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Did the Flyers Make the Right Choice Hiring Tortorella?

The pressure is on John Tortorella now to bring the Flyers back into a competitive space, but there's more work needed to make this hiring a success.
John Tortorella

The rumors of John Tortorella taking on the head coaching job of the Philadelphia Flyers were confirmed to be true this week, as the team agreed to a four-year contract with the veteran bench boss.

We’ve said it before very recently, but it’s worth repeating: Tortorella has a Stanley Cup win to his credit, and his aura certainly is a good match with that of the Flyers. But this move feels like a desperate one for Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher and team ownership.

For the past two seasons, Fletcher publicly stated he believed the Flyers, as he’d constructed them, were a playoff team. Instead, both seasons turned out to be complete duds for Philly; they won only 25 games each year, and cratered especially hard in 2021-22, finishing dead last in the Metropolitan Division and with the second-worst record (25-46-11) in the Eastern Conference. They had the NHL’s sixth-worst defense (allowing an average of 3.59 goals-against per game) and the league’s second-worst offense (averaging just 2.59 goals-for) last season. The last-place Arizona Coyotes scored just four more goals than the Flyers did. Yes, it was that bad, all-around.

Yet here we are again in Philadelphia – this time, without the services of former captain Claude Giroux – and we’re supposed to believe Tortorella is going to transform the Flyers into a bona fide Stanley Cup contender? Sorry, can’t make that step without seeing some evidence this time.

Consider the case for pessimism here: it’s not like Tortorella is going to be making saves in Philly’s net. That’s the job of 23-year-old Carter Hart, who has struggled in both seasons (a .877 save percentage in 2020-21, followed by a .905 SP last season). Granted, the team in front of Hart had to deal with the injury-related absences of veterans Kevin Hayes, Sean Couturier and Ryan Ellis. But the Flyers have major depth issues that go beyond that trio’s roles with the organization. And it’s difficult to see how the famously demanding Tortorella approach is going to address those structural issues.

Compounding the problems – Fletcher’s investments in his roster have left the team with (as per CapFriendly.com) only approximately $5.1 million in salary cap space this summer. There’s been hope in some circles Giroux would return to the Flyers, but when he spoke at the end of his new team – the Florida Panthers – showed him enough to make him want to stay in South Florida. It sure doesn’t seem likely he’d want to be on a rebuilding Philadelphia squad for the rest of his career.

Indeed, that’s probably going to be what the Flyers are this coming season. They’ve got an older core up front, and their defense corps is a mixed bag. And now they’ve got Tortorella, who, as he usually does, will do wonders for some players, but alienate others. It’s been a decade since a Tortorella-coached team made it out of the second round of the post-season, and the Flyers are the fifth NHL employer of Tortorella’s in his 19 years coaching in hockey’s top league.

It’s always important to give Tortorella credit for evolving as a coach. He’s not nearly the same over-the-top authoritarian menace he was at the start of his NHL coaching days. He is a kinder, gentler person, to be sure. But a leopard’s spots don’t completely change, and in the pressure-cooker that is Philadelphia professional hockey, he’s going to be expected to produce positive results right away.

But there should be every doubt Tortorella has the lineup to push over the line between playoff team and draft lottery hopeful. Fletcher’s past expectations for Philly have fallen well short when rubber hit road, and changing the voice behind the bench won’t be enough to cure the Flyers’ many ailments.

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