John Tortorella raised a few eyebrows the other day when he disclosed his new gig as Flyers head coach probably will be his last.
During a meet-and-greet with the Philadelphia media at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees, N.J., the 63-year-old Tortorella indicated this could very well be the final stop on what has become a 22-year tour of the NHL.
Those with a sense of hockey irony might recall when Tortorella broke into the league with the Tampa Bay Lightning back in 2000-01 and think about parallel comparisons to his current situation with the Flyers.
When Tortorella arrived in Florida, he took over a team which, since its inception in 1992-93, had made the playoffs only once in eight seasons and failed in its last four attempts.
As he walked in the door, he knew there was front-line talent with future Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier on board.
But it would take him two years to get things turned in the right direction. The team made the postseason in 2002-03, won a playoff round, then went all the way to a Stanley Cup championship in 2003-04, beating the Flyers in the Eastern Conference finals along the way.
Fast forward to the 2022-23 campaign and it appears that Tortorella’s hope is he can try – perhaps in a bit shorter timeframe — to duplicate that feat from 20 years ago.
Only thing is, this scenario with the Flyers might be a little more challenging.
Expectations in Philly are a bit higher than what took place down in Tampa two decades ago. The Flyers, who have missed the postseason for two straight years (something which hadn’t been done since the early ‘90s), desperately need a “quick fix.’’ Some of that has to do with lagging attendance and lower TV ratings. And some of it has to do with the organization’s image.
Put it this way: A team with the second-highest winning percentage in NHL history isn’t comfortable playing golf in late April.
Tortorella knows this. He spent the past year analyzing hockey for ESPN and got a chance to see a broader lay of the land.
He sounds confident he’s still in touch with today’s “young’’ players and believes the talent pool here is good enough for legitimate contention.
If – and it’s a big “if’’ – Sean Couturier, Ryan Ellis and Kevin Hayes can all come back at full speed for next season, that would be a positive sign.
Then you need full-out performances from Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Carter Hart to compete in a very difficult Metropolitan Division.
Going back to the early days of the Lightning, Tortorella had Lecavalier, St. Louis, Brad Richards and Fredrik Modin on his first team.
A couple years later, when Hall of Famer Dave Andreychuk joined the party along with Cory Stillman and ex-Flyer Ruslan Fedotenko, the Tampa crew had a full arsenal.
Upon close inspection, Tortorella transformed those individual players from 2000-01 into a tight-knit group – a bunch of guys who played for one another and made it through a grueling series against the Calgary Flames for the Stanley Cup.
Maybe the Flyers can pull off a similar “take them by surprise’’ stunner. Not necessarily a Cup but at least a trip to the playoffs and a series win or two.
For his part, Tortorella has realistic expectations in the first year of a four-year, $16-million contract he signed a week or so back.
“I’m not going to sit here and say that we’re going to be Stanley Cup contenders,’’ said Tortorella in an introductory media Zoom call. “I get that. I know there is some work to do. Having said that, I know there is some work to do and that’s what I want to do. That’s what coaches do. I’m looking forward to the challenge.
“I started with my research on (GM) Chuck (Fletcher) and as we’ve grown a little bit here, getting to know one another, I am really interested to do this with him. I’m not afraid of what people are saying about the team. I get it’s out there. It fuels me. It does. It fuels me as far as some of the predictions, some of the thoughts of what’s going on with the team, what’s the process with us. That just fuels me. I’m looking forward to getting into the bunker of that locker room of the Flyers and get about our business.’’
The fun will be in the watching. The guess here is that loyal Flyers fans just want to see a return to smart, hard-working hockey.
If that happens, the rest will take care of itself.