The Philadelphia Flyers have hired John Tortorella as the 23rd head coach in franchise history. The organization has reportedly reviewed a long list of candidates during a six-week process since announcing that interim head coach Mike Yeo would not keep the full-time job. ESPN’s Kevin Weekes reported the news for the first time.
Related: Measuring Tortorella as Flyers head coach
Alain Vigneault started the 2021-22 season behind the Philadelphia bench, but it only lasted 22 games before general manager (GM) Chuck Fletcher pulled the plug. The Flyers finished last in the Metropolitan Division after entering the season with high expectations. They have fallen into the worst era in franchise history, missing the playoffs in six of the last 10 seasons.
The imposing presence of John Tortorella
Tortorella is a coach with the type of experience that can command a locker room. He spent parts of 20 seasons as NHL head coach for four different teams. He coached the Tampa Bay Lightning team in 2003-04 that defeated the Flyers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals en route to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. He led teams to the Stanley Cup Playoffs 12 times and won two Jack Adams Awards as NHL Coach of the Year.
His colorful personality, strong emotions and demanding attitude led to a considerable amount of conflict with players, members of the media and opponents during his time in the NHL. His past is certainly not without blemish, and his tendency to speak with an edge regularly lands him in the headlines for good and bad reasons. His controversial comments about Trevor Zegras and Sonny Milano dominated discussions in the hockey world earlier this season.
However, any notion that paints Tortorella as a bully who will quickly burn out in the modern NHL is simplistic. He is a strict and demanding leader who has sometimes faced underperforming players. However, the majority of players who talk a lot about him consider his blunt honesty a good quality. Even after his tenure with the Blue Jackets ended in 2021, he received praise from veterans Oliver Bjorkstrand, Seth Jones, Boone Jenner and Zach Werenski.
His experience includes a seven-year tenure with the Lightning, a five-year tenure with the New York Rangers and a six-year tenure with the Columbus Blue Jackets. His only real misstep was his only season with the Vancouver Canucks in 2013-14.
Circulars seek to restore franchise glory
Back-to-back disastrous seasons led to long conversations about the need to restore the franchise’s waning identity. The Flyers proudly possessed a reputation as a feared opponent who played an intimidating physical style during their most successful eras in team history. The need to become “harder to face” has been consistently raised by influential members of the organization in response to the recent lack of success.
Cam Atkinson played in Columbus throughout Tortorella’s tenure. He spoke forcefully in his exit interview in April about the things he learned from his former manager and quickly moved on to statements about the team’s weaknesses last season.
“You practice your way of playing. Especially when I turned pro, I learned that from Tortorella. John Tortorella, he was great in that aspect. There just wasn’t a lot of practice time (in 2021-22), and it was hard to mold and gel as a group when playing so many games because there isn’t there’s only a few things you can watch videos and stuff but you can’t really get on the ice and do it. As we approach next year, we need to find a way to get more guts, a little more jam, and a little more “f you” into our game. Both sides of the puck, in or crease , defending our goalkeeper, and in their crease. I think we were a pretty soft team this year, in my opinion.
Atkinson never directly identified Tortorella as the solution to the problems. However, the 33-year-old right winger clearly holds his former coach in high regard for correctly instilling discipline and responsibility. His position within the team’s leadership group will be key in 2022-23.
Senior executives Bobby Clarke and Paul Holmgren reportedly preferred Tortorella over other candidates such as Barry Trotz, Bruce Cassidy and Jim Montgomery. Bill Meltzer described that the two former Flyers had a “substantive role in the final decision” for the hire. Other reports suggested that Fletcher was not entirely determined by the location. Although the level of influence of all parties will not become entirely clear in the near future, the organization now has its fiery head coach who seeks to restore the success of a fallen franchise.
Colin Newby is a freelance journalist from Delaware County, Pennsylvania who covers the Philadelphia Flyers for hockey writers. He’s an encyclopedia of useless sports knowledge with an amazing ability to churn out goalie stats from the 2004 Flyers and every Stanley Cup winner in his lifetime. The depth of his knowledge comes from spending his entire life following the Flyers and the NHL, from fan favorites like the Legion of Doom and Claude Giroux to forgotten companions like Andy Delmore and Branko Radivojevič. He joined the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA) in 2022.
Colin also covers the Philadelphia Eagles and works for 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia.