The Flyers did not defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 Tuesday because Sean Couturier was not in the lineup. And unless they would have gotten boat raced and looked completely outside of themselves, even if they would have lost, it would not have been because of Coots being out.

One player can only impact one game so much, and it’s often overstated, the value of an individual, especially in hockey, the ultimate team sport.

But this was more than just benching Coots for a game. There was a message being sent to the entire team, that no one is immune to the coach’s wrath and everyone is held accountable – well, every player is held accountable.

In that vein, what Torts did to Coots makes some sense.

Go after the captain. He’s the player at the top of the food chain. If he’s shown to be vulnerable, every player below him will recognize that they’re even more vulnerable and respond in the right way.

It’s a very old school mentality. It’s one Mike Keenan used to employ on the regular. Hell, if you’ve ever seen the movie Miracle it’s how Herb Brooks got the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team to buy into his plan hard enough to get the little extra edge they needed to upset the Russians.

However, it’s a tactic that is often best used with a team that is ready to compete for a championship, not necessarily one that is just trying to hold on to a playoff spot.

That’s because there’s great risk in doing it.

If it doesn’t work with a championship contender, then at least the talent is there to find an alternate path to an end goal. But if it doesn’t work with a young, impressionable team, you run the risk of losing the locker room and them tuning you out.

It’s a crazy gamble from a coach not afraid to push multiple buttons at the same time.

Torts realized his team was on a precipice. Getting clobbered by Tampa Bay and Toronto recently wasn’t good. Losing in Boston, although there was better effort, stung. Even the lone win – against lowly San Jose – wasn’t the team’s best effort.

All of a sudden, teams in the rear view mirror trying to chase them down for a playoff spot were closer than they appeared, so Tuesday became a must win.

They would have still been in a playoff spot had they lost in regulation, but there would have been a much more dour feeling if they had gone 0-for-3 in the first three games of the seven-game gauntlet that faced them here in March against the top teams in the East. Getting a win was paramount, and it had to happen on home ice against a Toronto team that is in a comfortable spot – likely not moving up or down in the standings before the end of the season and simply trying to get to the playoffs healthy.

Credit to the coach for recognizing that and pulling out an old trick to get the outcome he desired.

But what was the cost?

Coots wasn’t happy yesterday. His comments were pretty out of character for a guy who has always been more reserved and never had an issue with anyone.

When you’re a healthy scratch for the first time in year career in your 13th year in the league, and you don’t really understand why, and you aren’t being told why, I guess you reach a breaking point and fire your own shot across the bow of the coach:

The most interesting Coots comments are these:

“I’ve been putting the work in for a while. I’ve been struggling, but I’ve been working on my game and it’s frustrating the way I’ve been treated around here lately, but it is what it is.

“I control what I can control. … I’m going to move on. It doesn’t matter what I think. I’ve got to leave my ego aside. Hopefully I can get back into (the lineup) soon.”

If that wasn’t enough, Kevin Kurz of The Athletic was able to get in touch with Coots’ agent Erik Lupien and he added that this icy relationship between captain and coach wasn’t just around this benching, but is one that has been going on for several weeks.

From Kurz’s story:

“He was clueless about his ice time, why his ice time went down,” Lupien said. “But he said, ‘I’m just going to manage and play whatever he maybe wants me to play. If it’s 14 minutes, it’s going to be 14 minutes.”

“From my point of view when I saw the news, I’m like, ‘I really hope the communication why and the reasons why are really clear. I hope he’s going to get an explanation soon because he’s the captain, a leader of the team and he has ‘Philadelphia’ tattooed on his chest since he got drafted. That’s why he wanted to sign there and to sign a long contract. I hope he’s going to get that respect from John Tortorella.”

“Sean won’t learn anything from being in the bleachers tonight. He’s not a second-year pro that went through a cold streak. Sean is a leader and the captain of this team, so by putting him in the bleachers, for a player, he’s going to be ashamed to be there tonight. If there’s no communication why, between the two, in 2024, from my perspective, it ain’t always good to coach and establish regimental fear. And these guys are in the playoff picture.

“With your captain, you have to work together as a team. You want to send a message to the other guys, it has to go through your captain and your assistant. So now you’re not communicating with him. So, OK, what’s next?”

I know the feeling about not communicating with Torts.

Alas, Lupien is right. That’s the danger here. Torts has talked about how he has changed over the years and become more transparent and communicative with the modern player, but he’s also criticized the modern player on more than one occasion as well, most recently saying the NHL is a “dumb league now.”

You can’t say you’re more communicative and want players to be part of the conversation out of one side of your mouth, and then ignore them out of the other side.

That’s going to rub guys the wrong way – especially a veteran like Couturier who does things the right way. Hell, there’s a reason Torts named him the captain just 34 days before banishing him to the press box. You aren’t named captain if you don’t play the right way game in and game out.

(Note: It’s probably difficult to check, but I’d bet Coots is the first captain to be a healthy scratch within his first 34 days of being given the ‘C’ in NHL history. OK… back to the post…) 

And yes, I know there’s been some whispers out there in the interwebs that say that Coots isn’t Torts’ captain, but was rather forced upon him by Keith Jones and Danny Briere and that this methodical march of decreased roles and ice time to being a healthy scratch was Torts’ way of firing back at them.

To that, to steal a line from Torts himself, “I call bullshit.”

I spoke with multiple sources at the Flyers who all confirmed that Torts was the driving force behind choosing the captain and the timing of it. That he felt a team trying to make a push for the playoffs needed a consolidation and recognition of leadership and that Coots was the right guy for it.

The decision to name him was seemingly spontaneous, but if you know anything about Tortorella, it’s one that was calculated and likely had been brewing for a while.

And it’s possible that this whole charade of using Couturier as an example for the team was all part of that mastermind approach.

Players aren’t as dumb as Torts thinks when it comes to optics. He benches his captain in the morning, sends his assistant coach to speak to the media so he doesn’t have to answer questions about it at the skate, and then refuses to talk about it when he does face the media after the game at night.

You demand accountability from your players. You should show transparency yourself. And not doing so seems hypocritical to those of us on the outside, and likely is deemed a “bad look” from those on the inside.

But Torts is a successful coach for a reason. He knows how to get the most of the hand he’s been dealt. Yet, the question remains: Will today’s athletes, in this “dumb league” get his message? Will they use it for good and rally themselves around each other and accumulate victories to advance to the playoffs? Or will they start to tune out the coach, his antics and his theatrics and succumb to the pressure of the chasing Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals?

Only time will tell, because one win on a Tuesday night in March doesn’t come close to providing all the answers.