Flyers execs offer updates on the ‘new era of orange’ and adding to the roster: ‘There’s no room for error’

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VOORHEES, N.J. — A little more than a year ago, newly appointed Flyers president of hockey operations Keith Jones and Comcast Spectacor CEO Dan Hilferty plainly admitted that the path in front of them was going to be arduous.

They both knew that, on the ice and in the dressing room, the Flyers were a mostly directionless group with a fractured culture that head coach John Tortorella quickly determined had to be remedied. Also, they were mostly irrelevant in a major sports market that had grown weary from a litany of poor roster decisions by then-general manager Chuck Fletcher, and head-scratching judgment calls by business side executives who never really seemed to fully grasp or understand the organization’s more than a half-century of history and legacy.

“Any time there’s a new regime, there’s a reason that there’s a new regime,” Hilferty said on Wednesday at the Flyers’ training facility, sitting alongside Jones for what was an approximately half-hour news conference. “Folks either decided to retire, folks are asked to move on. If you look at the track record we’ve had over the past decade, it’s been not a great one. … The whole ‘New Era of Orange’ was about, we’re going to, as much as we can, look each of you in the eye and have an honest conversation about where we are.”

So, honestly, where are they?

From a business standpoint, Hilferty mentioned that season-ticket renewals were somewhere between 92 and 95 percent, which he called “a good number.” He indicated he was pleased with the way suite and sponsorship sales were trending, too, without mentioning any dollar figures or breaking out any presentations.

But what Hilferty wants most of all is to see a capacity crowd of orange and black sweaters at Wells Fargo Center for games that, at least in the Flyers’ heyday, tended to have the most meaning. Recent Flyers-Rangers games, to use the most glaring example, have provided an influx of visiting fans in their broadway blues. Ticket prices to see one of the best teams in the NHL in recent years are typically cheaper on the secondary market in Philadelphia than in Manhattan.

“I long for a day that people are so excited that not a Rangers fan can get a ticket at a (Flyers) home game at the Wells Fargo Center,” Hilferty said. “We’re not there yet, but we are seeing more enthusiasm when we talk to people.”

Of course, nothing would build enthusiasm more than a consistently winning brand of hockey. And that, Jones reiterated, could still be a few years away, despite an overachieving and entertaining 2023-24 Flyers squad playing 82 games of meaningful hockey.

While Hilferty expressed confidence that fans are starting to return and pay more attention, blowing a playoff spot in April was still a missed opportunity. After the Flyers admirably put themselves in a position to get back on the Philadelphia sports radar, particularly with the more casual hockey fans, it passed them by. Whether it was simply poor play, odd decisions and comments from Tortorella, or, in all likelihood, a combination of the two, the Flyers’ late-season collapse surely left a poor taste in the mouths of many of the most faithful fans.

It also was a reflection of how difficult the jobs of Hilferty and Jones truly are as they try to walk the line of icing an entertaining product while staying focused on the future. Jones even admitted that had the Flyers retained defenseman Sean Walker at the trade deadline, rather than move him to Colorado for a first-round pick in 2025, they probably would have finished at least three points higher in the standings — ahead of the Capitals, and maybe even Islanders, who managed to qualify before both were promptly eliminated in the first round.

But acquiring that extra first-round draft pick for Walker was vital “in a very important draft,” Jones said. “Had Sean Walker stayed with the team, is there three points in there for us? Yes. Then, we’re in the playoffs. We would have battled hard, and we would have been a difficult opponent.”

The silver lining for Jones is that what happened during an eight-game losing streak from March 24 through April 9, which ultimately cost the Flyers a playoff spot, is something that the young players, in particular, can learn from.

“I think some of the disappointment in the losses at the end of the season is going to be something that our players carry with them,” Jones said. “I think it’s going to be valuable to them. We didn’t lose to some of the best teams in the league. We lost to some of the worst teams. It wasn’t playoff teams ramping up their play and taking advantage of us. It was us overlooking the opponents that we were playing.

“Does it diminish what our guys accomplished throughout the year? I don’t think it does.”

As far as their timeline to compete, Jones vocalized what anyone with access to CapFriendly already knows: the amount of dead salary-cap money the Flyers are carrying into next season is ample, and depending on whether the team buys any players out later this offseason — a distinct possibility — they will likely be a cap-strapped in the 2025 offseason, too.

Once that money is off of the books, well, then the real fun can begin — as long as they act responsibly from now until then.

“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. 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.”

Something else they’re paying attention to is nearly 5,000 miles away — and completely out of their control. Prospect Matvei Michkov, the No. 7 pick in the 2023 draft, remains under contract with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL for the next two seasons, but there was been speculation based on unconfirmed reports out of Russia that he could terminate his contract and join the Flyers as soon as the end of this month.

Jones didn’t offer much when asked about Michkov’s status, but also pointed out that the goal-scoring winger would add a different element to the roster, which could use more high-end skill — particularly on offense, and on the abysmal power play.

“When we drafted him, the expectation was he would finish his contract with SKA,” Jones said. “So, we are listening. We are reading many of your articles and kind of following along. We have no update on it.

“We would welcome him with open arms. We absolutely love what he is going to bring to the Flyers. If that timeline is sped up, that would be wonderful. But we don’t know. We’ll watch along closely, like you guys are as well, and when he arrives, our fan base is going to be pretty excited about getting a really talented player that is different than what we have right now.”

Hilferty joked that he calls Jones three times a day to inquire about Michkov’s status. Jones, in typical fashion, joked that he doesn’t pick up.

“Yeah, I hope it happens,” Hilferty said. “But we knew he’s under a three-year contract. … It’s a situation we have zero control over. We’ll continue to watch him, regardless of where he plays. At some point, it will be a great thing for the Philadelphia Flyers.”

In the meantime, Hilferty and Jones both expect to build on some of the positives that they say have emerged over the last 12-plus months.

“We wanted it to be an environment where people felt good about what we were doing and where we were headed,” Jones said. “I do think that’s something that occurred over the last year.”

(Photo of Keith Jones in April: Len Redkoles / NHLI via Getty Images)

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