Patrick Sharp and John LeClair have more things in common than just being fellow University of Vermont alumni.
The connection stems from their time as Flyer players a couple decades ago and now is reborn as special assistants to hockey operations on the team.
Also, LeClair and Sharp have strong relationships with new president of hockey operations Keith Jones and it always helps to have friends in high places.
Both LeClair and Sharp — recently hired to the new positions — are in agreement that rebuilding a “winning culture” and developing Philadelphia’s young players will be key to turning around a franchise which has missed the playoffs the past three seasons.
During a media Zoom call on Wednesday morning, LeClair mapped out how important this process will be. Having familiar faces around should help the process.
The Flyers have always believed in bringing back former homegrown talent to fill management and coaching positions.
So it’s no surprise to see Jones hired to his position and Daniel Briere to his as general manager. Add LeClair and Sharp to that list.
“I think the biggest thing that drives that is the culture,” LeClair said. “The former guys who have been here understand the culture.
“That’s one thing we’ve talked about is that we’ve gotten away from a little bit of that. We want to get back to the culture that we had. . .the winning seasons. It didn’t bring us a (Stanley) Cup but we’re going to get to that next step and that’s what we want to do, get over that step – win the Cup.”
The recent disappointing seasons have been frustrating ones for everyone connected to the Flyers in some fashion.
“It seems like it’s gone a little bit away from the culture that we had,” LeClair said. “That excitement in the building. That feeling we had when the Flyers were one of the top teams in the NHL. That’s what we want to get back in a big way.”
LeClair said his connection with Jones (they played together briefly on a line with Eric Lindros) figured into his return to the organization.
When Jones was hired last month, LeClair gave him a call with congratulations and things went from there.
“I said if you need anything, I’m available, I would love to be a part of it,” LeClair said. “A little bit later he said I want to talk to you. I think there could be a great fit.
“To be able to be a part of what’s going on in the future, the vision of Danny and Jonesy, it’s something I’m very excited to be a part of.”
Helping out with young players’ development should be a natural for LeClair and Sharp.
“It’s going to be everything from watching games and practices, checking on prospects,” LeClair said. “I’m going to be another voice, another set of eyes. It’s going to be great.
“I think it (player development) is a big focus of the organization. Things aren’t good enough right now. We’re not where we want to be and we need to get better. To get better maybe we’re going to need some fresh legs. We have some pretty good talent we can develop.”
As a retired player, LeClair said his new role is about as close as you can get to playing in the NHL.
He’s been around the game long enough to know he can help out with young players.
“For me, I think it’s going to be a lot of having personal knowledge of the kid,” he said. “Having that rapport between kids that talk to you, feeling really comfortable about asking anything about their game, anything that’s bothering them.
“We want to make sure it’s a real friendly, open atmosphere.”
Sharp started his career in Philadelphia, went on to win three Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks, then spent five years as a hockey analyst, mostly working alongside Jones at NBC and TNT.
“It (the new job) popped up on the radar and it was perfect timing,” Sharp said. “We (the Sharp family) live on the East Coast now, close in proximity to Philadelphia and Allentown (home of the Flyers’ AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley Phantoms).
“The timing was right to try something new in my career.”
Working with young players would seem like a natural for Sharp, who won a Calder Cup with the Phantoms (2005) at the beginning of his career.
Like LeClair mentioned, it’s all about showing young players how to compete the right way.
“It’s important to me because it was helpful with my career,” he explained. “I started with the Flyers organization, played parts of three seasons with the Phantoms when they were back in Philadelphia.
“They were important years for me on the ice and off the ice. I grew up a lot as a person age 20 to 24. I was really thankful for the help of head coach John Stevens (Phantoms) and Ken Hitchcock (Flyers). A lot of leadership in the Phantoms room that pushed me to the next level.”
As Sharp was winning those Stanley Cups in the Windy City, he thought back to his own development years in Philly.
“When I was experiencing those things, I looked back at my time in Philadelphia and the steppingstone that I used in the minors,” he said. “I feel I got great experience that I can relate to the players and try and help them on their journey.”