John Tortorella will be back behind an NHL bench next season, as the veteran coach has reportedly agreed to a four-year, $16 million deal with the Philadelphia Flyers.
There are a lot of reasons to like this hiring. However, it’s also rational to think this could end in disaster for the polarizing hockey figure.
Let’s start on a positive note.
Tortorella’s hard-nosed, blue-collar style might endear him to the blue-collar fanbase in Philadelphia. The Northeast is a tough place to play and coach, and no one knows that better than Tortorella, a Boston native who helmed the New York Rangers for five seasons. Fans can be overly critical, and they’ll surely voice their displeasure loudly at the rink and on social media. Torts’ fire and intensity are going to play well in a market that is used to dishing it out.
The media can also be skeptical, critical and downright harsh. The spotlight can sometimes shine so hard it burns. Tortorella has been known to spar with reporters, which might make for some entertaining clips, but it also serves another purpose. He puts the focus on himself, taking the pressure away from his players during critical moments of the season.
He’s been known to get a lot out of his players, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they all like him. Columbus Blue Jackets forward Brandon Dubinsky had an interesting tweet shortly after ESPN’s Kevin Weekes broke the news of the hire.
Brandon Dubinsky @BDubi17
🙏🏻 for the @NHLFlyers players!
But other players, such as former Rangers and Blue Jacket defenseman Michael Del Zotto who spent five seasons with Tortorella between those two franchises, understand Tortorella’s way can be beneficial to their careers. Del Zotto shared his thoughts on Tortorella during training camp in 2021:
“The thing with Torts, you know where you stand with him. He’s brutally honest. If you can take it, if you have thick skin, there’s no other coach you’d rather play for. When you play for coaches where you don’t know where you stand, it’s tough to have a conversation with (them). You’re not sure if they’re telling the truth or not with you. With him, you know where you stand every day, and that’s very hard to find. He wears his heart on his sleeve, too. He would do anything for his players.”
And that’s what Flyers players and fans should expect from their new coach—he doesn’t hold back. You never know what he’s going to say or do, but you better believe he’s going to say and do exactly what he’s thinking, even if it bucks convention. Maybe he’ll put beloved mascot Gritty on the fourth line just to send a message to a player he thinks is dogging it.
Whatever you think of Tortorella, you can’t deny this: he knows how to build a solid defensive foundation wherever he goes, which should be music to the ears of Flyers fans and players.
Tortorella installed systems that helped turn Henrik Lundqvist into a Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender and Sergei Bobrovsky into a top goalie in the league. Sure, Lundqvist was a generational goaltending talent, but it’s tough to argue with Tortorella’s resume, especially considering Flyers don’t exactly have a strong track record when it comes to the net.
Carter Hart could be the goalie that finally breaks the curse, but he’s been streaky. He got his save percentage back up over .900 last season after a down year in 2020-21, and, at only 23 years old, there’s still reason to believe he could develop into the franchise goalie the club has been searching for since the 1990s.
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But in order for Hart to even have a chance to develop, the Flyers will have to stop bleeding chances in front of him. Philadelphia gave up the eighth-most scoring chances in all situations last season, according to NaturalStatTrick.com, and only controlled 45.25 percent of them, the fourth-worst mark in the NHL. There were times the Flyers looked lost in the defensive zone last season, and Hart’s numbers suffered as a result.
A Stanley Cup champion in 2004 with the Lightning and a Jack Adams Award winner (best coach) in 2017, Tortorella has proven credentials. Sounds great, right?
Unfortunately, his accolades don’t cover up all the warts that come with him. His intensity can be what fuels the team that he coaches, but it can also be a huge detriment.
Much like many of the demanding old-school coaches, Tortorella’s style can be grating. It’s easy to get teams to buy into the messaging when they’re winning, but when they’re losing and a coach is grinding them into ice chips, it’s just as easy to tune them out. It happened in New York, and there’s no guarantee it won’t happen again.
He’s also set to turn 64 years old next week, and any coach of that age is naturally going to face the question of whether or not he can relate to today’s NHL player. The game is getting younger, faster and more skilled. Tortorella has been vocal about his disdain for some of the flashy skills the younger generation of players has displayed.
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He chastised dynamic Anaheim Ducks center Trevor Zegras for his signature “Michigan” style goals and assists. Those old-guard thoughts weren’t totally unique, though, considering Arizona Coyotes analyst Tyson Nash caused quite a stir later in the season when said Zegras should be “prepared to get punched in the mouth” because of the perception he would “skill it up” to embarrass opponents during games.
The Flyers are going to have to rely heavily on some young players in the coming years because of the way the roster is currently constructed. This is not currently a playoff team—the Flyers’ 61 points were the fourth-fewest in the NHL last season—and general manager Chuck Fletcher doesn’t have a glut of cap space to work with in the immediate future.
Tortorella is going to have to squeeze a lot out of a subpar roster as Philadelphia tries to rebuild and climb out of the basement. And if he doesn’t, the fans will turn on him—and quick.
Every coach goes into their job hoping for the best while understanding there’s a chance it could end in disaster. Not everyone can be Bill Belichick. There are more failed and frayed endings than happy ones in sports.
For now, this is the right move for the Flyers. Will it still look that way by the time Tortorella’s contract is up in four years? We’ll find out.