No one can try to precisely emulate Ed Snider, the passionate trailblazer who built the Flyers, who set a standard the organization is hoping to rediscover.
He was one of a kind and that’s what made him special to so many.
“This is Mr. Snider’s team. This is the Philadelphia Flyers,” Keith Jones, the club’s new president of hockey operations, said last Friday. “We’re going to work hard to honor that, to get out there for him. He did a lot for all of us, so we’re not going to lose sight of that. That’s one of the most important messages you can get from leaving here today.”
Snider founded the Flyers in 1966. Last season, the team had one of its worst years in the franchise’s existence, losing 57 games (25-46-11). This season, the Flyers went through a major transitional year and saw significant change in March.
Part of the change was the retirement of Dave Scott, which has led to the introduction of Dan Hilferty, the Flyers’ new head of ownership. Last Friday, the Flyers held a decorated press conference to initiate Jones as president and Danny Briere as general manager. But it also marked the first time Hilferty had been displayed as Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO and Flyers governor.
Snider died in April 2016 and his void has been felt as the Flyers have fallen on hard times. There’s inevitable pressure in pro sports, especially for individuals with high-profiled roles in demanding markets like Philadelphia.
Especially for those following the indelible footprints of Snider.
Sometimes those folks have to face the reality of not being well-liked a lot of the time.
Hilferty comes to the Flyers with a background in healthcare. He has held leadership positions with Independence Blue Cross, AmeriHealth Caritas Family of Companies and Mercy Health Corporation.
“First of all, health insurance executives aren’t the most beloved people in the world,” he said with a laugh after last Friday’s press conference. “Let’s be honest about that.”
Given the rebuilding state of the Flyers and their frustrated fan base, is taking on the franchise the biggest challenge of his career?
Hilferty feels equipped for the pressure because of his past.
“The challenges there were life and death,” he said of working in healthcare. “Clinicians and hospitals take care of people, but we in the industry as a whole, every decision we made impacted the life and wellbeing of one of our patients, one of our members, whatever it might be.
“So I’m not trying to make light of this current situation. What I’m trying to say, I just have, like, a renewed sense of energy because we’re talking about a game. We’re talking about the sports and entertainment arena, philosophy, that we want people to come here and enjoy themselves — whether it’s watching a hockey game, watching a basketball game or going next door to watch Taylor Swift.
“Yes, it’s a challenge, but, no, I’m trying to keep it and have kept it in perspective. This is a game that brings people joy most of the time and we want to return this franchise to bringing more joy over the years to come.”
At the press conference in the lower bowl of the Wells Fargo Center, Hilferty spoke with a preparedness and confidence.
He looked and sounded like someone who believes in the value of transparency.
“When I think of a president of a hockey club — I’m not even getting into the ownership aspect — I think of Ed Snider,” he said. “And people said to me, ‘Are you going to be like Ed Snider?’ And my response is, ‘I can’t be Ed Snider. I can only be myself.’
“A thing that is apparent to people I work with is I like being out there. So I’m going to be walking around the arena, I’m going to go to events. My wife got embarrassed two weeks ago because we were leaving to fly to California and anybody that walked into the little waiting area before we got on the plane that had anything that remotely looked like a Flyers garb, I went up and introduced myself.
“I want that to be what we do as a leadership team, both from a hockey perspective and from a business perspective.”
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