In NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Sitting Down with …" we talk to key figures in the game, gaining insight into their lives on and off the ice. In this edition, we feature Philadelphia Flyers president of hockey operations Keith Jones.
Jones talks adjusting to new role running Flyers in Q&A with NHL.com
Former broadcaster settling in as president of hockey operations for Philadelphia
© Len Redkoles/Getty Images
SEATTLE -- Keith Jones can think of just one time that he has been surprised since taking over as the Philadelphia Flyers president of hockey operations on May 11.
"It had been a long time since I had been in the Skate Zone and I couldn't figure out how to get to my office," Jones said, laughing.
The Skate Zone is the former name for the Flyers Training Center, their practice facility and home base for the hockey operations department in Voorhees Township, New Jersey.
Jones, a broadcaster based in Philadelphia before taking on his first job in management nearly seven months ago, said he didn't go to Flyers practices too often because, "I never felt like it was that important."
But then he walked into the facility, refurbished since in the 23 years since he last played for the Flyers and in the NHL, and he was lost.
"There's an area where the media never gets to, so I never went there," Jones said. "So I literally walked in my first day, I was the first person there, no one was there, and I had no idea where I was going. It had literally been 23 years since I walked into that part of the building. It was weird. Then when I finally found my office I just kind of sat down and thought back to where I was 23 years earlier retiring in what was Paul Holmgren's office at the time. That's the last time I had sat in that office but on the other side of the desk."
Jones is getting used to his side of the desk now.
He's getting comfortable in a new role that has fueled his competitive side that was dormant for 23 years, that has brought back that feeling of elation after wins, anger after losses, and deeply caring how the Flyers are thought of publicly, particularly through the eyes of their fans.
"Where we're at in our evolution we need to get the word out, we need to keep our fans involved in what we're doing, kind of showing them and bringing them along, recognizing that they're extremely important to what we're trying to accomplish," Jones said. "I do think that being out there and not hiding is really important for us right now."
Jones sat down with NHL.com for an encompassing 15-minute interview prior to the start of the NHL Board of Governors meeting on Monday, discussing everything from the Flyers exceeding expectations early this season to his role, the communication between himself, general manager Daniel Briere and coach John Tortorella, and much more.
It's been almost seven months since you were hired. What has it been like? What is this job like for you?
"It's felt natural, which is kind of surprising to me. It's been invigorating. It's been challenging. But it's been really a lot about people and something that has felt so far comfortable but at the same time something I don't take for granted. I feel very fortunate to be in this position."
What is challenging about the job?
"Just knowing that we want our team to be a playoff team consistently and a Stanley Cup contender down the road, and knowing what it takes from watching the last 23 years of Stanley Cup Playoff hockey and knowing that we have a lot of work in front of us. We're trying really on a day-to-day basis to come up with ideas and plan to eventually get us to be that type of a team. That's the challenge."
How involved are you in the day to day with John Tortorella and Danny Briere? Are you in those meetings and involved, or are they having them, and it comes to you when needed?
"It's a bit of both. There's often times where they're doing their thing and getting the team in the place it needs to be on any particular day, but the conversations are frequent. We're all around all the time. I kind of look at the way Vegas has done things with George McPhee and Kelly McCrimmon, the way they've worked together. They're almost inseparable at times. I think it's a pretty good way to do things, so Danny and I have an open line of communication every day and really enjoy hanging out together. I think that's been beneficial in a lot of ways, but most importantly it's a lot of fun."
What is Briere like as a GM?
"Really thoughtful. A very smart guy. He really looks at every situation, goes through it multiple times in his mind. He's patient but calculating. I've really been impressed with how much he puts into trying to make the right decisions. I think he's outstanding. I think he's going to do a terrific job."
What is it like working side by side now with Tortorella?
"I think it's been seamless from my perspective. Danny has a great relationship with him as well. There's a lot of open communication where we're all in conversation talking hockey and looking for solutions and dealing with problems. I think it's the way it has to be for us to be successful. I've been really impressed with so much of what is behind what John Tortorella does."
You said earlier the goal is to make the playoffs consistently and down the road win the Stanley Cup. Is the goal to make the playoffs right now?
"No, that wouldn't be the goal. I mean, the goal is to win every time we step on the ice, but if we're looking at the big picture our players will decide that. If they're ahead of schedule, great. If it's going to take a little more time, then that's fine with us too. We just want to make sure we're taking the right steps in order to get there."
Is the team ahead of schedule this season or is it too soon to tell?
"I don't think they're surprising Danny and I and Torts. I think they're ultra-competitive. I think they get along really well. I think they play for each other. I think they went through training camp as a group, it wasn't an individual camp. They were all pulling for each other to make sure we got every ounce out of every player. I think that's something really difficult to get."
Is the standard with the Flyers now based on expectations for what the team should and maybe could be this season, or is the standard is what it is regardless of expectations?
"The standard is being established, there's no doubt about that. The players are the ones establishing it. 'Torts' has a certain level he wants you to play to. They hold each other accountable, though. That's probably the most impressive part about it. They hate losing. They're devastated after we lose. No matter who we're playing and no matter how low our expectations are they come out to win and if they don't they're angry. That's something that really makes me happy."
Do you get that directly from the players? Are you down there with them?
"Oh yeah, all the time. They're great guys. We have an open line of communication between Danny, myself, the players, 'Torts.' It is a good group of people trying to overachieve this year, but it's important our players know how much we care about them."
Are they overachieving this season?
"There's moments where we look really good and that's impressive. Then there are moments where you can see there's separation from the top teams in the league to where we're at. So there are constant reminders of where we want to get to but there's also a lot of pats on the back for how well our guys have performed. It's that kind of threading the needle right now for us."
So if it gets to mid-to-late February and early March and the Flyers are still in the mix for a playoff spot is this an add-on team, a buyer?
"It's not, no. It's not an add-on team. If they do it within, great. We'll support that 100 percent. But we're in a position where we're looking with one eye to the future but not looking to take things away from what our guys are able to accomplish. So that may play into decisions that are made closer to that point but we are not in a position to be giving up assets, future assets to get better now."
Has that been communicated to the players? Does that need to be communicated to them?
"No, they play hard for each other now, they love each other. They don't want anybody coming in from the outside. When you're in that position as a player that's what you want. You want to do it with the guys that you started the year with. I think they appreciate that part of it."
Cam York is 22. Tyson Foerster is 21. Bobby Brink is 22. Even Morgan Frost and Owen Tippett are just 24. Joel Farabee is 23. Are you seeing the youth the grow the way you want to see it?
"Yes and Joel Farabee is a great example. He's taken major steps this year not just with his play on the ice but his ability to lead some of the younger players. Tyson Foerster lives with him and he sets a great example for him. That's what you want to see. I think Danny talked to him at the end of the season and said, 'You're doing a great job, here's what you do to take the next step.' He is bringing other players along with him, which is so important."
What have you heard from the fans about this team?
"We're getting a lot of good feedback right now. They're proud of the way the players are playing. They're proud of the compete level. They're proud they're staying in games. I think that in many ways the players are exceeding the expectations of our fan base, but they're starting to come back. We have a lot of work to do. This is not click your heels together and the place is full. We've got work to do. We're reminded of that every game."