Flyers president Paul Holmgren met with the assembled media in Voorhees on and gave an answer to a question that's been lingering in the back of all our minds since the death of Ed Snider two weeks ago: who calls the shots around here now?
As it turns out, hockey operations will still mostly be the sole responsibility of Holmgren and Ron Hextall. They have a budget from Comcast-Spectacor, and as long as they stay inside that budget they'll be free to do whatever they please.
But outside of that budget, should those circumstances arise, things will go directly to the top: Comcast-Spectacor president Dave Scott will call the shots should something need further approval. Those inquiries previously went to Mr. Snider, although Scott was hand-selected by Snider to run Comcast-Spectacor back in 2014. Brian Roberts, the chief executive officer of Comcast Corporation -- yes, the guy who is in charge of all the cable and stuff -- has a role in all of this too.
"I think it’ll be handled the same way," Holmgren said. 'We have a budget that we agreed on with Mr. Snider or Brian Roberts, whoever. I mean, obviously we dealt with Mr. Snider in the past but I’m sure Brian was aware of what was going on. Dave Scott, who’s been part of the organization for the past two years, he’s been involved a lot this year in what we’re doing. So where we talk about budgets, we have our budget that we move forward with and [Hextall] knows the parameters. If there’s something that maybe doesn’t fit in what we have budgeted for, then we’ll probably have another meeting."
"If the money’s in the budget, then we’re fine. If it’s not in the budget, then we talk about what we’re gonna do with Dave and with Brian."
With that, we'd be silly not to wonder if the Flyers' free-spending ways will change. I've been nervously thinking about this part of an old 2014 Philadelphia Daily News article for years:
When [Dave] Scott was hired - first on an interim basis before accepting a long-term contract last spring - many believed he would focus on the bottom line. He said in the interview with the Business Journal that he wanted to be careful to not "Comcastize" the sports and entertainment arm of the cable giant.
Scott was not available for comment on this story.
It is no secret, though, that Scott and [Comcast-Spectacor CFO Gary] Rostick believe the Flyers could be more profitable. According to Forbes Magazine, the Flyers were seventh in the NHL with a $136 million operating revenue last season but just 14th in operating income (profit) with $11 million.
Part of that is due to the Flyers' hockey operations payroll. The hard salary cap is designed to help maximize profit through fixed spending. Under Holmgren, the Flyers exceeded the salary cap every season in real dollars and are committed to long-term payments for buyouts to remove disastrous deals.
Former goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov will receive $1.64 million per year through 2027. Deals like that hurt the company's bottom line, without question.
As long as Ed Snider is chairman, Hextall and the Flyers will not be asked to cut back on spending on the hockey club.
As long as Ed Snider is chairman. Well, Ed Snider is clearly not chairman any more. There are a lot of people in the front office who seem to be taking it as their personal mission to make sure things do not change post-Snider, but at the end of the day, Comcast owns 63 percent of Comcast-Spectacor (compared to the 37 percent stake owned by Snider's estate) and they get to call the shots here. It's their team.
Holmgren gave a glimpse into the thinking of both Roberts and Scott in his comments on Wednesday.
"I know from talking with Brian Roberts that he wants to win," Holmgren said. "He wants to win in the worst way. And Dave Scott, I’m getting to know. I think Dave is enjoying – well, he even made the comment there that being owner of a hockey team is a lot more fun than doing cable TV stuff. And it is.
"So we hope that in time he becomes more invested in the hockey team and learns the game more. I’ve spent a great deal of time with Dave over the last couple years, just talking about the game. Because to his credit, he knows he doesn’t know a lot about it, but he’s willing to listen and learn and watch, so I think it’s going to be great moving forward. So no, I don’t think there’ll be any change. We’re trying to win."
If anything, maybe this just means that the Flyers will smarten up when it comes to spending. Hextall's vision for the team is one that still spends but is certainly a lot more fiscally responsible, which simply was not the case under Holmgren or under Bob Clarke before him. That could be a good thing, as it could save the Flyers from doing silly things with their money, like the Bryzgalov contract. But it could also mean they might lack the ability to take big risks, like the Shea Weber offer sheet from four years ago.
I guess the real answer is that we simply don't know what the future holds. If you'll believe Holmgren though, he doesn't expect much to be different. Asked point blank today if Flyers fans should be nervous about change, his response?
"No. Not at all."