Flyers hire John Tortorella as new head coach, per source

Flyers hire John Tortorella as new head coach

Updated: Friday, 9:40 a.m. ET

Can John Tortorella whip the Flyers into a winner?

Time, entertainingly, will tell.

But the staunch and straight-shooting bench boss has become the latest to take a crack at it in Philadelphia.

After 44 days of an official search, the Flyers tabbed Tortorella as their new head coach Thursday. Both sides verbally agreed to terms, a source confirmed.

ESPN’s Kevin Weekes first reported the news.

The Flyers announced the hire Friday morning.

“I am very happy to bring in John to be the next head coach and voice behind the bench of the Flyers,” general manager Chuck Fletcher said in a statement released by the team. “John demands the best out of his players every single game. He is a Stanley Cup champion and has a lengthy track record of both regular season and playoff success.

“During the interview process we discussed a number of factors that are crucial to bring this team immediate success and it became clear to me that his vision and style makes him the right person to restore a winning environment to our locker room.”

Barry Trotz, among others, appeared to be a candidate. The Flyers may not have been in a real advantageous position to land him.

The length of the Flyers’ search was in stark contrast to the process of hiring Alain Vigneault back in April 2019. It took only nine days after the 2018-19 season had ended for Fletcher to name Vigneault his first head coach.

 

A promising start to the Vigneault era quickly and suddenly fizzled. Vigneault was fired last December. Interim head coach Mike Yeo was told he wouldn’t be considered for the job following the Flyers’ 25-46-11 season, one of the team’s worst in franchise history.

And here the Flyers are, turning to Tortorella, a demanding, been-around-the-block, pedigree-laden head coach.

In his 20 years of NHL head coaching experience, Tortorella has a Stanley Cup ring and two Jack Adams Award honors (Coach of the Year). He won the Cup in 2004 with the Lightning, has put up three seasons of 100 or more points and owns 12 playoff berths and 10 series victories.

He last coached the Blue Jackets in 2020-21 and had done in-studio color commentary for ESPN this season.

Those in the Flyers’ organization know his track record well. He knocked the Flyers out in the Eastern Conference Final en route to the 2004 Cup with Tampa Bay. He also coached the Rangers for parts of six seasons. After one season with the Canucks and a year away from the game, Tortorella took charge of the Blue Jackets in the opening month of the 2015-16 season.

Trademarks of Tortorella-coached teams are accountability and discipline. They play the right way and prevent goals.

Cam Atkinson, who has quickly become a well-respected member of the Flyers’ leadership group, played for Tortorella during the coach’s entire tenure in Columbus. The Blue Jackets allowed the NHL’s 11th-fewest goals per game at 2.75 in parts of six seasons under Tortorella and had a top-10 penalty kill during that span at 81.2 percent.

Prior to Tortorella’s arrival, Columbus had missed the playoffs for 12 of 14 seasons since the inception of the franchise in 2000. With Tortorella, the Blue Jackets had a run of four consecutive postseason appearances. His 2018-19 Columbus squad still currently stands as the last team to beat the two-time defending champion Lightning in a playoff series. The Blue Jackets shocked Tampa Bay in a first-round sweep.

“You practice how you play. Especially when I turned pro, I learned that from John Tortorella,” Atkinson said at his end-of-the-season press conference in late April. “He was great in that aspect.

“I think going into next year, we just have to find a way to have some more grit, some more jam and more ‘F you’ to our game, on both sides of the puck. In our crease, defending our goalie and in their crease. I think we were a pretty soft team this year in my opinion.”

Tortorella, who celebrates his 64th birthday in a week, can be curt but oftentimes entertaining. Some may argue his no bulls–t coaching style comes with a short shelf life. How his polarizing persona meshes with the Flyers’ fan base will also be something to watch.

 

While his résumé is deep, Tortorella does not have as much playoff success as some of the other established coaches in the league. He’s 56-64 lifetime in the postseason and has suffered six opening-round exits.

The Boston native faces a tall challenge in Philadelphia. Including Yeo and another ex-interim head coach in Scott Gordon, Tortorella will be the Flyers’ fifth voice in five years.

The job statuses of assistant coaches John Torchetti (power play), Darryl Williams (penalty kill) and Kim Dillabaugh (goalies) are not yet known but very likely in peril. Torchetti came on board in January knowing it was a temporary opportunity. Williams was a Vigneault hire last offseason. Dillabaugh has been the club’s goalie coach since 2015-16 and has a good relationship with Carter Hart.

Tortorella is taking the reins of a club that has missed the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 1992-93 and 1993-94. The Flyers have gone 50-69-19 over the last two seasons while surrendering 3.56 goals per game, tied for worst in the league.

The Flyers’ problems do not fall solely on coaching. Sure, injuries played a significant factor in the disastrous 2021-22, but the club also has a talent deficiency and is entering a transitional phase after trading longtime captain Claude Giroux last March. Once again, Fletcher faces a massive offseason, especially if the Flyers want to improve quickly. Hiring a new head coach was a big decision, but how Fletcher aggressively retools this offseason will be bigger.

More: Are Tortorella and Vigneault that much different? Flyers clearly have work to do

Prior to missing the postseason in back-to-back years, the Flyers had a resurgence during 2019-20. In the first full year of Fletcher and Vigneault running the club, the Flyers won their first playoff series since 2012 and finished one win short of the Eastern Conference Final.

When Fletcher fired Vigneault this season, he noted three times how the Flyers had lost their way. He mentioned process again in his end-of-the-season press conference.

“You go back to that first season, ’19-20, we played really well, played the right way. Prior to the pause, we were one of the best teams in the league, we had the puck, the process was good, the results were good, we were clicking,” Fletcher said May 3. “Clearly the last two seasons, for various reasons, we just haven’t been able to get back to that level. Certainly that’s our goal.

 

“I go back to process and hopefully with coaching and looking at a few different ways, we can try to have the puck a little bit more often and not spend so much time in D-zone, make the game a little bit easier.”

John Tortorella, come on down.

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