NHL’s top three coaches all have a Flyers connection

Rick Tocchet

       If you’re a gamblin’ man (or woman) and also a Flyers fan, you’re bound to have some interest in the upcoming Jack Adams Trophy race for NHL coach of the year.

      Currently, the three betting favorites (according to FanDuel) are Vancouver’s Rick Tocchet, the New York Rangers’ Peter Laviolette and the Flyers’ John Tortorella.

      All three have connections to Philadelphia, either as a player and/or a bench boss.

      Tocchet, who spent two different stints as a player with the Flyers, has done a magnificent reclamation job with the Canucks. As of Friday, they were still tied for the overall point lead in the NHL standings.

      Laviolette, who took the 2010 Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final (before losing to Chicago), have this season’s Rangers on a team record tying 10-game winning streak after Saturday’s 2-1 victory at Philadelphia.

      Tortorella, a Stanley Cup winner with Tampa in 2004, has been coming on strong with this season entering the homestretch. His Flyers have been challenging for a playoff spot after three seasons out of postseason action.

      None of these gentlemen act like college professors behind their respective benches. They can use colorful language with the best of them but it’s what they say in the locker room that resonates so well with the players.

      Flyers general manager Daniel Briere has had the privilege of being associated with all three. He played with and against Tocchet in the late 1990s, played for Laviolette on that 2010 team and currently oversees Tortorella’s operation in Philadelphia.

      “I think all three coaches have had a big say in the success of their teams,” Briere said after Friday’s practice at the Flyers Training Center. “Knowing all three personally, I can see why their teams are doing so well.

      “I’m not really surprised. ‘Toc,’ I think Vancouver needed a little bit of that fire. When he speaks to his team, they’re going to respond because he’s done it before. They can’t complain that the coach is so hard on us but he’s never done it before. He’s been there.”

      Briere was inside the Flyers’ locker room for practically all of Laviolette’s tenure in Philadelphia. He knows first-hand how emotional those locker-room speeches got.

      “I know the passion with ‘Lavy,’ he’s such a great motivator,” Briere said. “I remember some of those speeches where you wanted to go out and really knock somebody down. That’s how I felt so many nights playing for him.”

      As for Tortorella, Briere indicated there’s more there than meets the eye.

      “He’s straight to the point,” the GM said. “There’s no gray areas. I think the players really respond well. They appreciate that. I’ve never heard of a player complain that the coach was too honest with him.

      “I’ve said it before, ‘Torts’ has a way of letting his players know that he cares about them. It’s genuine, it’s not fake. He cares about his players. And I think that goes a long way with the players.”

      If a player doesn’t want to play with emotion, he probably doesn’t want to show up in Vancouver, New York City or Philadelphia.

      “All three of them are vocal guys,” Briere said of the Adams favorites. “They’re really good at getting the most out of their athletes. They (the coaches) are not sit-back personalities. They go after it.

      “I don’t know if it has anything to do with it but all three have connections to the Flyers and have been very successful this season.”

      Gutsy hockey has been in the DNA of the Flyers almost since their inception in 1967. No doubt the success of the “Broad Street Bullies” played a role in setting that standard.

      Some say it plays right into the heart and soul of Philadelphia, which helps explain why the Eagles are so popular as well.

      In that sense, Tortorella is the perfect coach for this time and place.

      “More than any city around the league, Philadelphia is probably the first one that comes to mind when you think about passionate fans,” Briere said. “Having to play to the image of the city.

      “I think it’s pretty cool. What we’re trying to give our fans is to give them a little bit of that personality. It starts with our head coach. You could say the same with ‘Lavy’ when he was here, he has a fiery personality. ‘Toc’ is the same way.”

      Laviolette won a Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006 and, in addition, has taken the Flyers and the Nashville Predators to the Final.

      Amazingly, he has never won a Jack Adams Trophy.

      Maybe that will change this season if the Rangers continue on their merry way.

      Don’t forget, the Adams only reflects on the regular-season performance, not on the playoffs.

      This much is clear: Laviolette, Tocchet and Tortorella all have the respect of their players because they’ve been there before (Tocchet has previously coached at Tampa and Arizona).

      “These guys have all been around the block,” Briere observed. “It’s an advantage. You look at those markets. Vancouver is a tough market (never won a Stanley Cup), New York is a tough market (one Cup in 84 years), Philly is a tough market on coaches.

      “So, I think it’s important those teams have guys who have been around, coached elsewhere.”

      Whoever does win the award, it will be well-deserved. And it will be appreciated by everyone who plays for, coaches or follows the Flyers.


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About Wayne Fish 2471 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.