The Flyers need help
Instead of taking retreads from teams like Minnesota, the Flyers need to look to the league's elite in their rebuild
Nothing makes procrastinating easier than baseball.
With the Broad Street Run coming up Sunday, I had to put in some miles Sunday. I went to a wedding the night before, so you can see where this is going. I put it off until after the Phils closed out a win. I didn’t realize this was a mistake.
Probably 45 minutes after the final out, I had to swerve through a sea of red t-shirts descending from the El and filling my neighborhood’s sidewalks. I can’t believe it happened this quickly, but the Phillies are back.
Now, at risk of turning this into The Good Phight, I think it’s important to remember where the Phillies stood a few years ago. Long story short, the Phillies entered a rebuild led by President Andy MacPhail, who previously worked in Baltimore, and General Manager Matt Klentak, who previously worked with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The MacPhail/Klentak Phillies didn’t develop anyone, tried to outspend their problems, and never got better than mediocre. Despite their efforts, the Phillies were not serious people, as Logan Roy would say.
Following the 2020 season, the team turned over baseball operations to Dave Dombrowski, who led the team to a pennant in his second season, found some blue chip prospects, implemented a structure that repaired a couple eroded assets, and resuscitated a fan base that is fifth in average attendance this season.
The point I’m getting at is that the next month is incredibly important for the Flyers, as they hire a new president. Are they going to find their MacPhail or their Dombrowski?
At this point, I’m unsure. On one hand, John Tortorella was hired without any attachment to the team’s history. He was the only one to bluntly acknowledge the amount of work that needs to be done to build a winner.
On the other hand, Danny Briere will likely be the full-time general manager. Maybe he’s a wunderkind, but his resume is basically that he played for the Flyers, ran Comcast Spectacor’s ECHL team, took some classes at Penn, and served as a special assistant in the previous regime’s disaster of a front office for a couple years. I guess it’s encouraging that the Canadiens gave him a serious look at their top job, but it feels like there must be more qualified candidates around the league.
Neither MacPhail or Klentak came from organizations that are known for success. Briere has never worked in a successful front office. Even Tortorella, who must be included as he is being considered a part in the impending triumvirate of decision makers, only has two 100-point years and no conference championships in his 16 seasons since the 2004-05 lockout. For perspective, twelve teams reached the century mark this year.
Dombrowski has now led four different organizations to the World Series, and he’s won with two of them. While acknowledging that the salary cap makes team building trickier in hockey, the current management group lacks someone with the experience of working in a successful front office in the modern NHL. The Flyers have preached culture building, but how does anyone in this organization even know what a good organization looks like from the top down in 2023?
It's probably too simplistic to demand they hire someone from Colorado or Tampa Bay, but, well, wouldn’t it make sense to try to find someone with a little more recent success? For a team with so many financial advantages, it feels like they have rarely flexed them to bring in accomplished front-office executives.
Maybe part of the reason is that the Flyers could rely on their internal pipeline. Or, more specifically, Bob Clarke’s. After Clarke’s second tenure ended, his assistant, Paul Holmgren, took over. Clarke’s former director of professional personnel, Ron Hextall, took over for Holmgren. Chuck Fletcher, who was Clarke’s assistant in Florida in the early 90’s, took over for Hextall.
Clarke had success, both on the ice and in his time as the Flyers’ GM. It’s easy to understand how he had confidence in his guys. But the only hire who had any experience in a successful organization since the lockout was Hextall. While Hextall’s results were mixed, he was also the only one who had any semblance of a plan.
No options are absolutes. Steve Yzerman has overseen Detroit’s rebuild the past four years and hasn’t recreated the success he had in Tampa. Joe Sakic only needed two years to work his way up in a shaky Colorado organization before building a juggernaut. But most of the people in charge of current playoff teams at least held a position in a successful front office before leading an organization.
The Flyers need to forge a new path, and it should be led by someone who knows how to get to the promised land in today’s NHL. It goes without saying how important the complement to Briere and Tortorella will be. Miss on the hire, and we’re stuck where we’re at. But the right front office could replicate the same kind of energy the Phillies are bringing to my neighborhood.