The Philadelphia Flyers have hired John Tortorella as their 23rd head coach in franchise history. The organization reportedly considered an extensive list of candidates during a six-week process since they announced that interim head coach Mike Yeo wouldn’t keep the role in a full-time capacity. Kevin Weekes of ESPN first reported the news.
Alain Vigneault began the 2021-22 season behind the Philadelphia bench, but he lasted only 22 games before general manager (GM) Chuck Fletcher pulled the plug. The Flyers finished last in the Metropolitan Division after entering the season with high expectations. They have fallen into the worst era in franchise history, missing the playoffs in six of the past 10 seasons.
The Commanding Presence of John Tortorella
Tortorella is a coach with the type of track record that can command a dressing room. He has spent parts of 20 seasons as an NHL head coach for four different teams. He coached the 2003-04 Tampa Bay Lightning team that defeated the Flyers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on their way to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. He has led teams to the Stanley Cup Playoffs 12 times and won two Jack Adams Awards as the NHL’s coach of the year.
His colorful personality, high emotion, and demanding attitude have led to a considerable amount of conflicts with players, media members, and opponents during his time in the NHL. His past certainly isn’t spotless, and his tendency to speak with an edge regularly lands him in the news for good and bad reasons. His controversial comments about Trevor Zegras and Sonny Milano dominated the chatter around the hockey world earlier this season.
However, any notion that portrays Tortorella as a tyrant who will burn out quickly in the modern NHL is oversimplified. He is a strict, demanding leader who has clashed with underperforming players at times. However, the majority of players who speak extensively about him consider his blunt honesty a good quality. Even after his tenure with the Blue Jackets ended in 2021, he received high praise from veterans Oliver Bjorkstrand, Seth Jones, Boone Jenner, and Zach Werenski.
His experience includes a seven-year tenure with the Lightning, a five-year tenure with the New York Rangers, and a six-year tenure with the Columbus Blue Jackets. His only true misstep was his lone season with the Vancouver Canucks in 2013-14.
Flyers Look to Restore Franchise Glory
Consecutive disastrous seasons have led to extensive conversations about the need to restore the franchise’s fading identity. The Flyers proudly owned a reputation as a feared opponent who played an intimidating physical style during their most successful eras in team history. The need to become “harder to play against” has been brought up consistently by influential members of the organization in response to the recent lack of success.
Cam Atkinson played in Columbus for the entirety of Tortorella’s tenure. He spoke emphatically during his exit interview in April about things he learned from his former coach and quickly transitioned into statements about the weaknesses of the team last season.
“You practice how you play. Especially when I turned pro, I learned that from Tortorella. John Tortorella, he was great in that aspect. There just wasn’t a lot of practice times (in 2021-22), and it was hard to kind of mold and gel as a group when you’re playing so many games because there’s only so much you can watch video and stuff but you can’t really get on the ice and do it. Going into next year, we need to find a way to have more grit, some more jam, and some more “f you” to our game. On both sides of the puck, in or crease, defending our goalie, and in their crease. I think we were a pretty soft team this year, in my opinion.”-Cam Atkinson
Atkinson never directly identified Tortorella as the solution to the issues. However, the 33-year-old right winger clearly holds his former coach in high regard for correctly instilling discipline and accountability. His position within the team’s leadership group will be vital in 2022-23.
Senior executives Bobby Clarke and Paul Holmgren reportedly preferred Tortorella against other candidates such as Barry Trotz, Bruce Cassidy, and Jim Montgomery. Bill Meltzer described that the two former Flyers had a “background role in the ultimate decision” for the hire. Other reports suggested that Fletcher wasn’t entirely set on the hire. Although the level of influence from all parties won’t become entirely clear in the near future, the organization now has its fiery head coach looking to restore the success of a fallen franchise.
Colin Newby is a freelance journalist from Delaware County, PA covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers. He is an encyclopedia of useless sports knowledge with an uncanny ability to rattle off Flyers goaltending stats from 2004 and every Stanley Cup winner during his lifetime. The depths of his knowledge stem from spending his entire life following the Flyers and the NHL, from fan favorites like the “Legion of Doom” and Claude Giroux to forgotten journeymen like Andy Delmore and Branko Radivojevič. He joined the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA) in 2022.
Colin also covers the Philadelphia Eagles and works for 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia.