Flyers keeping up with president Jones’ expectations

Keith Jones

      After making it a point to inform everyone the Flyers were going to be in rebuild mode this season and not to get hopes too high, the team has clearly outperformed expectations.

      Even president of hockey operations Keith Jones and general manager Daniel Briere have acknowledged their players have somewhat exceeded preseason hopes.

      Of course, this is just the scenario ownership/management wanted. Set the bar a little bit low, then when the team jumps into contention in late fall, everyone looks good.

      Jones played on a number of true contenders, including the 1999-2000 Flyers who made it all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.

      He’s not going to say outright that the Flyers are ahead of schedule in this rejuvenation project yet he has to be thinking this is going about as well as could be anticipated.

      “I’m really happy with the way our players treat one another, how much they love one another,” Jones said the other night at the Wells Fargo Center. “It’s how they play as a team, they’ve shown tremendous fight in the first half.

      “I feel they are a very good group of young men. I’m very happy with the direction that the team is headed.”

      While there was optimism that players such as defenseman Egor Zamula, forwards Bobby Brink and Tyson Foerster, plus goaltender Samuel Ersson would eventually become NHL regulars, few envisioned their performances coming this quickly.

      “I think Zamula has really emerged as a very good young defender,” Jones said. “Our blue line has been really good. That’s something that we put an emphasis on. (Newly acquired defenseman) Jamie (Drysdale) is only going to make that stronger. That’s an area where we want to continue to develop.

      “We want that to be a strength of our team. So far it’s been a real positive.”

      As for strengths over the first 41 games, penalty killing and, by extension, shorthanded goals have been  the biggest eye-openers. The PK has reached No. 2 in the NHL and the 10 shorthanded goals were No. 1 as of Friday.

      “It’s been awesome,” Jones said, “and (associate coach) Brad Shaw deserves a lot of credit with the work he puts in and the rest of the coaching staff. We have personnel that are really good in that regard. Some have been here in the past (Scott Laughton, Travis Konecny), some returning from injury (Sean Couturier, Cam Atkinson) and some new additions (Ryan Poehling, Garnet Hathaway).

      “We have multiple options to use while shorthanded. And I think that’s why they play with so much energy when they’re out there and that’s enabled them to go for it offensively when those chances are presented.”

      Deep down, Jones knew this Flyers team had the “right elements” to make a run at a playoff spot. They’ve been fortunate with their health so far and their leadership group has made the locker room a much more functional workshop.

      “I know they have what it takes to compete every night, whatever that opponent is,” Jones said. “Where that takes us, I don’t know. That’s something that we’re really proud of – the way that we play. They’re a fun group to watch. They play with energy and they play with the personality of our city. Those are all great things. I don’t know where this team ends up, but these guys have a tendency to surprise.”

      >President’s take on trade

      Like Briere, Jones has stated that if former first-round/No. 5 overall draft pick Cutter Gauthier didn’t want to be here, it’s best he ply his trade elsewhere. That’s another way of saying he was on board with the trade which sent Gauthier to Anaheim for Drysdale.

      “We tried everything we could,” Jones said. “But it’s over now. We got the new kid here and we’ve enjoyed what we’ve seen so far (Wednesday night’s game vs. Montreal).

      “I think Jamie brings a lot to the table and under the circumstances I think we did a really good job. We’re thankful that other people (on other teams) kept it quiet and allowed us to do this before the leverage really switched.”

      Whether a deal could have been worked out sooner remains to be seen. Gauther raised a few caution flags last summer when he declined to attend Flyers development camp. Behind the scenes, things just seemed to go downhill from there.

      “I feel pretty fortunate that we got things done when we did,” Jones said. “It’s unfortunate that we had a player that didn’t want to play here.”

      It was almost impossible to figure out what was going through a 19-year-old’s mind. Without question, he has the talent. He just tied for the World Junior Hockey Championship scoring lead and helped the United States win the gold medal.

      In response, Jones said: “We want great people who want to be here.”

      Right now it looks like all 22 or so Flyers do want to be here. Maybe that’s why they’ve beaten the odds halfway through this hockey season.

Avatar photo
About Wayne Fish 2471 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.