June 5, 2023

Flyers hire John Tortorella as 23rd head coach in franchise’s history


Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images, Edited by PhillySportsReports.com

The Flyers have gotten themselves a new head coach, and his name is John Tortorella.

The Flyers formally announced the hiring of Tortorella Friday morning that the almost-64-year-old is set to take over behind the bench.

ESPN’s Kevin Weekes first reported the news.

Can Tortorella turn the Flyers into a winner? Time will tell, of course. But the persistent and straight-shooting bench boss has become the latest to take a crack at it in the City of Brotherly Love.

“I am very happy to bring in John to be the next head coach and voice behind the bench of the Flyers,” general manager Chuck Fletcher said in a statement released by the team Friday morning. “John demands the best out of his players every single game. He is a Stanley Cup champion and has a lengthy track record of both regular season and playoff success.

“During the interview process we discussed a number of factors that are crucial to bring this team immediate success and it became clear to me that his vision and style makes him the right person to restore a winning environment to our locker room.”

Barry Trotz, among others, appeared to be a candidate. But the Flyers may not have been in a promising position to land him.

After firing Alain Vigneault earlier in the 2021-22 season after his great start in 2019-20 came crashing down, here the Flyers are, turning to Tortorella, a demanding, been-around-the-block, pedigree-laden head coach.

The Flyers need experience badly, and they hit the jackpot in that category with Tortorella. In his 20 years of NHL head coaching experience, Tortorella has a Stanley Cup ring and two Jack Adams Award honors (Coach of the Year). He won the Cup in 2004 with the Lightning, has put up three seasons of 100 or more points, and owns 12 playoff berths and 10 series victories. He last coached the Blue Jackets in 2020-21 and had done in-studio color commentary for ESPN this season.

Those in the Flyers’ organization know him quite well for the wrong reasons, at least from a Flyers standpoint. He knocked the Fly Guys out in the Eastern Conference Final en route to the 2004 Cup with Tampa Bay. He also coached the Rangers for parts of six seasons. After one season with the Canucks and a year away from the game, Tortorella took charge of the Blue Jackets in the opening month of the 2015-16 season.

Trademarks of Tortorella-coached teams are accountability and discipline. They play the right way and prevent goals.

Cam Atkinson, who has quickly become a respectable member of the Flyers’ leadership group, played for Tortorella during the coach’s entire tenure in Columbus. The Blue Jackets allowed the NHL’s 11th-fewest goals per game at 2.75 in parts of six seasons under Tortorella and had a top-10 penalty kill during that span at 81.2%.

Atkinson was very happy about this hiring:

Prior to Tortorella’s arrival, Columbus had missed the playoffs for 12 of 14 seasons since the inception of the franchise in 2000. With Tortorella, the Blue Jackets had a run of four consecutive postseason appearances. His 2018-19 Columbus squad still currently stands as the last team to beat the two-time defending champion Lightning in a playoff series. The Blue Jackets shocked Tampa Bay in a first-round sweep.

So the point I am trying to get across here is Tortorella is really good at his job.

“You practice how you play. Especially when I turned pro, I learned that from John Tortorella,” Atkinson said at his end-of-the-season press conference in late April. “He was great in that aspect.

“I think going into next year, we just have to find a way to have some more grit, some more jam, and more ‘F you’ to our game, on both sides of the puck. In our crease, defending our goalie and in their crease. I think we were a pretty soft team this year in my opinion.”

Tortorella, who celebrates his 64th birthday in a week, can be harsh but very entertaining. Some may be against his no-nonsense coaching style comes with a short shelf life. How his polarizing image connects with the Flyers’ fan base will also be something to note.

While Tortorella’s résumé is deep, he does not have as much playoff success as some of the other established coaches in the league. He’s 56-64 lifetime in the postseason and has suffered six opening-round exits.

The Boston native faces a tall challenge in Philadelphia. Including Yeo and another ex-interim head coach in Scott Gordon, Tortorella will be the Flyers’ fifth voice in five years.

The job includes assistant coaches John Torchetti (power play), Darryl Williams (penalty kill), and Kim Dillabaugh (goalies) are not yet known but are very likely in danger. Tortorella is taking over a team that has missed the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 1992-93 and 1993-94. The Flyers have gone 50-69-19 over the last two seasons while surrendering 3.56 goals per game, tied for worst in the league. They’re coming off one of the franchise’s worst-ever seasons going 25-46-11. The Flyers’ problems are not all on the coaching. Injuries were a huge factor in the disaster, but the club also has a talent shortage and is now in a transitional stage after trading Claude Giroux last March. Once again, Fletcher faces a massive offseason, especially if the Flyers want to improve quickly. Hiring a new head coach was a big decision, but how Fletcher aggressively retools this offseason will be bigger.

So, John Tortorella is walking into a mess. But from what he’s been able to do we should all be very optimistic he can turn this team around.

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