When the Philadelphia Flyers hired John Tortorella to be their head coach before the start of the 2022-23 season, it was a move that showed an obvious culture change, considering his hard-nosed style. Although this is a narrow assessment of him, it is still true that he demands accountability and consistency from his players.
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Towards the end of last season, Tortorella saw himself in the press box rather than behind the bench to better observe his players. For a coach, this is a very unique situation. Not only does it suggest that his time in Philadelphia could be lengthy, but he also has significant respect and power in the organization.
It wasn’t a rare occurrence for Tortorella to bench or scratch players that he felt weren’t performing to the expectations he had for them last season. He wasn’t afraid to sit players who were providing massive contributions offensively, such as Kevin Hayes or even Travis Konecny.
It has been known for quite some time that Tortorella only wants the best for his players. While he has shown that he can be rough on his guys, he still isn’t afraid to praise them, either.
There have been some good things going on as far as development, as far as individual players, and also our team concept. Right now, you have to hang your hat on somewhere, otherwise you’ll lose your mind.
Tortorella during a postgame interview last season, via the Philadelphia Flyers
Some players, like Konecny, respond well to his style. He had the best season of his career with 31 goals and 30 assists in just 60 games and truly established himself as one of the better offensive players in the NHL. As for some other Flyers, they might not have taken the tough love as well. Hayes was a frequent member of Tortorella’s message and was not too thrilled with his coach, as a result. While the schematic fit and the changing direction of the team were certainly a factor, as well, he was traded for near pennies on the dollar, just to alter the culture and end the feud between him and his coach.
If Tortorella has the power to have players who didn’t fit his scheme the way he wanted to be axed, he has more power than almost any other coach in the entire league. Even if it is not necessarily beneficial asset-wise, he knows what he wants, and the organization has respected that.
Tortorella Has Experience in an Organization Without It
Since Tortorella was introduced as the coach of the Flyers last season, the team has undergone some massive changes that have altered the outlook of the franchise entirely. One of the biggest moves they made was letting go of former general manager (GM) Chuck Fletcher, and replacing him with 45-year-old Danny Briere, who has next to no managerial experience in his lifetime. On a team led by a rookie, the coach is a veteran.
In addition to Briere, the Flyers added several former NHL players to hold positions in management, such as Keith Jones to be the team’s President of Hockey Operations, and former Philadelphia athletes Patrick Sharp and John LeClair to be special advisers to hockey operations all during the offseason.
For reference, Tortorella started coaching in the NHL in the 1999-00 season. Briere and Jones were active in the NHL, while Sharp wasn’t even drafted yet. He has had an influence in the league for decades, while many of the changes in the front office are just starting out. With experience comes valuable insight, and that is something that the coach has.
With Briere shipping out players that the coach had scratched periodically, like Tony DeAngelo and Hayes, Tortorella is clearly respected for his time in the game. His experience juxtaposed with the inexperience of the front office is bizarre, but also beneficial at the same time.
Flyers’ Rebuild Gives Tortorella Time
Since the Flyers are in a rebuild, there will probably be no rush to strip Tortorella of his power. Actually, this arguably gives him more of it. The team is still a little bit of time away from having prospects like Cutter Gauthier and Matvei Michkov on the team, so he will have to work with what is given to him. In previous years, coaches were let go because they failed to meet high expectations. Now that they are low, the coach has time.
For many decades, the Flyers have expected to win every single season. For a while, patience used to be thin for the organization, especially if they were losing. Now that the team has not been aggressive in making themselves better right away, Tortorella will not have the pressure of constantly having to win every single game. He is one of very few coaches with this luxury.
In a sport that is constantly changing and a city that always demands the best, it is rather strange for Tortorella to have as much leniency as he does. When the coaching position was still open, it was known that it would take time to change the team completely. It will be a long and oftentimes excruciating process, but there should be optimism that the worst is already behind the team. The power dynamic in Philadelphia is definitely obscure, but it could be for the best.