President Keith Jones? A Gamble Worth Taking for the Philadelphia Flyers

I used to run a fantasy football league in the late 1990s and early 2000s with a bunch of my friends. At one point we expanded the number of teams in the league and WIP morning show producer Joe Weachter joined.

After a couple seasons, in the summer of 2002, he emailed me. He wanted to change his team name, because he was adding a co-owner for the team.

The team would now be called “The Can-Am Connection.”

The new co-owner? Keith Jones.

From that point forward, the Can-Am Connection was one of the league’s most dominant teams. It won a couple championships and reached a third.

When I would see Jonesy in the Wells Fargo Center press box, he would always take the opportunity to rub it in about how good the Can-Am Connection was doing.

One time, I finally said to him, “Do you even know what players are on your team?”

And he responded, “Nope. But Weachter does. And we’re winning. That’s the sign of a good manager, buddy. Hire the right people, let them do their job and sit back and reap the rewards.”

When our Snow the Goalie colleague Chris Therien broke the news on Twitter Wednesday afternoon that Jones was being hired as the Flyers President of Hockey Operations, after I got over my initial surprise, I immediately remembered this conversation. But now Jonesy is no longer running a fantasy team. He’s running a real one. Can he do it?

Jones, 54, has been a Flyers color analyst for 18 years and gained a national profile working in the same role for multiple networks, most recently with TNT.

Jones has no formal experience on the hockey operations side of the sport, moving quickly into broadcasting once his 11-year playing career wrapped up in 2001, the final three seasons with the Flyers.

Jones was originally brought on board as a part-time guest host on the WIP morning radio show hosted by Angelo Cataldi in 2002. It helped build his profile as a beloved figure in Philadelphia, and that was only furthered with his work on the broadcast and in the studio at NBC Sports Philadelphia.

 

While Jones will team up GM Danny Briere (who, unsurprisingly, had the interim tag removed) to make up an inexperienced front office, Jones is well-liked by everyone in the sport of hockey, is a very good communicator and is well-connected throughout the sport, which should benefit him with ensuring the right team is in place in the Flyers front office.

The Flyers are taking a huge gamble and hoping that it pays off. In essence, they are all-in on Briere as a GM, and Jones will let Danny do his job without meddling. Will he be a part of the decision-making process? Absolutely. But unlike other POHOs, Jones won’t be the be all, end all decision maker.

That’s what makes what the Flyers are doing here so unique and different and outside-the-box.

That’s right, this is an outside-the-box hire. Just because Jones is connected to the Flyers family as a former player and long-time broadcaster, it doesn’t mean that this was just another typical Flyers hire.

If anything, its atypical.

They could have hired someone like long-time San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson, who interviewed for the job. Wilson has the front office track record, but so did Chuck Fletcher. How did that work out?

They could have gone a more traditional route and hired a Scott Mellanby or a John Chyka – guys who also interviewed and had a wealth of front office experience.

But they didn’t.

They could have hired Chris Pronger, who also interviewed for the job, but wanted to run things in a more traditional manner and wanted to be the head honcho on decision-making, which cut him out of the picture.

Or, they could have hired Ed Olcyzk, Anther long-time national broadcaster who was once the coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

According to Frank Seravalli of The Daily Faceoff, he was the runner-up – something that seems to happen to Edzo frequently on these job searches.

And ultimately, maybe Jones getting this gig over Olczyk is payback 13 years later:

Jonesy has always been a guy who likes to have fun, and his lighthearted personality is something the Flyers are also hoping to cash in on – as he is beloved not just in Philly but all across the league, so he will be a great public face for the organization.

Make no mistake, Jones might be a guy who makes you laugh, but he’s not just a guy who makes fart jokes on the radio.

He’s smart. He’s sharp. And he knows the game.

Bundy and I talked about this during the Snow The Goalie live stream this morning. Broadcasters often have more intel than anyone on players, teams, coaches and schematics.

Well-traveled goalie Mike McKenna, who retired after a cup of coffee with the Flyers, said something similar on Daily Faceoff Live

And it’s not like there isn’t precedent for this from around the league. John Davidson went from the broadcast booth to the President’s role in New York (and later Columbus). Dale Tallon became a GM in Chicago – and won the Stanley Cup.

Jonesy’s greatest role will be that of a unifier. Continuing to repair a relationship with the fans that started in January, 2022. Forging new relationships between the Hockey Operations and the Business Operations, a relationship that has been estranged for several years. And most importantly, providing leadership in hockey operations and cleaning up the mess that has been made there in recent seasons, ensuring that everyone is pulling on the same rope together and eliminating the dysfunction that has festered for too long.

He’s also going to be willing to let John Tortorella work more hand-in-hand with Briere when it comes to getting the Flyers on the right path. It will be more input than most coaches are granted in the NHL, and may have many in the sport raising an eyebrow in disdain at such a notion.

You know why? Because that’s not how it’s ever been done before.

That’s why this is different, fresh, unique and a brand-new approach to managing an NHL Hockey team.

It’s no surprise that the Flyers posted this message to fans on social media mere minutes before officially announcing Jones as the new President:

They are going to try and turn the traditional hockey structure on it’s ear and create a new standard that others will eventually want to copy.

Will it work? Who knows. I sure don’t. I understand the reservations as much as I understand the vision.

Which is why, if you ask me if I think it’ll work I’ll give you mostly a hedge answer of maybe or maybe not right now, but there is one thing I’m confident in predicting – It’ll either be brilliant, and the Flyers will be remembered as being trailblazers of a new kind of leadership structure, or it will fail miserably, and they’ll be the laughingstock of the league. There won’t be a middle ground.

But, in my gut, I lean toward believing it will be a success. That’s from knowing these key players as long as I have. I was there in 2004 when a fiery Torts told then-Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock to “Shut Yer Yap.” I was there in 2010 when Briere told me the Flyers were going to come back from 0-3 against Boston and win the series. And, as you read in the beginning, I know Jonesey on a different plane. I know him as a truly likeable person and someone who has always been willing to help you or check in on you.

Another anecdote: When I went through my big COVID scare in 2021, many people in the Flyers community reached out and checked in on me. Several sent texts of encouragement or made a quick phone call.

Jonesy did neither.

Instead, Jonesy took the time to talk to me in person. He took the time to ask real questions, and not just “How ya feeling?” He was actually concerned about me as a person.

And while it didn’t take much for him to show that, it spoke volumes. Jonesy cares about people. He cares about the hockey community, but most importantly, he cares about the Flyers. Like the rest of us, he’s tired of watching the unwatchable. He’s tired of the Flyers being irrelevant. He’s tired of all anger and vitriol.

He wants to effectuate change. Put that together with his will to win, and the fierce and competitive drive of both Briere and Torts – both of whom still have that same fire burning as two decades ago, and you have that triumvirate of leadership that new CEO Dan Hilferty believes will bring success – and maybe sooner than we all expect.

There will be detractors of this approach for sure. And in the end, they might end up being right and do a happy dance on the Flyers grave that will put Russ’ celebration of the Fletcher firing to shame. But the whole thing is really fascinating to me. I think it will be thoroughly entertaining to watch it play out to see if it works or not.

Ultimately, it will be better, considering the people involved, to show them some grace and latitude and let it play out rather than try to eviscerate the new-fangled approach before it even gets out of the starting gate.

And if it works, well then my goofball fantasy football friends and I will have one hell of a story to tell.

For more Flyers coverage, follow Snow The Goalie with Anthony SanFilippo, Russ Joy, and Chris Therien on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

   

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