It is interesting to think that only a short while ago, Flyers fans were excited at the prospect of the organization branching out from internal options and former beloved players when recruiting key staff. Even though he was a former Flyer, this modus operandi of changing the Flyers’ core culture by looking externally started with now Penguins GM Ron Hextall.
Hextall balked at previous Flyer tendencies to solve their problems with money, signing free agents to large, regrettable contracts, and acquiring former star players who were past their primes. He also balked at the idea of the “Flyer Brotherhood”, where positions within the club (apart from head coach) almost always went to former players who ensured the club culture remained in tact. Sure, former players loved this, and it fostered a love for the franchise among its alumni, however, to Hextall (and many fans) it had meant a distinct lack of a clear-cut plan for winning in the salary cap era.
Fast forward to 2022, and we almost appear to be re-treading on this idea of the external auditor. Though the General Manager is still Chuck Fletcher, a non-Flyer alumni, the idea of returning to the Flyer culture of the “glory days”, when the Flyers made the playoffs every season, is making a strong comeback.
What we are seeing is a want for a return to the familiar, after such a long absence of what people loved about the Flyers. To quote an article we wrote close after Hextall’s firing:
When Ron Hextall was hired it was a very different time. Fans and ownership grew tired of seeing players the Flyers had drafted or once employed hoisting Stanley Cups in towns other than Philadelphia. Justin Williams, Mark Recchi, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, and others set the stage for Hextall to sell the thing he was always best at as GM: patience.
There is a key word in that quote: patience. The Flyers of old reflected the attitudes of their fans who wanted to win, and win now. They often made moves, either smart or rash, that dynamically changed both the roster and the team’s fortunes. They traded Peter Forsberg. They traded for a close to retirement Adam Oates. They signed a free agent Vincent Lecavalier.
The Flyers under Hextall also rid themselves of the family atmosphere that the Flyers worked so hard to cultivate. Call the “wings and pizza” quotes after Hextall’s firing what you will, but it is wholly indicative of player and staff attitudes under a man who, while well intentioned, sacrificed something in the name of process in a world where cap hits and draft picks matter more than ever.
However, to circle back to recent news, the Daniel Brière hire feels almost like a direct response to the last decade of Flyer hockey. His new position, combined with the quotes coming out of the Chuck Fletcher and Dave Scott “state of the Flyers” press conference, hint to a return of free-wheeling, big-spending thinking. The old boys’ club mentality, and the urgency to make the playoffs no matter what, seem to be back. If you could summarize their words into a single quote, “forget a rebuild, the Flyers will be good no matter what” would be wholly appropriate.
However, while I’m sure that signaling such intentions to win now, and that Daniel Brière can bring some good ideas to the table that will help the Flyers, that doesn’t make the reality of the situation surrounding this team go away. They will have to pay attention to the salary cap, focus their efforts on development, and they should probably trade the likes of Claude Giroux.
No amount of free agent spending is going to fix that. While higher-ups in the organization seem determined to bring back the depth of the likes of the 2003-04 Flyers, it simply isn’t possible anymore. Just look at the cap gymnastics the Vegas Golden Knights are having to do with Jack Eichel.
What the Flyers need is a blend of their old-school, and new-school approaches they have adopted over the past decade, and hopefully Brière can help the Flyers realize this,