The Flyers’ search for a new head coach is reportedly over.
Thursday evening, the Flyers hired John Tortorella as the 23rd head coach in franchise history. ESPN’s Kevin Weekes first reported the hiring of Tortorella — and Tortorella’s four-year contract.
Tortorella follows Alain Vigneault, who was fired midway through the 2021-22 season, and former interim head coach Mike Yeo as the team’s latest bench boss. The almost-64-year-old (his birthday is June 24) serves as the Flyers’ seventh head coach since the beginning of the 2013-14 campaign.
Tortorella will now reunite with veteran forward Cam Atkinson, who he coached for six years with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Flyers were reported to have interviewed several other candidates, including Barry Trotz, Rick Tocchet and David Quinn, among others. But in the end, it’s Tortorella who will be calling the shots next season.
Tortorella, one of only five coaches to ever win the Jack Adams Award twice, has coached 1,383 NHL games between the New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Vancouver Canucks and Blue Jackets, ranking 14th all-time in wins with 673. He’s led his teams to the postseason 12 times in 19 seasons as an NHL head coach (not counting the 1999-2000 season when he only coached four games) and has appeared in the Stanley Cup Final once, winning it all with the Lightning in 2004.
Undoubtedly, Tortorella has a resume matched by very few coaches in NHL history, and with the Flyers still intending to compete despite coming off a dreadful 61-point campaign, it makes sense that he’ll be the man standing behind their bench next season. He has a lengthy track record of coaching substandard clubs to contention, and even with the Flyers’ clear lack of high-end talent, Tortorella has proven more than capable of getting similarly built teams to the postseason.
Look no further than the 2018-19 Blue Jackets as evidence of this. Entering the postseason as the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Tortorella-coached Blue Jackets managed to pull off a four-game sweep of a historically dominating Lightning juggernaut in the first round. His team was unable to advance beyond the second round, but the Blue Jackets’ first-round stunner ended up being an upset for the ages.
Of course, Tortorella is known for far more than just his solid coaching history. He also has a personality as fiery as the sun itself. He’s an extremely demanding coach with a no-nonsense demeanor that many fans will probably welcome with open arms. He holds each of his players accountable, regardless of who they are, and his battles with the media (and opposing coaches) are next-level comedy.
On the flip side, though, Tortorella’s sometimes abrasive attitude has created a fair amount of drama in the past. Not long after he was fired by the Blue Jackets, star winger Patrik Laine voiced his frustration with Tortorella’s defense-first mentality on Finnish media outlet aamulehti.fi. The Columbus Dispatch translated Laine’s remarks to English.
“Tortorella did not give freedom to anyone,” said Laine. “Forwards want to create offensively. You have to ‘cheat’ a bit if you want to become a goal king. It is not possible if the coaches think differently. But I do as they tell me.”
More recently, Tortorella openly criticized Anaheim Ducks forward Trevor Zegras for his dazzling lacrosse-style assist against the Buffalo Sabers back in December, claiming that the highlight-reel goal was bad for the sport.
“I’m not trying to be a fool here, but I’m just not so sure it’s great for the game,” said Tortorella. “If you did that back in the late ’90s, 2000, you’d get your head taken off. It’s cool. It’s cool to watch and all that, but I’m not so sure it’s good for the game. And I stand by that.”
He then added that he’d be less than thrilled if a player on one of his teams pulled off a play like Zegras’ flashy behind-the-net assist.
“I’d have a talk with the people — I would — after the game. I’m not trying to be difficult about it. It’s fun to watch, it’s really cool. I just think our game has gone so far away from what the game should be. A hard game, an honest game. It’s almost gotten too showman. I know you need to have it, you need to sell the game, but I’m from the ilk of it’s still a hard game to play, and a good, honest hockey game needs to be played. I think some of this stuff here we get carried away.”
Is Tortorella the right coach to help the Flyers return to contention? Perhaps. Maybe not. He’s still very much an old-school style coach, and many fans were likely hoping for more of a progressive mind behind the Flyers bench. But at the very least, Tortorella’s time in Philadelphia is bound to be tremendously fascinating.