After meeting for weeks, if not months, Philadelphia Flyers and John Tortorella signed a three-year deal this week. Tortorella will leave a television concert with ESPN to lead the NHL’s most successful expansion team. Undoubtedly, the most motivating Flyers since Peter Laviolette took the helm. Interim Stanley Cup winner Craig Berube was never given a serious chance with the Flyers, former college coach Dave Haxtol gave new meaning to the wet quilt expression, and league solid fighter Alain Vigneault continued his promising first journey with some really ugly hockey. Tortorella will take over directly from interim coach Mike Yeo, whose term on Broad Street expired at the end of last season. Still, no matter how exciting it may be to seize a product known as Torts on the bench, the organization’s poor leadership will no doubt prevent an exciting new era.
Since Chuck Fletcher became general manager, Flyers has consistently hit more than his weight. With the misconception that he had captured the team one or two pieces away from the fight, Fletcher brought Kevin Hayes to the free agency and then Ryan Ellis through trade. The often-injured duo represents a financial albatross deprived of legitimate star talent. Given Fletcher’s history of expecting elite results from mid-range components, what will Tortorella expect?
If Fletcher thinks that Tortorella’s success with Tampa Bay in the 2004 Stanley Cup will be repeated during his current contract, he simply lost his mind. The Lightning team included mercury superstar Martin St. Louis, the all-around captain and one-time Flyer Vincent Lecavelier, and powerplay specialist Brad Richards. This Flyers team includes Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton and James van Riemsdykin.
If Flyers’ girlfriend wants Tortorella to repeat her tenure with another franchise, they shouldn’t look at anything other than her most recent coaching job in Columbus. In a short time, he became the Boston Blue Jacket, whose pre-Tortorella history consisted of Rick Nash and the ugliest uniforms, and became the highest-paid coach ever. The jackets have played in four playoffs during Tortorella’s time with the team, and although they only advanced once in the first round, their immediate return to action after his departure indicates that Tortorella has been severely damaged by an unpretentious organization. The moral of the story is that Tortorella quickly added character and consistency to the controversial team. With this list, Flyers would be lucky enough to repeat this trick, leaving aside the deep playoff runs he enjoyed with Lightning and Rangers for Tortorella.
The traditional wisdom is that “scary coaches” like Tortorella, Laviolette or Mike Keanan can break down unsuccessful players and quickly lift the spirits of their teams. That was true for Tortorella in Columbus, where Artemi Panari became one of the best players in the league, Seth Jones played himself in a ridiculous deal with the Blackhawks, and Nick Foligno became a key part of the NHL leadership teams. As good as it is, Tortorella is not a miracle worker. No screaming breaks will turn Travis Konecny into Artemi Panari or, better yet, remove him from Flyers’ list of terrible deals.
Over time, Tortorella will dramatically improve the career trajectories of any young player who adapts to his philosophy, and can rebuild the team around potential captain Sean Couturier and young sniper Joel Farabi. It won’t take three years to get the trophy back to Philadelphia, but it could start a kind of paradigm shift that Orange and Black desperately need. If Fletcher’s deceptions of grandeur left him unscathed in this quest, don’t be surprised when fans savagely beat the team’s top management and Comcast’s complete failure to manage Flyers again.