John Tortorella almost made Philadelphia Flyers hockey fun again in a matter of a year.
Watching the Flyers from 2012 onwards has been a disappointing endeavour with multiple seasons without the playoffs – including successive campaigns without the postseason, prospects not panning out, and injuries galore. For whatever reason, it always seemed that lack of accountability was a major issue – if not the biggest issue – and the finger could be pointed towards the captain, the leadership group, the head coach, or all three.
Whenever a player made a costly gaffe, or wasn’t hustling, or completely butchered a play, there was never any repercussions to their actions. There was the odd time here and there where a player would be benched but not enough to cause a ripple effect of positive change.
Tortorella came into this mess in the summer of 2022 and pledged that he would make a difference from beginning to end. He was quick to point out that there would be trying times as he tries to right the ship, but the end-goal would be worth the wait.
We all remember him from his days in Tampa Bay and New York where he would either go after the referees, the media members, or opposition players with angst and fire. Craig Berube, Dave Hakstol, and Alain Vigneault had their own methods of coaching and at times were pushing all the right buttons but whenever the Flyers slipped, they could never recover and it would last far too long.
We have heard it from the front office, the coaching staff, and the players themselves that accountability needed to be at the forefront but their words started to lose meaning and they were speaking to brick walls after a while.
Tortorella came in and laid everything out on the table as soon as possible, making sure he gave everyone an even playing field before the regular season started. Throughout the season, Kevin Hayes, Travis Konecny, Morgan Frost, Owen Tippett, Joel Farabee, Travis Sanheim, Cam York, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Tony DeAngelo felt the wrath of Tortorella’s accountability, and for the most part it paid off.
They were all either benched mid-game, were made a healthy scratch, or both, and outside of Kevin Hayes, they all came back firing on all cylinders when given a second chance.
The manner in which they were conducted received a lot of criticism because at the time Hayes was the team’s leading scorer, Frost was supposed to be playing in front of his family in Toronto, Sanheim was supposed to be playing in front of his family and friends in Calgary, and DeAngelo was scratched throughout the entire final stretch of the regular season.
Lack of hustle, not backchecking, deciding not to play a full 200-foot game, or costly mistakes being repeated drew the ire of the coaching staff and it whipped the team into shape by the end. Tortorella’s demands were rather simple and if you failed to meet the requirements, there would be repercussions – as should have been the case in years prior.
It’s hard to dispute that, for what Tortorella was given, the 2022-23 Flyers actually played decent hockey. The scoreboard and the standings would show otherwise, but there was a severe lack of star-power and talent. Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson were forced to miss the entire season, veterans like James van Riemsdyk and Kevin Hayes disappeared for the most part, and new acquisitions didn’t pan out.
Travis Konecny came out of his shell and recorded a career-high 31 goals in just 60 games, Owen Tippett scored 27 goals and 49 points in 77 games, Morgan Frost paced the club in points in the second half and finished with a career-high 46 points, Scott Laughton chipped in with 18 goals and 43 points, and Noah Cates had a quietly remarkable rookie season where he scored 13 goals and 38 points while playing critical minutes.
In previous seasons whenever Frost struggled, he was either benched, sent back down to the minors, or dropped on the depth chart. This season was a little different and although he only started the year with 3 goals and 6 points in first 27 games – of which 2 goals and 3 points came within the first 2 games – Tortorella never wavered and kept putting him on the ice and it paid off to the tune of 16 goals and 40 points in his final 54 games. Nothing otherworldly, but compared to his previous 3 seasons, it was a truly different Morgan Frost.
Noah Cates earned himself a roster spot and then eventually landed a cushy seat at Tortorella’s table with his 200-foot game, defensive acumen, and responsible nature. He had a great rookie season by all other metrics and his 17:46 ATOI, mixed in with his 60 takeaways to 13 giveaways, and 39 points on the season came through hard work and gratification from the coaching staff.
Scott Laughton enjoyed himself a career-year as well with 18 goals, 25 assists, 18:17 ATOI, his first ever power play goal – ended the year with 5 – 57 blocks, 156 hits, 3 shorthanded goals and 4 shorthanded assists – all of which were career-highs. Owen Tippett was in a similar position as Frost, finished the year with a career-high 27 goals, 22 assists, 47 points, 77 games, 8 power play goals, 17:26 ATOI, 231 shots, 69 blocked shots, 125 hits, and 44 takeaways. He asked for more ice-time, Tortorella agreed and he never looked back.
Sure there were tough times as well. Kevin Hayes scored 9 points in his final 36 games, James van Riemsdyk finished the season with 12 goals and 29 points in 61 games, Ivan Provorov’s offensive slide continued with just 6 goals and 27 points, Travis Sanheim was a shell of his 2nd half from the year prior, and Joel Farabee struggled as he made his way into the lineup a lot sooner than expected after off-season surgery.
Hayes never looked the same after being made a healthy scratch, DeAngelo confirmed that there were issues on hand once he was bought out by the club, Provorov was on his way out after a tumultuous tenure, and van Riemsdyk certainly lost a step or two after his injury.
Many were worried that Tortorella would stunt the growth of the young prospects and play with a veteran filled lineup instead. However, we saw Tyson Foerster blossom, Elliot Desnoyers made a nice cameo, Egor Zamula finally recorded his first NHL point, Samuel Ersson essentially solidified his position as the backup goaltender for 2023-24, and players like Adam Ginning, Ronnie Attard, Jackson Cates, Tanner Laczynski, and Olle Lycksell received some sort of run.
There would have been more opportunity at the NHL-level had the Lehigh Valley Phantoms not been on a playoff push, but we still saw several young players make a case for themselves heading into the new season.
That doesn’t even equate to the Frost’s, Tippett’s, York’s, Farabee’s, and Noah Cates’ of the world who are bound to have even larger roles this coming season.
Growth, patience, and building from the ground up were the common theme of any interview he made from the moment he was hired to the moment the season ended. The process became extremely clear once Chuck Fletcher was fired from both of his active duties. Dave Scott and Valerie Camillo followed suit, the Flyers hired several different faces for a variety of positions in the front office and the makeup of the team, but they made it abundantly clear that Tortorella would be one of the main factors in this process.
Daniel Briere added a few depth pieces in the off-season that should make an immediate impact on the opening night roster, Couturier and Atkinson are set to return after their lengthy absences, Ersson should get a lot more run this season, and players like York, Frost, and Tippett are expected to have larger roles with the departures of some key veterans.
It’s only year-2 of this moribund process but after a wasted decade and a half of pointless seasons, dribble, and lack of results, the Flyers are finally pivoting towards a direction and have the right people in charge.
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