The Philadelphia Flyers just completed a nightmare season, one in which they finished at the very bottom of their division, in second-last place in the Eastern Conference, and in the fourth-worst spot in the entire NHL. This, from a team that, straight-faced, told its fan base at the start of the year that it had legitimate playoff aspirations. It doesn’t get much more delusional than that.
And now, as the post-season continues to play out, the Flyers are looking for a new head coach. Interim bench boss Mike Yeo wasn’t the root cause of Philadelphia’s woes, but the Flyers do need a new voice that will help speed what is hoped to be a quick reversal of fortune. To that end, Philly GM Chuck Fletcher has been actively interviewing people to replace Yeo. And, according to an ESPN report, one of those people is veteran John Tortorella.
That’s right. There’s a possibility the Flyers and Tortorella will be working under the same umbrella next year. This is not a joke from The Onion. This is not the fantasy of hard-edged Flyers fans who want a full-on return to the Broad St. Bully heyday of the franchise. This is something that may actually happen. And part of me says, “Yes, please, hockey gods, bring it on.”
I’m not saying it’s the smart part of me saying that. It’s the part of me that enjoys the entertainment of very bad decisions playing out before our eyes. It’s the part of me that thinks Tortorella vs. the Flyers media would be appointment viewing each and every night. It’s the part of me that understands the Flyers are highly unlikely to be a playoff team in 2022-23, and watching Tortorella boil over time and again would be fascinating.
Put simply, Tortorella is not the right choice for the Flyers – at least, not right now. We’re talking about a roster that has numerous holes in it. We’re talking about a team, next season, that is very likely going to be like Tortorella’s most recent employer, the Columbus Blue Jackets this past season – not bad enough to be the worst team in the league (and thus, receive the best odds at winning the entry draft lottery), and not good enough to make the playoffs. If it didn’t work for Tortorella in Columbus, why would anyone expect it to work in Philly?
Nobody’s suggesting Tortorella should never get another shot at an NHL coaching gig. Although I’ve criticized him in the past, I give him full credit for changing his approach over the years. The ornery, often-merciless Tortorella of many moons ago has given way to a more considerate man of late. There will be a more veteran team in the next couple years that could benefit from his Stanley Cup-winning experience and steely resolve.
But the Flyers are not that team at the moment. Fletcher has next-to-no salary cap space – just $5.1 million according to CapFriendly.com – with which to improve his lineup. Meanwhile, every other team in the Metropolitan Division is likely to be better than Philadelphia next year. There is no easy path to redemption for the Flyers. It could be at least as bad before it gets better.
That’s not the scenario where Tortorella is a good choice to take over the reins. You’d rather see Fletcher take a chance on a young coach who can grow with the group. Patience will be a necessity, and that’s not what Tortorella is famous for.
From an entertainment perspective, hiring Tortorella would be tremendous. His press conferences would be one of the best things in the league to see on a daily basis. But if you’re looking for real progress, and real progress done the right way, Tortorella and the Flyers are not the ideal partnership.