John Tortorella Hired As Head Coach Of The Philadelphia Flyers
Often, when a sports team fires their head coach, they look to replace them with someone who is very different. In theory, it makes sense; if a veteran coach doesn’t work, why not see if a young coach connects with the roster better? If an offensive-minded coach can’t get the job done, hiring one focused on defense should help to alleviate that flaw. That doesn’t always work out, of course, because a lot more goes into the performance of an NHL team than who’s behind the bench. But finding the right head coach is vital, if not a necessity, to achieving great results.
The Philadelphia Flyers are in a somewhat similar position to the last time they were looking for a head coach back in 2019. After hiring Dave Hakstol from the University of Denver didn’t pan out, the team course corrected, bringing in the established Alain Vigneault. The early returns were very strong; the Flyers emerged as a strong play-driving team down the stretch in 2019-20, then won their first playoff series since 2012 in the bubble. But things went south shortly thereafter, as issues with communication and stale systems led to Vigneault’s downfall in Dec. 2021.
But there was little chance the Flyers weren’t going to try again at another win-now coach. Rightly or wrong, the Flyers are a team with win-now ambitions even on the back of a 61-point season. Plenty of names have come up in speculation or interviewed for the Flyers job over the weeks and months since Vigneault’s dismissal. But there has been one name that’s not only been linked to the Flyers more than any other, but hardly rumored to be heading anywhere else. That name, of course, is John Tortorella, who now has a new name to go by: head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, which the team confirmed on Friday after initial reports throughout Thursday.
There are plenty of different feelings people have on Tortorella, but most of them are very strong. Tortorella’s feelings are usually the same way. The 63-year old (he turns 64 a week from Friday) is known for his intense personality and memorable clashes with the media and willingness to call out players. His supporters argue he’ll whip the Flyers into shape like a drill sergeant. They’ll point to the turn-arounds he executed in Tampa Bay and, more recently, Columbus. His detractors argue he’ll destroy the creativity of the young talented players the Flyers need to develop the most, who the organization has already failed more than enough. They’ll point to players like Anthony Duclair or Patrik Laine who thrived playing under different coaches, worrying that someone like Morgan Frost or Travis Konecny could meet the same fate.
Both sides do have points, but on the whole, Tortorella has been successful. He’s won a Cup with the Lightning back in 2004. He led a Blue Jackets team that had just two playoff appearances in history before his arrival to four straight playoff trips, including Columbus’ first series win in 2019. Other than a dramatic falloff in his final year that led to his dismissal, the Blue Jackets were routinely an above-average play-driving team, even scraping near the best of the best category on occasion.
Somewhat more importantly, they had a higher actual goals for percentage versus their expected rate. The latter may be a better evaluation of Tortorella, but the former is all fans will care about. Yes, he had the benefit of Sergei Bobrovsky in net for most of his tenure. But Carter Hart, while not a two-time Vezina winner, isn’t a slouch himself. Additionally, Tortorella’s Rangers teams of the early 2010s were even stronger play-drivers, too.
The best way to evaluate the Tortorella hiring is a simple one: high-risk, medium-reward. Tortorella brings respect and credibility, if not a bit of controversy, to the Flyers. He has a way of turning a team into greater than the sum of its parts. But whether he can close the 40-point gap separating the Flyers from a playoff spot remains to be seen. While the roster he’ll take into that battle is far from finalized, there’s reason to question Tortorella’s upside. The Flyers lack the high-end offensive talent the Blue Jackets also didn’t have enough of (save for Artemi Panarin and maybe Pierre-Luc Dubois, although we all know how that ended). Columbus was good under Tortorella, but never good enough. And that might be the greatest fear Tortorella’s arrival brings to Philadelphia.
It would be impressive if Tortorella didn’t turn the Flyers into a more structured and more successful team than they were the last two seasons. Part of that is a testament to Tortorella’s track record. But it has more to do with how much of a mess they’ve been over the last 18 months. But it’s going to take a lot more than nailing the head coach hiring to truly return the franchise to even a good state. And there’s no guarantee that Tortorella would be that coach; the last time he took over a team previously coached by Alain Vigneault, it was such a disaster that he lasted just one season. It’s unlikely things will go that south that quickly in South Philadelphia. But what are the odds the exact opposite happens?
On paper, John Tortorella is a very good hire for what the Flyers want to be, and to fix the issues that plagued them under Vigneault and interim head coach Mike Yeo. As for Yeo, it’s possible he returns to the Flyers as an interim coach, but that’s not guaranteed. The Flyers want to win now and know they have to clean up their 5-on-5 structure, especially defensively. Tortorella should help with both of those things. Maybe it gets the Flyers back towards the playoff bubble. Maybe they even return to the playoffs in 2023, if everything breaks right.
But given the team’s extremely flawed roster and cap situations, plus Tortorella’s track record in a fairly similar situation roster-wise (albeit in a much smaller market) in Columbus, it’s fair to be extremely skeptical that anything greater will happen under Tortorella. Both coach, management, and players have a lot of work to do to prove this hire won’t just become a mistake, but isn’t one right now.
All Advanced Stats are 5-on-5 unless otherwise stated and via Natural Stat Trick