going to continue. 

“It’s continuing with the Wells Fargo Center. We were thrilled that Front [Office] Sports named us one of the top arenas in the country. I’m just really excited about where we are. Thrilled with Keith’s leadership, thrilled with Danny’s leadership and how the two of them work together. Thrilled with Coach Tortorella. The way the three of them can finish each other’s sentences, and how together, we’re going to build a winner.”

‘We’re Going to Do This Every Year’

When the Flyers announced the press conference involving Hilferty and Jones on Tuesday, there were some on social media so starved for any sort of Flyers news that the hope was that an impending announcement was imminent. That was not the case, as the top two figures in the Flyers organization were simply holding their own end-of-season availability.

But why now?

“We’re going to do this every year,” Hilferty said. “It’s our way of making sure you hear from all four of us. We wanted the dust to settle.” 

Making sure everyone hears from all four members of the leadership group is the key phrase here. Under the previous regime, everything was a wrap following the typical end-of-season availability. Transparency lacked, as did a clear plan for addressing the future and restoring the franchise to the level of respect it once held. Those days are over with Hilferty and Jones at the helm.

Hilferty made reference to the upcoming development camp in July, noting that the stands in the facility would be filled again and that he and Jones will do what they did so much last season – mingle with fans and get feedback. 

“Any time there’s a new regime, there’s a reason that there’s a new regime,” Hilferty said. “Folks either retire, folks are asked to move on. If you look at the track record we’ve had over the past decade, it’s been not a great one. 

“I felt that we needed to do three things. We needed to change the discussion around ‘oh, here they go again, it’s a losing environment,’ to ‘what are they up to? They’re not over-promising, but they’re looking us in the eye and having a conversation about where we’re headed.’ That’s what we tried to change. The whole “New Era of Orange” was about, as much as we can, look each of you in the eye and have an honest conversation about where we are. Do the same thing with the region and the fanbase, to make sure we bring them around on the journey.” 

‘There’s No Room for Error’

While there wasn’t near as much to say about the current team or the offseason, Jones did reflect on one area that could continue to cloud to timeline. It’s natural to believe that a team that exceeded expectations and fell just short of the playoffs in the final game of the season should be playoff-bound next season. 

We’ll get to both Hilferty and Jones’ views on progress in a moment, but part of the progress of a rebuilding team is making the necessary additions, in various forms, to take steps forward.

Unfortunately for the Flyers, they are very limited in that department. They already have money tied up in salary retention from trading Kevin Hayes and buying out Tony DeAngelo. They will have money on the books for buying Cal Petersen’s contract in the minors. They have two LTIR candidates in Ryan Ellis and Ryan Johansen that need to start on the books before being moved after the regular-season roster is finalized.

So, cap increase or not, the Flyers have their hands tied. Jones openly admitted such. But when the time comes and there is money available to round out the team, there will be critical decisions for the Flyers to make.

“I think the one indicator on the timeline that’s out there for everyone to see is the money that we have tied up right now, for players that aren’t playing for our team,” Jones said. “A lot of that is going to start to come off of the cap. I do think that if you’re looking further down the line, that is where we’re going to start to have some real key decisions to make. We have to get them right. There’s no room for error on whatever players we add to the mix in a couple of years. 

“Those are things that we have to pay a lot of attention to right now. And that’s something that we’re really focused on. Some of that is growth from within, some of our younger players, and whoever we draft with the two first-round picks we have this year, and then the multiple first-round picks next year. That’s going to be key. At the same time, the removal of money off the cap, the dead money, is something that we’re going to be able to use to our benefit, as long as we do everything right here and make sure that this is a place that people want to play.”

What is Progress for Next Season?

So, after coming up just short of the playoffs this season, and clearly still focused on the long-term future, what would be a successful 2023-24 season. When Briere spoke at his end-of-season availability, he noted that he wasn’t sure if the Flyers were even in the conversation of perennial playoff contender just yet, even as they fell just short.

That appeared to be echoed by both Hilferty and Jones, who defined progress in a different way.

“The beginning of last year, I was hoping we would outperform what the projections were,” Hilferty said. “I go into this next year feeling the same way. Every game, I feel like we can win. I’m always going to be that way. I’m always going to have that fan perspective. 

“But in the role as chairman, I’m very comfortable that there’s got to be a level of patience around this. I’ve started to study other franchises. Mainly, as Jonesy and I talk and understand, how did Florida do it? What’s the mixture of young guys, seasoned pros and the seasoned pros that create this formula that works. I’m to the point now, I’m going to continue to be a fan, I’m going to cheer for us to win every game. I’m not going to worry about the wins and losses. Yes, you want to be respectable, you want to be in a playoff hunt. I’m not going to worry it’s got to be this coming year that we make the playoffs. I’m not getting caught up in terms of years, I just want to see that continued progress.”

“You don’t want to take a step back,” Jones said. “You want to make sure that you continue to build the culture. I think that it’s an everyday thing. You have to pay attention to it. You have to be around. It was great that Hilf was around as much as he was. Including road games, which is very unusual but very welcomed. Our players sensed that they feel like they are part of something important. 

“Our fans started to really kind of get a sense for what our team is all about and supported them throughout the season. Attendance was getting better, and the building was much more exciting than it had been over the last few years. We want to continue to build on that feeling, and you do that by playing well, in some cases overachieving, and playing with a chip on your shoulder by making sure that you’re out there and trying to continue to push this forward and make sure you’re a part of it when we turn the corner.”

Michkov Update

In talking about future prospects, there is none more important than Matvei Michkov. As Michkov’s name continues to swirl in rumors regarding the prospect of playing in the NHL, the Flyers kept the same mindset.

“It really doesn’t affect [the offseason] because, when we drafted him, the expectation was that he would finish his contract with SKA. We have no update on it,” Jones said. “We would welcome him with open arms. We absolutely love what he is going to bring to the Flyers. If that timeline is sped up, that would be wonderful, but we don’t know. We will watch along closely like you guys are as well, and when he arrives, our fanbase is going to be pretty excited about getting a highly talented player that is different then what we have right now. I think our fans are looking forward to that, for sure.”

“I’m a fan. The way I look at it is, he’s still a young individual. As much fun as it would be and as good as it would be from creating that environment and getting fans excited, yeah, I hope it happens,” Hilferty said. “But we knew he’s under a three-year contract. I can’t be just a fan about this. I totally understand that. It’s a situation where we have zero control over him, and we will continue to watch him regardless of where he plays. At some point, it will be a great thing for the Philadelphia Flyers.”

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