The term “winning culture’’ gets knocked around sports teams a lot these days.
Talking about it is one thing, says Flyers new head coach John Tortorella.
Successfully instituting is something else.
During a Zoom media press conference on Friday afternoon to formally announce his hiring, Tortorella indicated he wants to make the once-proud Flyers organization a force again in the NHL.
With just four playoff appearances in the past 10 seasons, the Flyers are looking for just that kind of revival.
Tortorella spent a great amount of time addressing that situation.
Even given the Flyers’ mediocre performances the past two non-playoff seasons, Tortorella said he was eager to accept the offer.
“Let’s talk about the emblem,’’ said Tortorella, who was wearing a shirt with the Flyers logo on it for the Zoom call. “Back in ’04, I was coaching Tampa and we were fortunate enough to win a Stanley Cup – beating Philly in the conference finals. I remember telling my wife, ‘man, that is a place I would like to coach.’
“The passion of the people, the building, everything about the city. It was really neat for me. I know (Flyers GM) Chuck (Fletcher) wants to get going here and turn it around. I’m not going to critique anything that’s happened before. I know it’s been a little bit of a struggle. I think Chuck and I spoke the same language that we get this fixed quickly.’’
Fletcher was also on the call and revealed the team held lengthy interviews with eight candidates before settling on Tortorella.
On the flip side, it didn’t take long for Tortorella to accept the Flyers’ offer.
“I just felt comfortable right from the get-go in my conversations (with Fletcher),’’ Tortorella said. “I thought it was easy-flowing, he was to the point. I just thought I felt so comfortable talking with him. I received so much good information about Chuck, how good a guy and man that he is. You could see that. I appreciated his honesty. His willingness to let me know how all this was going to work. He was upfront with me right from the get-go.’’
Although the Flyers just suffered through one of the worst records in team history, there is belief that the healthy returns of Sean Couturier (back surgery) and Ryan Ellis (pelvic injury) plus some offseason moves could get the Flyers back into contention sooner than later.
“I couldn’t be more excited about being part of the Philadelphia Flyers,’’ Tortorella said. “It may sound a little silly but even when I was coaching another team, I’ve always thought about that city, that team about hoping to have an opportunity along the way.’’
The GM said he was looking for a coach with extensive NHL experience, a lengthy track record of success, someone who could introduce structure, reduce goals-against, improve penalty killing and make life easier for the team’s goaltenders. That and the ability to hold players accountable to a high standard.
“A standard of conduct on and off the ice,’’ Fletcher said. “A standard of play, of team orientation. We were looking for someone with the ability to improve young players, strong communication skills.’’
Tortorella acknowledges he’s been a demanding coach these past 20 years but it seems like he’s found a way to fine-tune that aggressive style.
“Especially in today’s league,’’ he said, “I believe it’s very important with such young league. . .I think back to when I used to dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t.’ I wanted them to move the way I wanted them to move in certain situations. I think I’ve kind of come full circle here. Players need to express themselves – you need structure, structure away from the puck. I work at that.’’
Tortorella said structure is integral to forming a team identity and making it a hard team to play against.
“I do think we overcoach at times, it’s something I try to check myself daily as I’m dealing with the players,’’ he said. “Just show me you’re willing to give us something away from the puck. You have to be willing to show your teammates that you can do stuff away from the puck. Then you have something.’’
After leaving the Columbus Blue Jackets following the 2020-21 season, Tortorella spent a year with ESPN as a hockey analyst. It gave him a chance to reflect as well as watch how teams and coaches operated.
One thing he picked up was the need for good communication with the players, an honest back-and-forth, not just lecturing.
“I think it’s the evolution of a coach,’’ Tortorella said. “(Pittsburgh coach) Mike Sullivan and I have talked a lot about this question. It needs to be a two-way street. I think coaches get tunnelvision sometimes. I’m one of them. That’s where we have to check ourselves a little bit. Maybe just stop a conversation and listen.
“We have to make changes as coaches. I’m looking forward to listening. It was something I was a litle stubborn about back in the day. But I think I’ve learned by watching other coaches. I learned through the progression of seeing what the athlete is.’’
Tortorella makes it clear he wants the Flyers to have a distinct “identity.’’ You know, sort of like the Broad Street Bullies had way back in the last century.
“There are a lot of things that come into identity,’’ he said. “The number one responsibility for me going in here is to listen, understand the players and have them understand me. The first thing we need to address is our play without the puck, give (goaltender) Carter (Hart) a little more support.’’
Tortorella says he wants his team to be hard to play against.
“I think we need to present ourselves, look harder coming off the bus, coming into buildings,’’ he said. “I want other teams to say, ‘you know what, we have our hands full.’ That’s when you have a group of men that go in that locker room and there’s belief and there’s some hardness. We’ve got to get some skin, we’ve got to grow some skin.’’