Did the Flyers make the right choice in hiring Tortorella?

Rumors that John Tortorella would take over as head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers were confirmed this week, as the team agreed to a four-year contract with the veteran bench manager.

We’ve said it before quite recently, but it bears repeating: Tortorella has a Stanley Cup victory under his belt, and his aura is certainly a good match for the Flyers. But the move seems hopeless for Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher and team ownership.

For the past two seasons, Fletcher has publicly stated that he believed the Flyers, as he built them, were a playoff team. Instead, both seasons turned out to be complete duds for Philly; they’ve won just 25 games each year and particularly cratered in 2021-22, finishing dead last in the Metropolitan Division and with the second-worst record (25-46-11) in the Eastern Conference. They had the sixth-worst defense in the NHL (allowing an average of 3.59 goals against per game) and the second-worst offense in the league (averaging just 2.59 goals) last season. The bottom-ranked Arizona Coyotes scored just four more goals than the Flyers. Yes, it was so bad, all around.

Yet here we are again in Philadelphia – this time, without the services of former captain Claude Giroux – and we’re supposed to believe that Tortorella is going to turn the Flyers into bona fide Stanley Cup contenders? Sorry, I can’t take this step without seeing evidence this time.

Consider the case for pessimism here: It’s not like Tortorella is going to make saves in the Philly net. That’s the job of 23-year-old Carter Hart, who has struggled in both seasons (a .877 save percentage in 2020-21, followed by a .905 SP last season). Certainly, the team in front of Hart had to deal with the injury-related absences of veterans Kevin Hayes, Sean Couturier and Ryan Ellis. But the Flyers have major depth issues that go beyond this trio’s roles within the organization. And it’s hard to see how Tortorella’s famously demanding approach will solve these structural problems.

To compound the issues – Fletcher’s investments in his roster have left the team with (according to CapFriendly.com) only around $5.1 million in salary cap space this summer. There was hope in some circles that Giroux would return to the Flyers, but when he spoke at the end of his new team – the Florida Panthers – showed him enough to make him want to stay down south. from Florida. It seems unlikely that he wants to be part of a rebuilding Philadelphia team for the rest of his career.

Indeed, that will likely be what the Flyers will be this season. They have an older core up front and their body defense is a mixed bag. And now they have Tortorella, which, as it usually does, will do wonders for some players, but alienate others. It’s been a decade since a team coached by Tortorella made it past the second round of the playoffs, and the Flyers are Tortorella’s fifth NHL employer in 19 years as a coach in hockey’s top league.

It’s always important to give Tortorella credit for growing as a coach. He’s not at all the same over-the-top authoritarian threat he was early in his NHL coaching career. She’s a kinder, gentler person, that’s for sure. But a leopard’s spots don’t change completely, and in the pressure cooker that is Philadelphia pro hockey, it’ll be expected to produce positive results right away.

But there should be any doubt that Tortorella has the composition to cross the line between playoff team and draft lottery hopeful. Fletcher’s past expectations for Philly fell far short when the rubber hit the road, and changing the voice behind the bench won’t be enough to cure the Flyers’ many ills.

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