Flyers analysis

Hilferty ‘thrilled' with Flyers' direction, Jones opens up on rebuild timeline

The Flyers fell short of the playoffs on the final day of the season in Year 1 under their new leadership

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This season, his first as the Flyers' head of ownership, Dan Hilferty attended close to 60 of the team's 82 games.

That's a lot.

That's not missing a beat at home, that's going on the road and that's getting a real pulse of the Flyers' rebuild.

Hilferty would watch the staff after games. Win or loss, he'd always visit the locker room.

He was left impressed.

"Just the love between those players and the folks that work from the equipment management on up to the coaches," the Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO and Flyers governor said. "It's telling."

Hilferty, who noticeably put himself out there this season, had a press conference Wednesday alongside president of hockey operations Keith Jones. The two discussed the state of the Flyers about a month and a half after general manager Danny Briere and head coach John Tortorella did the same three days following the season finale.

"We're going to do this every year," Hilferty said, "and it's our way of making sure that you hear from all four of us."

The 2023-24 season was the organization's first with Hilferty, Jones and Briere in their roles, and Year 2 of Tortorella being the steward behind the bench. Last summer, the Flyers publicly embraced a rebuild as all four figures spoke on a stage in the middle of the Wells Fargo Center.

The Flyers turned out to be a surprise playoff contender this season. But a 2-7-2 finish, including an eight-game losing streak, saw the Flyers go from a driver's seat in the race to being eliminated on Game 82. In the grand scheme, though, the Flyers overachieved and stayed true to their future at the trade deadline.

"I'm just really excited about where we are," Hilferty said. "Thrilled with Keith's leadership, thrilled with Danny's leadership, how the two of them work together. Thrilled with Coach Tortorella and the way the three of them can finish each other's sentences, and how, together, we're going to build a winner.

"I think we all have healthy egos and I think these guys, obviously if you play in the NHL at the level Keith and Danny did, coach in the NHL at the level that Torts has, ego is involved. But I’ve never once seen — now maybe when they close the doors and really talk hockey, the sparks fly — but I've never seen an unwillingness to share and listen to other points of view. For me, that's No. 1, that we're building this culture of collaboration. I see it, day in and day out."

More: Jones says Flyers were a playoff team with Walker, didn't forget rebuild

Considering the Flyers are focused on the long term but narrowly missed the playoffs, the debate over the club's timeline has been fueled. When might the Flyers become a spender? When could they look to shed the rebuild label?

"I think the one indicator on the timeline that's out there for everyone to see is the money that we have tied up right now for players that aren't playing for our team," Jones said. "A lot of that is going to start to come off of the cap. I do think that, if you're looking further down the line, that is where we're going to start to have some real key decisions to make. We have to get them right. There's no room for error on whatever players we add to the mix in a couple of years. Those are things that we have to pay a lot of attention to right now. And that's something that we're really focused on."

The Flyers are awfully tight on cap space. However, after next season, they'll have some money coming off the books. Cam Atkinson ($5.875 million cap hit), Cal Petersen ($5M) and Ryan Johansen ($4M) are all on expiring contracts in 2024-25, which is also the final season of Tony DeAngelo's buyout. The retained salary from the Kevin Hayes trade spans two more seasons.

We'll see if the Flyers make a decision on Atkinson's future this offseason. Petersen was acquired in the Ivan Provorov trade last summer to help the Flyers net a first-round pick and Johansen's contract was taken on in the Sean Walker trade this season, a deal that also yielded a first-round pick. Including last summer's draft, the Flyers have a chance to make six first-round selections in a three-year span.

If the Flyers are able to spend come 2025-26, they need to make sure they're in position to attract free agents, that they're a team built to take the next step.

"I think there's a blueprint out there that we can maximize and hit on, but we've got to do it right," Jones said. "I'm pretty confident that we have a group of people around with Dan's support and Danny Briere pounding the pavement to find those type of players. I think we're going to be in a position to get things to a point where we're playing in the playoffs, not just for one year, but for multiple seasons trying to contend and win a Stanley Cup.

"Some of that is growth from within, some of our younger players, and whoever we draft with the two first-round picks we have this year and then the multiple first-round picks next year. It's going to be key. But at the same time, the removal of money off the cap, the dead money, is something that we're going to be able to use to our benefit, as long as we do everything right here and make sure that this is a place that people want to play."

The Flyers wanted to put a significant emphasis on reconnecting with their fans this season and the team's new braintrust to be as transparent as possible through the start of the rebuild.

Part of the transparency was Wednesday's press conference.

"If you look at the track record that we've had over the past decade, it's been not a great one," Hilferty said. "We needed to change the discussion around, 'Oh, here they go again, it's a losing environment,' to, 'What are they up to? They're not overpromising, but they're looking us in the eye and having a conversation about where we're headed.' And that's what we've tried to change."

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