Flyers

How Jones hire happened, what has Briere's 'full attention,' more in takeaways

Flyers

There Keith Jones and Danny Briere were, back in the lower bowl of the Wells Fargo Center, under the bright lights again in Philadelphia.

This time, they weren't wearing Flyers jerseys. They each donned a nice suit, instead, accompanied by an orange tie and a Flyers pin on their jacket.

They were being sported as the newest leaders of the franchise, one that has sunken far from some of the proud times when they once played.

In a decorated press conference Friday, Jones was officially introduced as Flyers president of hockey operations and Briere general manager after two months of holding the job under an interim status.

For Jones, after a lengthy run of broadcasting success, it's his first shot at a front office role.

"Very surreal," Jones said at the podium.

For Briere, his climb in hockey ops has reached the dream of the GM chair.

"It's pretty cool to be here again," Briere said. "Not on the ice, per se, but in this building on the ice [level]."

Jones and Briere were joined on stage by Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO and Flyers governor Dan Hilferty, president and CEO of Spectacor Sports & Entertainment Valerie Camillo and head coach John Tortorella.

"We have a lot of work to do," Jones said. "I am thrilled to be able to give back to this city what it's given to me.

"I am promising you that we're going to get it right, together. This is not my team. This is our team. And I look forward to working with everybody, everyone that's here. The Philadelphia Flyers are coming back."

 

As Jones mentioned, there's a long way to go. The organization has missed the postseason in three straight years for the first time since 1989-90 to 1993-94, when it went five consecutive seasons without a playoff berth. Over the last two seasons, the club has piled up 108 defeats (56-84-24). The fan base, which has been plenty patient, has felt lost by the direction.

"If there's one message that I want to send out today, especially to our most loyal fans, is that you have my full attention," Briere said. "It's been an incredible honor to serve the last two months as the GM of the team, and the fact of the matter is that it's only made me hungrier to turn this thing around."

The Flyers are deeming this a new era. They hope Friday was a pivotal step in the rebuilding process.

"Today is about the Philadelphia Flyers," Camillo said in her opening remarks of the press conference, "and it's about making this the toughest, loudest building in the NHL once again."

Let's get into our five takeaways from the day:

1. Flyers approached Jones

Over 23 years of analyzing the game for local and national television broadcasts, Jones was never looking to parlay his job into a front office gig.

That didn't change when the Flyers fired president of hockey ops and GM Chuck Fletcher in March.

So how did Jones suddenly become the leader of the franchise's brain trust?

The Flyers wanted him.

"I was asked if I was interested," Jones said after the press conference. "And then it started the ball rolling and I said yes."

How long did he have to think about it?

"I'll pretend a few seconds," he said.

Was Jones surprised by the Flyers' interest?

"I had it mentioned to me before from previous regimes," he said.

As a winger, Jones played parts of nine seasons in the NHL, three of them for the Flyers from 1998 to 2000. He was on the 2000 club that made a run to the Eastern Conference Final and played eight games the following season before retiring.

Jones transitioned into the media world and had been Jim Jackson's broadcast partner for the last 17 Flyers seasons on Comcast SportsNet/NBC Sports Philadelphia. He had also served NBC Sports and Turner Sports for national broadcasts.

Why take on a different ballgame now?

"It was not an easy decision, but this is the only team that I would have ever thought about doing something like this," Jones said. "I would not have interviewed anywhere else."

If Jones did have to ponder at all whether he wanted to take on this challenge with the Flyers, it wouldn't be surprising if Ed Snider came to his mind. Jones was close with the franchise's iconic founder who died in April 2016.

 

"I don't think Mr. Snider would be shocked that I'm standing here today," Jones said. "I was a trusted confidant of his because I spoke honestly to him whenever he called. I guess that's why I'm not shocked to be standing here. But I'm really happy to be standing here."

Philadelphia Flyers
From left to right: John Tortorella, Keith Jones, Dan Hilferty, Valerie Camillo and Danny Briere.

2. Finding the trio's final piece

Hilferty called the Flyers' hiring process for the president of hockey ops job "an exhaustive one."

Looking for an outside firm to supplement the search, the Flyers met with three and chose Modern Executive Solutions. Billy King, the former Sixers president and general manager, is a senior partner with Modern Executive Solutions and assisted the Flyers' process.

The team also worked with Neil Glasberg of PBI Sports for additional support.

"We took ideas from many sources, alums, former players, others in the hockey community," Hilferty said.

After the press conference, Hilferty said there were 100-plus candidates.

"We landed on a smaller group that Modern led some interviews with," Hilferty said. "Then we came to a final three that we had a day of interviews with, follow-up interviews and came to the conclusion that Keith Jones was the best candidate for the job."

The Flyers clearly liked Jones' leadership style and his ability to delegate. He's immensely connected within the league and is an easy person to get along with, which helps when this hire is joining two others to form a trio of decision-makers.

Jones will be the most important piece that glues the hockey and business sides together, an aspect the Flyers really wanted to improve upon. On Friday, they stressed teamwork and collaboration.

"I was nervous throughout to be perfectly blunt because this is an important hire," Hilferty said. "But all in all, the process I was very thrilled with."

The Flyers wanted to give Briere the keys, but they also wanted to give him proper support. Jones' preexisting relationship with Briere and Tortorella, along with his deep knowledge of the Flyers' organization, definitely held weight.

"Some of the candidates who have great reputations of their own in hockey, they had a hard and fast way of, 'This is the way I do it, we'll see if the other two meet my standard.' I just didn't view it that way," Hilferty said. "I viewed it as, 'No, no, we want someone with true leadership skills,' but we also wanted someone who understood that we, as an organization, felt that we had the best coach to lead us in this next phase — he's a teacher, he's patient in terms of building the team and he wants to do it the right way. I'm not going to repeat what I said about Danny, but he has those skill sets, he has that leadership capability.

"We want the third person that's comfortable with these other two leaders, but will exert himself as the leader of the hockey side of the organization. As we weaved our way through this course of finding, Keith emerged as the right person for that."

 

As for the full-time GM position, it was pretty much Briere's to lose. And he wasn't going to relinquish it.

"I got to know Danny, I can tell you from a personal point of view, watching him as a leader, as a well-organized, experienced person in the space, interim tag or not, I can tell you from the first day that we really interacted, I viewed him as the next GM of the Philadelphia Flyers," Hilferty said. "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."

More: Jones, Briere have something notable to help fend off inexperience concerns

3. 'What tells me more is he stayed'

The Flyers have big decisions ahead this summer as they try to continue to get younger. They need to maximize this offseason to better position themselves for the future.

As president, Jones will have full authority on decisions within the hockey ops department. He'll be involved on the business side, as well.

As general manager, Briere will have full autonomy with the roster. The 45-year-old has been considered a rising talent evaluator in league circles.

His playing days with the Flyers started in 2007 when he signed here as a free agent. The 5-foot-9 center became a beloved playoff performer in Philadelphia with his knack for delivering in clutch moments and thinking the game at a different level.

"I have the ultimate confidence that Danny Briere is the right man for this job," Jones said. "I have had many conversations about hockey with Danny. What impresses me the most about Danny is his mind. What I'm also impressed with is he stayed here. He selected the Philadelphia Flyers to come play for as an unrestricted free agent — could have went anywhere in the league. That tells me a lot. What tells me more is he stayed. That's what's probably something, when I look at Danny Briere, that stands out to me. He wanted to be a Flyer. He put the work in to become, eventually, the Flyers' general manager. He's ready for it."

Jones' voice will be heard, as it should. The 54-year-old will give Briere input and they'll work together. But Briere makes the final call on roster and draft decisions. Tortorella is expected to be heavily involved, too, on the roster.

"I'm here for Danny Briere — whatever he needs, whenever he needs it," Jones said. "I will give my opinion to Danny and Danny will make the final decision on player personnel, trades, etc.

"I've been away, I've been working. Danny had no idea that I was going to be the guy. So, we're going to get to some real conversations here in the next little while and I so much look forward to getting to those conversations."

Briere and the Flyers have stressed rebuilding the club the right way. The GM won't publicly predict when the team will be contending again.

 

He's eager to have Jones now in his corner. Both are the opposite of power-hungry people.

"I'm ecstatic about it," Briere said. "I'm so excited. Just listening to his opinion over the years, having a chance to be around him with some alumni stuff that we've done over the years, I can't be any happier than to have him around there. So I have no worries that it's going to work.

"I don't want people around me that are just yes-men or yes-women. It's including everybody. I want different opinions, I want people to bring their own vision and we'll come up with the right answer."

Jordan Hall/NBC Sports Philadelphia
Keith Jones speaks as Danny Briere looks on during the opening statements of Friday's press conference.

4. 'Are the Flyers for sale?'

In his opening remarks, Hilferty made it a point to address a question the Flyers fielded during the president of hockey ops search.

"One thing we heard from a number of candidates who asked the question, 'Are the Flyers for sale?' Let me emphatically say — no," Hilferty said. "Comcast Spectacor intends to have a long and successful run as owner of the Flyers. Today, we start a new chapter, but before we get to that, I have a message for our fans. You, fans of the Philadelphia Flyers, are the heartbeat of this team. Everything we do has to be for you."

Hilferty, a 1978 graduate of Saint Joseph's, was very well-spoken at the press conference. He articulated a clear vision and was detailed about the organization's plan.

The fan base will want to see action back up the words. After all, it's a results-oriented business. Flyers fans have seen just one playoff series win over the last 11 years.

But being forthright and keeping them apprised on the direction of the team are things they can probably appreciate.

"It's going to be a multi-year process," Hilferty said. "I firmly believe, optimistically so, that if we share that with the fans, if we meet them where they are, they'll come along on that journey and get to know our players better, the younger players as they develop.

"We promise to be transparent along the way. This will not be perfect. No human organism is perfect. It will take time, so be patient with us, but know that our goal is singular — to deliver a championship or more and to be the envy of the NHL."

Despite lacking experience, Jones believes he and Briere will have everything they need.

"We have the resources to bring anybody we want," he said. "We want to be creative, we want to have the best people working for us to make us look smart. We're not going into this thinking we know it all. We are going to use what we have available to us to add to it, to get out there and make sure that we're doing everything we can to stay not only ahead of the game, but where we need to be in the game. That's going to be a process.

 

"But we have the resources to do that. This is a great franchise to work for, we're very fortunate. And we're going to use those resources, we're going to push the envelope, we're going to be digging, we're going to find ways to get ourselves back quicker than it may appear. We're going to do everything we can to do it."

5. Tortorella slams ex-Flyers criticism

As one might expect, Tortorella didn't sugarcoat his feelings.

Especially about the hot-button topic of the Flyers hiring former Flyers.

"Why do people think that they're diseased, if you’re an ex-Flyer and you come from the organization, that you shouldn't be in this organization? That we need to look outside?" Tortorella said. "It's the person you're looking at. I'm proud that they are Flyers, I'm proud of these guys over here and other alumni that care about this organization. That's what thrills me the most.

"I think we have strong personalities and I think they care. I don't get some of the thinking out in this city, 'Oh, it's an ex-Flyer again, they're doing it the same way.' God damn. It is so important to have that belief, so I'm thrilled. I can't wait to get to work and already starting to do it."

Hilferty called Tortorella the Flyers' "spiritual leader."

Tortorella sat next to Jones. He's pumped to work with him.

"This guy here has followed the league and his job for years — talking to coaches, GMs, understanding players, systems, all that," Tortorella said. "That is so important to get his view. We're going to have some arguments along the way and that's healthy. But to know that we're in it together, I'm thrilled."

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