Back on Nov. 27, 2018, Dave Scott was poignant and blunt about his business letting down an important group of investors.
For the second straight season, the Flyers were in last place of the Metropolitan Division at Thanksgiving.
"I personally feel our fans deserve better," Scott, the chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, said at the time. "I think we have great fans and they have been patient."
Scott and then-team president Paul Holmgren made the decision to fire general manager Ron Hextall. The Flyers wanted more progress and, therefore, more action — "really making some things happen," as Scott said.
In 2019-20, Flyers fans required much less patience and Scott saw the results of greater action. After stomaching the tumultuous 2018-19 campaign, they watched the best home team in hockey this season. No NHL club had more wins or a better point percentage on home ice than the Flyers (25-6-4, .771), who turned into a top-six team overall a year after finishing 22nd in the league standings.
On Thursday, Scott was able to sing a different tune compared to November 2018, a time that triggered a domino effect of change within the team's hockey operations department and coaching staff.
The club is now in promising position to go on a run during the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament. As the new-look Flyers began rolling in November, attendance started to spike.
"It was wonderful," Scott said of the Flyers' dominance at the Wells Fargo Center. "The energy was great in the building, that’s the best since I’ve been around we’ve ever played at home. Look at the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference, too, we had a tremendous record this season. I thoroughly enjoyed it and we’re ready for the next step here."
The desired action truly commenced last offseason. New general manager Chuck Fletcher brought on board experienced coaches Alain Vigneault, Mike Yeo and Michel Therrien. Then, over a span of 11 days last June, Fletcher signed Kevin Hayes (after trading for his contractual rights earlier in the month) and traded for Matt Niskanen, Justin Braun and Tyler Pitlick. At this February's trade deadline, Fletcher acquired Derek Grant and Nate Thompson to supplement the team's run.
"I couldn’t be happier with what we’ve done, what was done at the trade deadline, the new guys coming in, Kevin and the others," Scott said of Fletcher's work. "I think we got it right — it’s a great balance, the new additions, the vets fit in really great with our whole team. ... I couldn’t be happier with what he’s put together."
Fletcher and the Flyers have much more work to do, though. The GM knows that. Professional sports are a what-have-you-done-for-me-now business. The Flyers haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1975. They haven't won a playoff series since 2012. Ultimately, Scott and the fans will want more than just a strong regular season or one bounce-back year. There are also difficult decisions ahead from a roster standpoint after 2019-20.
"It's all about winning, whether it's in business or a hockey team and getting deep in the playoffs and winning the Cup — I mean, that's what we're all after," Scott said back in November 2018.
The Flyers will have a unique and different 2020-21, as well. The season will start later (possibly Dec. 1) and the question of when fans are allowed back in the stands is completely up in the air, particularly after the city's announcement of its plan to cancel all large-scale events through February 2021.
"We’re a little disappointed to see that order but as we've gotten to understand it more, that’s a long time away through February," Scott said. "I don’t think we have full clarity from the mayor’s office or the city. That’s a long time away and we’re hopeful that date could move up.
"In terms of what it does financially, our idea was always to start with social distancing as we kind of came back for the next season. It hurts a little bit, but it’s not the end of the world. The goal is to start the next season, at least have the games on television. Never really had the expectation by this fall or late this year, that we’d really be in a position to have fans in the building. I think as we get into calendar ’21, we've got a lot of thoughts around social distancing and kind of ramping up from there as people feel safer. Hopefully we get a vaccination at some point here in the not-too-distant future."
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