John Tortorella was tired of shoveling shit, so he’s going to return to coaching hockey with the Philadelphia Flyers.
And while some may argue that cleaning up after horses on his New York farm ultimately will be more appealing than coaching the Flyers, Tortorella wants one more crack at winning the Stanley Cup, and added that there is one place he always wanted to do that – in Philadelphia.
Tortorella had a very engaging first press conference on Friday after being named the Flyers new coach by signing a 4-year, $16 million deal, and like Bryce Harper did a few years ago, and to a lesser extent, like Cam Atkinson did last summer, donning a Gritty t-shirt in his first interview, Tortorella knew all the right things to say to get the city pumped up and to have the fan base embrace him as he did them.
For the better part of 45 minutes, Tortorella talking coaching, talked expectations, talked structure, and did so with vim and vigor that he was his own walking, talking hype video.
Right from the get go, like Jerry Maguire, he had us from hello.
“Let’s first talk about the emblem,” Tortorella said. “As I told (GM) Chuck (Fletcher), I look at that emblem. Back in ’04 we were fortunate enough, I was coaching Tampa, we went through Philly to win a Stanley Cup, beating Philly in the Conference Finals. I remember telling my wife and I told Chuck this story, ‘Man, that is a place I would love an opportunity to be in and coach.’ The passion of the people, the building, everything about the city. It was really neat for me.
“I remember one of my first meetings with Chuck when we started this, he wore a shirt with the emblem and I said, ‘That’s where I want to be.’ … Guys I couldn’t be more excited being a part of the Philadelphia Flyers. It may sound a little silly, but even when I was coaching other teams, I’ve always thought about that city, I’ve always thought about that team. I would hope to have an opportunity along the way.”
Well, the opportunity is here for Tortorella, who turns 64 later this month – and it could be his final shot at winning that elusive second Cup, after hoisting his first in just his third full season as head coach.
That was back in his “fiery” days, when he was just 44 and having a war of words with Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock and uttered the infamous “Shut your yap,” line as the head coaches bristled with one another publicly.
Tortorella may have mellowed a little bit with age, and said he’s learned a lot about evolving as a coach. I asked him specifically about coaching today’s player vs. coaching players nearly 20 years ago.
“It’s a great question,” Tortorella said. “I think it’s the evolution of coach. We’ve talked, (Pittsburgh coach) Mike Sullivan and I have talked a lot about this question, this subject you’re talking about. It needs to be a two-way street. It needs to be. I think coaches get tunnel vision sometimes. Listen, I’m one of them. That’s where we have to check ourselves a little bit. Even though, you want to maybe jump in on a conversation, maybe just stop for a couple minutes and continue to listen.
“I do think the young athlete, it’s a different athlete right now. That’s a huge part of a coaches’ responsibility is to work with the different athletes as you go through. As long as I’ve been in the league, I’ve seen you go up and down different avenues of what the different athletes are. We have to make that adjustment.”
However, don’t expect Tortorella to suddenly become a coach who will coddle his players, and be soft on them in practice or in the locker room. That’s just not in his DNA.
“There is a fine line there,” he said. “You can’t allow it to run amok. That’s when you get into problems and you lose that standard, you lose that team concept of the merit of playing in the National Hockey League, of becoming a pro. That’s basically what we’re talking about here, is going through these conversations, going through these teaching situations, and developing a pro.
“As I told Chuck in conversations I had with him, I don’t know what I enjoy most, trying to develop the hockey player or trying to develop the person because it’s pretty cool. I’m developing a person in a locker room. My daughter is a schoolteacher, she’s developing young kids in the classroom. My son is in the army, he’s a leader of men. He’s developing people there. It’s all the same thing, trying to develop the people. We have to make changes as coaches as athletes are different. I’m looking forward to listening. It was something I was little bit stubborn back in the day, but I think I’ve learned. I’ve learned watching other coaches and I’ve just through seeing the progression of what the athlete is.”
Being away from the game for a year help Tortorella get rejuvenated to take on the rigors of coaching in the NHL again, which is why he came into his interviews so fired up to take this job.
“Not being in the pressure of it, not being just worried about your team, I get to watch other teams, other coaches, other players and learn that way,” he said. “Now I get to coach this damn team, the Flyers. I’m so lucky to spend a year away and come to this organization, an organization that I truly respect.”
Tortorella said he and Fletcher have already started batting around some names of potential assistant coaching candidates and the two look to have them finalized soon. Tortorella did indicate what kind of coach he asked for – one coach to help with the power play and another coach that is an offensive-minded guy. Tortorella will likely handle his own penalty killing and defensive structure.
Tortorella said he’s going to be in the office next week for a few days and that he’s already started scheduling individual meetings with certain players to get to know them, because other than Atkinson, who he coached in Columbus, Tortorella doesn’t know any of the Flyers players.
And he’s fired up about this too. He’s looking forward to just getting back to talking hockey every day aside from the erstwhile studio analyst gig for ESPN between shifts cleaning up his farm.
“I loved the conversation (with Fletcher) because I’ve been out here with horses and dogs,” Tortorella said. “I’ve been shoveling a lot of shit out here for the past eight or nine months. Excuse my language. I wanted to talk hockey and it was a blast to talk hockey with those guys. Now I feel so very fortunate that I’m going to be part of the Philadelphia Flyer organization. To answer your question, it’s the Philadelphia Flyers. That’s all I need to say. It’s something that I have a tremendous respect for the organization and I couldn’t be happier to be part of it.”
Speaking of shoveling…
Fletcher went out of his way to debunk reports, some from this very website, about his preference for who the Flyers should hire as head coach and his interest in having an outside agency, in this instance, The Coaches Agency, which is owned and operated by Neil Glasberg, who also owns and operates PBI Sports and Entertainment, an agency that represents coaches in the NHL, among other forms of sports and entertainment.
Let’s break down some of the things Chuck said, shall we?
“We hired a company called The Coaches Agency. They’ve been involved in GM and coaches searches with a couple of different teams in the National Hockey League. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not a common practice yet, but I think sports will probably start to mirror corporate America a little bit more by using these types of search firms in the search.”
If there’s one word that needs to be verboten around the Flyers internally it’s “corporate.” As soon as he said it, you could feel the communications people cringe.
Now, while this isn’t the most damning thing he could have said about the agency, it also wasn’t glowing praise either. It came across more as, “We might as well accept that this is going to be the common protocol with hiring practices moving forward and we aren’t going to be able to do things as we always have.”
Which is what we heard here at Crossing Broad – that Fletcher wasn’t keen on this idea to begin with.
Who knows, maybe he came around to it. Maybe at the presser he was being genuine when he said that he’s never had a great process when hiring coaches and that The Coaches Agency changed that and that the company’s ideas on how to conduct an interview were extremely helpful.
But you can understand that when you’ve been in the game as long as Fletcher has, and this new “corporate” idea is thrust upon you, that maybe you don’t react to positively to it initially.
Then there were these two gems:
“That’s exactly why we hired him because I was against it. No, there’s so much nonsense out there.”
“By Monday, I made the decision that John was the guy. Again, we had a lot of time to debate things as a group. I was sitting in our pro meetings on Monday and I said, Torts is the guy. He’s the guy we need. I reached out to him on Tuesday and had a good conversation. I indicated to him that he was the number one candidate on our list.”
Now, I’m not sure where it was reported that Fletcher was “against” hiring Tortorella. That certainly wasn’t on Crossing Broad and I don’t remember seeing it anywhere else.
What I reported was Fletcher wasn’t as high on Tortorella as others in the organization and would have preferred a different coach. That didn’t say he was against the hiring of Torts, just that there was least one other coach he’d rather have had before Torts.
I did add that one source indicated that Fletcher was skeptical of this choice, but again, that’s not saying he’s full on against it – and, it was only one source who used that phrasing. The other sources, as mentioned, said it slightly differently, and I presented all of them for the reader to interpret.
But hey, bad reporting, you know.
The second part about indicating that Torts was No. 1 on their list, is deceiving. Did he become No. 1 on the list eventually? Yes. But it’s misleading to suggest he was always No. 1, because he wasn’t. Barry Trotz was No. 1. Barry Trotz was well engaged with the Flyers for several days, and didn’t alert the Flyers until Tuesday morning that they were no longer in the mix.
At THAT point, Tortorella moved up to No. 1, but it wasn’t until Trotz turned them down.
Again, this was in the Crossing Broad report.
However, on this one, I wasn’t quite alone.
There’s Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:
[Friedman] I think the Flyers were serious about Trotz, he was their top choice, and I think yesterday he told them it wasn’t going to be Philly. And they went to Tortorella who they hope to finalize tomorrow. from hockey
And then there’s TSN’s Darren Dreger, who wouldn’t mention Trotz by name, but also indicated he wasn’t the only candidate to say “Thanks, but no thanks” to Chuck Fletcher:
Now, I ask you, are we all making this up? Are we all getting “bad sources?” Especially the national guys whose track records are nearly spotless.
Or is it possible that Chuck just wants you to believe his public version of the story, because it sounds better for him?
“In terms of all the reports out there, I don’t know if you know, but you shouldn’t trust everything you read.”
I’ll agree with Chuck on that one. Because on the night of Claude Giroux’s final game with the Flyers, a team source told me it was a done deal and that he was going to Florida. That source told me the final details were being worked out, but that Owen Tippett was coming from Florida for sure and that Chuck was trying to get a second prospect in lieu of Florida having traded away its 2023 first round pick two days prior.
So, I sent Chuck a text saying what I heard, and that the deal was Giroux for Owen Tippett and another prospect (not the first round pick in 2024 that he ended up getting.).
I read Chuck’s response:
“I’m not sure who makes up this shit,” he said. “Zero truth.”
See? He’s right.
I penned a column on this very website last month saying why the Flyers absolutely should sign Barry Trotz to be their next coach.
And the Flyers tried to do just that. They were willing to make Trotz the highest paid coach in the NHL. Dave Scott’s blank check promise was legit.
Trotz said no.
As far as consolation prizes go, John Tortorella is a sensational addition. If Trotz weren’t available on May 10 when I wrote that piece, I would have said very similar things about Torts.
This guy has cache. He has chutzpah. He’ll be the face of the franchise until they have a player who can take that mantle, and he’ll make a lot of fans happy and he’ll instantly make the team better.
And, as Chuck said in reply to a question I asked at the press conference, Tortorella will help sell the Flyers.
“John is universally respected and admired for his body of work,” Fletcher said. “I think it’ll be a huge plus as we go forward and sell the Flyers.”
And Chuck’s right.
Tortorella is the kind of coach that can attract a big name free agent. Go back and watch that video with Dreger again. Rewind it back to before I had it setup to start. He talks about the Flyers being big players in free agency, specifically with a player like Johnny Gaudreau.
And as I mentioned before, the Flyers are already kicking tires (or maybe more than kicking) with Chicago on a possible trade for Alex DeBrincat.
These are huge names to bring in during one offseason. These are the kinds of names that you go after when you hire a John Tortorella.
Now Gaudreau and DeBrincat alone won’t make up for all the Flyers faults. There’s still a lot of work to be done. But man, that’d be a heck of a start.
And Chuck has the ability to make this happen. Again, Scott is not going to stand in the way. Buy out a contract, if necessary? Done. Stick a big contract on long-term injured reserve or waive a big contract to the minors? Done. Dave Scott’s blank check still applies here, right up until that $82 million salary cap, or beyond it, if LTIR needs to be used.
Chuck and I may be taking pot shots at each other over reporting and responses to texts, but from my perspective, that’s all in good fun. It’s competitive oneupsmanship, right?
The reality is, I think he made a very good hire with Tortorella, one that will truly benefit the Flyers moving forward. Now Chuck and his team have the daunting task of reshaping the roster to be competitive. Can he do it?
I still think he can. But this well could be his last chance.
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