The Flyers, at long last, are entering a new era. Chuck Fletcher was relieved of his duties as General Manager and President of Hockey Operations this morning, and the latest installment of the Flyers’ stopgap, mend on the fly, “it’s a retool, Charlie” model has come to an end. In his place, they’ve promoted Daniel Brière from his special advisory position to the role of interim General Manager, and the question of where they go from here, what they want to be, has been smashed wide open.
The Flyers are at an inflection point here. We’ve said that before. We’ve beaten the “two years away from being two years away” joke close to clear into the ground, but only because we’ve been allowed to, its relevance persisting into seeming perpetuity.
The hiring of Chuck Fletcher was an inflection point, meant to pull the team out of the murky middle ground of the league standings that they had been stuck in under Ron Hextall. Instead, they’ve regressed, lost many of the assets that Hextall was able to accumulate, all while still somehow managing to spend all the way to the salary cap ceiling. The insistence on making small moves to tinker with the roster in hopes that all of this would amount to enough to push the team over the edge fell short as it always has. The same old philosophy carried over from regime to regime failed, and we’re right back where we started again.
So ownership hopes to fix a familiar problem, but hopefully not in a familiar way. Brière holds the interim tag for now, but given his role in the organization in some capacity for the last five years, and the work that they has clearly been putting in to develop him into a future candidate for exactly this type of role, it’s easy to infer that he is the front runner to take this job permanently. And, heralded as the fresh idea having, pro-analytics, Actually Played In The Salary Cap Era successor, he would make for an intriguing change to head up the team.
If you’ll allow me to editorialize for a moment: I have a lot of belief in Brière’s potential as a General Manager. It’s not an easy gig to step into, but a Wharton education, and experience running the operations of an ECHL team and serving as an advisor in the Flyers’ front office isn’t exactly a weak foundation to be standing on.
I’m also in a unique position of having done some work for his Maine Mariners team (wherein I found him to be professional in his dealings and enthusiastic about new ideas—in this case, using micro stats to evaluate their players at the ECHL level). It’s a positive experience that I’ve carried with me, and is almost certainly driving its fair share of my own optimism.
But for all of the unfettered optimism that I have, even I understand that if installing Brière as General Manager is the end of the moves here, it is just another half measure that will fall short in the end.
Even from the outside, we’ve long understood that the General Manager has not been the root and end of all of the team’s problems. There are too many voices in the room who the organization has at once agreed that the modern game has passed by, but has still given sway over how that same modern team will be constructed. It is a faulty logic for good hockey business—and growing to be an anomaly in this league—and it is no wonder why it has failed time and again. The team cannot improve with the same old bygone advisors pulling on the same old strings.
But with all of that said, at the moment, there are reasons for cautious optimism that the changes coming to the organization will get it moving in the right direction again. The team has committed to breaking up the General Manager and President of Hockey Operations positions in the wake of Fletcher’s departure. There are rumblings that there will in fact be further departures at the top of the organization, and in their reactions to today’s news, Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman on 32 Thoughts further discussed the likelihood that the next General Manager will have more influence over the team than those in the recent past.
The writing on the wall is that ownership is at least somewhat aware of the problem with their management structure, while also understanding that a real, proper rebuild is their most sensible route forward. This is new too.
Time and again we’ve seen the team fail to land itself of the right side of the pivot point, instead opting to remain appeasing and within the bounds of what is comfortable, and skepticism that they will change that now feels justified. But for the first time in it’s hard to say how long, it feels as though the timing is right, the clouds are parting and real insight is breaking through, and the pieces are falling into place to effect the necessary changes to the organization.
The fix is not a sure thing, but the Flyers are in as strong of a position as ever to right the ship. So long as they can find their plan and finally, finally commit to it.