John Tortorella might be new in terms of being the Philadelphia Flyers’ head coach, but the veteran bench boss knows a thing or two about longevity.
Despite a reputation as demanding boss — and former players aren’t shy to back that up, both in support and against Tortorella — his shortest stint behind an NHL bench is one full season with the Vancouver Canucks. That 82-game stint is certainly an outlier as Tortorella’s hard-nosed style is proven, having lasted six years each with the New York Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets with another seven seasons behind the bench while winning a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
That stop in Vancouver was, of course, marred by a hallway confrontation with then-Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley that was initiated by Tortorella and earned him a six-game suspension. Having already embarrassed the organization, a second-half slide that kept the Canucks from the Stanley Cup playoffs solidified Tortorella’s shortest venture behind an NHL bench.
In a way it’s fitting that Tortorella’s earliest departure from a head coaching job was almost entirely on his own doing, because otherwise the soon-to-be 64-year-old has lasted through regime changes, countless assistants, replacing captains, and more.
And with his next job, the veteran coach is already looking at what lies ahead by saying all of the right things in his introductory press conference. Tortorella went out of his way to praise the Flyers’ storied history and emblem, saying “I remember in my first meeting with Chuck, when we started this, he wore a shirt with the emblem, and I said, ‘Man, that’s where I want to be.’”
He even addressed the fans and city during the press conference, “Man, that is a place [Philly] I would love an opportunity to be and coach,” said Tortorella. “The passion of the people, the building, everything about the city, it really — it was really neat for me.”
Tortorella even echoed those comments from his initial presser during a recent episode of the Flyers Daily podcast with Jason Myrtetus, hitting on the storied franchise being a part of the allure of the opportunity dating back even prior to the opening coming on the market.
But it wasn’t something about the Flyers’ historic emblem or the fans that struck me, it was Tortorella’s comment about how doesn’t expect the team to compete for the Stanley Cup next season.
From the outside, a team that finished with the fifth-worst record in the entire NHL wouldn’t be considered a Cup contender by any means, but Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher has coined the mission going forward as an “aggressive retool.” Fletcher isn’t going down without a fight, and part of that fight is bringing in the very proven Tortorella, who has made the Stanley Cup playoffs in nine of his 12 full seasons behind an NHL bench.
Fletcher expects things to be different for Flyers next season after a resounding failure of a 2021-22 campaign. He expects to have key cogs Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes, Ryan Ellis, and Joel Farabee fully healthy and to restore the depth that made the Flyers intriguing as a playoff contender before the wheels fell off last season.
But Fletcher also knows that his seat isn’t getting any cooler, and you can bet that Tortorella isn’t unaware of that fact either given his sterling early comments since being named the 23rd head coach in Flyers history. Tortorella reportedly inked a four-year, $16 million deal, and doesn’t have designs on enduring a second one-year stint like he did in Vancouver — he’d incur plenty of compensation should Flyers ownership feel the need to clean house totally if 2022-23 proves to be a follow-on mitigated disaster.
That contract, combined with the fact that the Flyers paid Alain Vigneault to go away after just over two years into his deal, should alleviate concerns that ownership isn’t willing to spend the cash necessary — even if the comment that Fletcher made at the press conference that the team used an outside search firm was very corporate-cringeworthy.
If things break right for Flyers and the Tortorella brings the club back to the Stanley Cup playoffs as he’s done so many times before, Fletcher would likely be safe and while might not sound sexy, the goal for the Flyers in present is no longer Stanley Cups: it’s making the playoffs and seeing what happens.
And if things don’t break right for the Flyers, Tortorella can point to his track record and essentially say that his results are proven and he wasn’t given enough to work with. That would put the crosshairs directly on Fletcher, who spearheaded moves that have — for the most part — put the Flyers in this position to begin with.
Another season without the Flyers at least in the playoffs will almost certainly cost jobs, but history shows that it won’t be Tortorella’s — and his early pandering certainly won’t go unnoticed — should ownership and prominent team alumni come calling for accountability.