Thursday was a microcosm of the state of the Philadelphia Flyers franchise.
From morning to afternoon to evening it couldn’t have been more clear – if the Flyers ever want to return to the prominence they once had as one of the league’s top organizations, it has to start at a very fundamental level – and that begins with getting their own people on the same page.
As of Thursday, they weren’t. And it’s very likely, until there is a significant change in leadership, they won’t be.
Let’s walk through it, shall we?
It starts with John Tortorella. We all know who he is, how he operates, and why he’s been both incredibly successful in his coaching career and equally soul-crushing to some hockey executives along the way.
He’s going to be blunt. He’s going to be terse. He’s going to be confrontational. He’s going to do what he feels is necessary to win. He’s passionate and he is fueled by that passion. It’s a sometimes misunderstood passion too, because it’s birthed out of a desire to be as successful as possible and do what he feels is for the greater good of the organization he is working for, even if some may categorize it as egomaniacal, or say it’s done with only self-interest.
Some people are just wired that way, to push hard for what you feel is right.
So there was Tortorella, Thursday morning, speaking to the media following a morning practice prior to that night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a game the Flyers would eventually lose 4-1, finally saying things the fans have wanted to hear for months – we’re in a rebuild here and it’s going to take awhile, but be patient because when it’s done, there’s going to be a lot of success that follows.
O.K. – he didn’t say those words specifically in that order. But it’s pretty much the gist of it. Watch for yourselves – because this is the press conference you’ve likely been waiting for:
“This team needs to be built from the footers. We’re not even in the foundation, we’re at the footer.”
“We’re gonna feel more pain…”
“This isn’t a one-year type of thing. We’ve got some work to do and it’s going to take some time, no matter what people want to hear out here. It’s going to take some time to get this right.”
“When you get on the other side, the foundation is going to be strong and you’re not going to knee-jerk back and forth.”
“You get stuck in the mud if you keep putting Band-Aids on and use gimmicks to get people in the building. You get people in the building and do it right by winning. And the only way to win is building it the proper way.”
This press conference was 6 1/2 minutes of pure gold. It was what fans have wanted to hear for at least eight years. You want their undying love and support? Play hard, coach hard and win, yes, but please, more than anything, tell them the truth. Be honest with them.
In those 390 seconds, Torts walked the fans across a bridge they’ve been waiting to cross – from the land of anger and apathy to the land of patience, understanding and hope.
It’s a shame the general manager forced them back across the same bridge an hour later.
In his first public comments in a long time, Chuck Fletcher spoke to the media and gave a slew of injury updates, but rather than be in concert with what his coach had to say, he offered a completely different worldview:
Fletcher: “I expect to be more competitive the rest of the way. We’re five points out of a wild-card spot. We’ll see.” #Flyers
— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) December 1, 2022
Come again, Chuck?
“I do expect us to continue to defend well, continue to compete and to be a hard team to play against. I mean, our issue is scoring goals and will (Travis) Konecny and (James van Riemsdyk) and hopefully (Cam) Atkinson help? They should. They were our three leading goal scorers last year, so they should help.”
(h/t Charlie O’Connor of The Athletic for that Chuck quote)
Yes, getting those players back will help the offense, but citing the fact that they were the leading scorers LAST SEASON when the team wasn’t remotely close to being a playoff team shouldn’t instill confidence that their return will suddenly have this team close to being one.
That aside, his comments are perplexing. His outlook somewhat delusional. Because, even though they were five points out of a playoff spot going into that Tampa game, they were also five points from having the worst record in the Eastern Conference.
And really, being five points out of eighth place on Dec. 1, is that a position to be optimistic about?
The Flyers’ goal differential through 24 games is minus-22. Only Columbus (-27), Chicago (-27) and Anaheim (-42) are worse (Columbus and Chicago have played fewer games, so technically, they could get ahead of the Flyers by their 24th games, but unlikely.)
But Fletcher continued to peddle this team’s prospects of being a winning-team to an untrusting public. It has been a thread through almost every press conference in 2022. Starting in January, when he and team Governor Dave Scott promised to shepherd the team through an “aggressive retool,” through trade deadline, draft, and free agency where he talked about liking this team and how they were going to be young and competitive and want to prove everyone wrong, and continuing to push that envelope, being bold after winning one single game following a 10-game winless streak, the fourth such streak in his tenure as GM.
Is it an effort to save his hide? The smoke signals have started to be leaked out that a change could be coming at his position soon, and although I’ve heard that from several sources, the best of them have told me it’s unlikely to happen before Christmas.
Or is he really that out of touch with the reality of this team?
Then came the game, where the Flyers hung in with Tampa for about a period of hockey, backstopped by a really fine effort in goal by Carter Hart, before the Lightning absolutely dominated them in the second period and won a game that was even more lopsided than the 4-1 score would indicate.
Oh, and this Tampa team was one of the teams Chuck was referencing the Flyers possibly chasing down for a playoff spot (a Flyers win Thursday would have closed the gap with Tampa to four points).
“They outplayed us from start to finish,” said Tony DeAngelo, who was back after missing one game with a lower-body injury. “Yeah, it’s good to get healthy, but (Thursday) was just not a very good game, no matter who we had back there. Me and TK coming back didn’t do much for us. We just struggled as a team.”
Because the team is more of what Torts said it is than whatever wool-over-your-eyes perception Fletcher tries to tell you.
Going back to the Torts presser, watch it again and pay close attention to his answer to Charlie O’Connor’s question asking if he knew this was what he was facing when he took the job.
That’s the answer where talks about pain and continued pain and not knee-jerking back and forth. But then he ends it by saying this:
“That’s the way I’m going about it. If somebody thinks different about it, I’m going to argue, because the best way to do it here is to build it the proper way.”
It’s just the latest shot across Fletcher’s bow from the coach. They don’t see eye-to-eye. It’s a marriage, honestly, that was doomed to fail rom the beginning. Fletcher can say all he wants that Torts is the coach he wanted, but he didn’t, and this is the reason why. You can bet your bank account that Torts has, in fact, argued this already – and likely with his boss..
Torts also went out of his way recently to call Special Assistant to the General Manager Danny Briere a “brilliant hockey mind.” It’s practically a guarantee that his saying that publicly suggests they have the same long-term view for this franchise.
And though it’s unusual in a pissing war between a coach and a GM, in this instance, the coach has far more gravitas.
As such, I’ve asked A LOT of people about a potential change or changes in the front office. I’ve gotten a variety of responses ranging from basically “nothing to see here” to “It’s happening and it could be this week.” And these are from sources within the same organization.
What does that tell me? That there is discord internally. That there are people who want change now and are pushing for it and that there are those that want to wait a bit longer to see how things play out.
As I mentioned earlier, the best information I’ve gotten is if change is coming, it won’t happen before Christmas. But there was also this:
Interesting comments from Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher when asked if he was worried about not being around to see through rebuilding effort. Said he talks frequently with Comcast-Spectacor CEO Dave Scott and they're on the same page with how the season could go. pic.twitter.com/olsmK5QYys
— Adam Kimelman (@NHLAdamK) December 1, 2022
A two-hour meeting with Dave Scott on Wednesday where the different possibilities for the team going forward were discussed and everyone is on the same page.
Did the meeting happen? Yes.
Is everyone on the same page? Nope.
Chuck also saying “I understand the business” tells you that he’s been warned that change could come.
What I’ve been able to glean is that Chuck basically bought himself about a month. He wants Scott to see how the team performs, against good opponents, which December’s schedule is littered with, when the team is expected to be mostly healthy. If the team plays well, then maybe, with Tortorella’s coaching acumen, this team can in fact develop, improve and compete all at the same time.
But it’s a Hail Mary at this point and it would require a whole lot of good fortune as the team faces a veritable gauntlet of competition.
It started with Tampa. Then there’s Colorado twice in eight days, Washington, Vegas, the Devils again, the Rangers, Toronto and Carolina with only a pesky Arizona and a Columbus team that has beaten the Flyers twice already mixed in as the “easier” opponents before the holidays.
It’s like Fletcher’s own, personal, 12 Days of Christmas.
Well, on the first day of Christmas against Tampa, instead of a partridge in a pear tree, he got the equivalent of a pigeon in a thorn bush.
Will Saturday bring two turtle doves, or will his team simply turtle against the Devils? Wil he get three French Hens in the first game against Colorado, of will his team be French fried? By the second time they play the Avalanche will he get six geese a-laying, or just the laid egg?
He can cross his fingers and hope against hope that he’ll get the gifts in the song and not some sad alternative, but in all likelihood, Fletcher is going to be disappointed by the group he assembled.
Hell, by the Toronto game, instead of expecting 11 ladies dancing, he should just anticipate one fat lady singing.
Because only then, with a change at the top, is it possible for all ideologies to be aligned and the Flyers to finally start to move in the right direction.