It’s not completely official yet but the Flyers are about a puck’s length away from hiring veteran coach John Tortorella as their new bench boss.
Several media sources are reporting the Flyers and Tortorella have agreed in principle on a contract and an announcement could come as early as today.
For weeks, speculation has centered on Tortorella, who won a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2003-04, and Barry Trotz as the heavy favorites to secure the Flyers’ vacant position.
As late as Tuesday, Trotz was in consideration but apparently turned down an offer from Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher.
ESPN hockey analyst Kevin Weekes reported on Tuesday night that Tortorella was the Flyers’ hire, pending final contract negotiations.
Tortorella, 64, would step in one season after the Flyers fired Alain Vigneault back in December and then employed Mike Yeo as an interim head coach for the remainder of the season. Yeo was dismissed shortly after the conclusion of the season.
In addition to his stint with Tampa Bay, Tortorella has also coached the New York Rangers, the Vancouver Canucks and the Columbus Blue Jackets. He has made the Stanley Cup playoffs a dozen times. Half of those appearances ended in first-round eliminations.
According to a report in the hockey website Crossing Broad, Tortorella should have the strong backing of at least one current Flyer member, Cam Atkinson, who played for the coach at Columbus.
In fact, Atkinson (acquired in last year’s trade involving Jake Voracek) has openly campaigned for Tortorella, stating his mentor would bring a badly needed “tough’’ approach to the Flyers’ play.
Tortorella’s regular-season record stands at 673-541-132 for a .548 winning percentage. In the playoffs he’s 56-64. The 673 victories are 14th all-time among all NHL coaches and second among American-born coaches behind only former Flyers coach Peter Laviolette.
In what might be described as a stroke of irony, it was Tortorella who once told ex-Flyer coach Ken Hitchcock to “shut yer yap!’’ during a heated exchange through the media early in the 2003-04 Eastern Confernce finals, which the Lightning won in seven games.
Tortorella’s style will come under scrutiny in Philadelphia simply because he’s considered a no-nonsense guy who holds both stars and prospects accountable.
There have been rumors that Tortorella was not Fletcher’s first choice but since the Flyers have missed the playoffs two straight seasons (the first time that’s happened since the early ‘90s), it would seem imperative the team bring in a proven winner who can execute a quick turnaround.
As for the actual contract, it would appear money is not an issue. One report had Flyers governor Dave Scott offering Trotz as much as $7 million per season. At first glance, it would seem a coach as accomplished as Tortorella would command somewhat equal compensation.
In addition, the Flyers’ brass know that both attendance at the Wells Fargo Center as well as TV ratings have plummeted. A fast revival probably has to figure into this equation.