The Philadelphia Flyers hired John Tortorella as their head coach Friday. In 1,383 games as a head coach, Tortorella has picked up 673 wins. In his most recent job behind an NHL bench — Columbus Blue Jackets from 2015-21 — he went 227-166-54.
Before Columbus, Tortorella previously served as coach of the New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vancouver Canucks and led the Lightning to a Stanley Cup in 2004. Tortorella won the Jack Adams Award in 2004 and 2017. Most recently he’s been a broadcast analyst with ESPN.
DONE DEAL: John Tortorella has been named the 23rd head coach in franchise history. https://t.co/Zk04Kk6ZKM
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) June 17, 2022
The Flyers announced last month they would not be bringing back Mike Yeo, who was promoted from assistant to replace Alain Vigneault after he was fired in early December. The Flyers were 17-36-7 under Yeo and missed the playoffs for the second straight season after finishing eighth in the Metropolitan Division.
Why did the Flyers choose Tortorella?
First and foremost, the Flyers were looking for a coach with credibility who could implement accountability and structure into a roster that has clearly lacked both over the past two seasons. Tortorella certainly checks both boxes with ease. Also, for ownership, he sends a message to the fan base that the Flyers are still willing to spend big for brand names, and can still attract them as well.
The hope, of course, is that Tortorella can quickly turn around the Flyers, and his track record of success does provide legitimate hope that he could, even if it’s been quite a while since one of his clubs qualified as a true Cup contender. An added bonus? Tortorella’s fiery style should play well in a city like Philly.
Why would Tortorella choose the Flyers?
The Flyers may be in a serious down period at the moment, but they’re still the Philadelphia Flyers, a team in a major market with a long history and a well-known brand. For someone like Tortorella, the challenge of turning such a club around surely is attractive, with the full knowledge that if he succeeds, he’ll be a legend in a very passionate sports town. Oh, and then there’s also the monetary factor.
Flyers ownership was in spare-no-expense mode during this search, and a big contract can certainly serve to ease any concerns about roster quality or fit. That’s just a fact of sports, whether it be a player or, in this case, a coach.
What is Tortorella’s biggest strength as a coach?
John Tortorella is the ultimate disruptor for a soul-searching organization and players who have become too comfortable. Get ready, Philadelphia. It’s gonna get messy before it gets better.
Nobody can awaken a moribund franchise quicker than Tortorella. Nobody can break through an unhealthy hierarchy in a dressing room and reshuffle the players in a more effective way. Nobody can build a group of individuals into a tight-knit team quicker than the firebrand Boston native, who turns 64 later this month.
(Photo: Dan Hamilton / USA TODAY Sports)
What’s about to happen will be uncomfortable for some, including management. Veterans will be challenged like never before. Top prospects won’t be handled with kid gloves. Practices will be shorter but more intense than in previous seasons. Training camp is going to make some players wish they hadn’t picked hockey.
The Flyers are going to make more changes this summer, but this is a good place to start. Even if they struggle again next season, they’ll likely play hard and over their heads in most of the 82 games.
What is Tortorella’s biggest weakness?
Tortorella’s biggest weakness is also his greatest gift to the hockey-loving world. He doesn’t follow scripts. He doesn’t toe the company line. In an age where most coaches stick to well-worn cliches and word salads, Tortorella refuses to blather the organization’s talking points. He simply can’t do it.
A fair, well-framed question is going to generate a response from Tortorella, and often it’s so blunt and frank that it draws the ire of management and/or the players, leading to hurt feelings and private meetings.
On most of his coaching staffs, Tortorella has an assistant coach (or coaches) who are masters with Xs and Os. But he also needs someone who can clear the air or pick up the pieces once he’s left the dressing room after one of his fire-breathing speeches. In New York, that was Mike Sullivan. In Columbus, it was Brad Larsen.
Tortorella isn’t always easy to deal with, as anybody with access to YouTube will know. But even on his bad days, he provides great insights — just a little too pointed for some.
How will Tortorella handle a rebuilding situation in Philly?
The Flyers don’t plan to be down for long, per GM Chuck Fletcher. They’ll spend money this season via free agency and be aggressive on the trade market in an attempt to compete sooner rather than later. This will not be a classic rebuild. Tortorella has wanted badly to get back behind an NHL bench, but it’s highly unlikely he would have taken this job if the plan was to take several seasons for the Flyers to become competitive again.
In fact, knowing that the Blue Jackets were embarking on a “restart” after the 2020-21 season is one of the reasons Tortorella made the decision to move on a couple of months before his contract in Columbus was expiring.
How did Tortorella do on ESPN?
Tortorella was exactly what ESPN wanted him to be. He was a curmudgeon who was willing to bring an old-school opinion and didn’t care what anyone else thought about his opinion. The best-case example was his frustration with Trevor Zegras, a series of complaints that led to a multitude of reactions (including here at The Athletic) about how right or wrong he was. It’s what ESPN and any network that wants to “Embrace Debate,” is looking for, saying the divisive thing in a way that forces others to tune in out of curiosity for what you might say next.
Replacing Tortorella won’t be a pressing matter, his rule was primarily in the studio on “The Point” and not on game broadcasts, but ESPN will likely want to add another former coach to its stable of broadcasters — someone the host can turn to and say, “How would you coach this situation?” while showing a highlight. If any of the current coaching candidates don’t catch a ride on the coaching carousel, they could potentially fill this role next season as a placeholder while waiting for the next job opening.
(Answers compiled by Aaron Portzline, Charlie O’Connor and Sean Shapiro)
(Photo: Eric Bolte / USA Today)