When you’ve been around the league for as long as John Tortorella has, you tend to get to know as much about some of the other teams you face as much as the ones you coach. Early on in his introductory press conference, Tortorella recalled his memories of playoff hockey in Philadelphia.
“Back in ’04 we were fortunate enough, I was coaching Tampa, we went through Philly to win a Stanley Cup, beating Philly in the Conference Finals. I remember telling my wife and I told [GM Chuck Fletcher] this story, ‘Man, that is a place I would love an opportunity to be in and coach,’” Tortorella said on Friday afternoon. “The passion of the people, the building, everything about the city. It was really neat for me.”
Those were better days for the Flyers. That was when the standard was pushing for the Stanley Cup every season. For Tortorella, that tradition starts with the Flyers emblem, one that he respects and hopes to return to glory.
“Let’s first talk about the emblem. I remember one of my first meetings with Chuck when we started this, he wore a shirt with the emblem and I said, ‘That’s where I want to be.’ That’s an opportunity that I have right now as I speak with you,” Tortorella said. “I couldn’t be more excited being a part of the Philadelphia Flyers. It may sound a little silly, but even when I was coaching other teams, I’ve always thought about that city, I’ve always thought about that team. I would hope to have an opportunity along the way.”
The last couple of seasons have been a particular struggle for the Flyers, most recently finishing with the fourth-worst record in the league in the 2021-22 season. Going back a decade now, the franchise has won just two playoff series since the 2011-12 season. There’s a lot of work to be done outside of hiring a head coach. Tortorella expressed a desire to get things fixed quickly.
“I know Chuck wants to get going here and turn it around,” Tortorella said. “I am not going 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 on how we get this fixed quickly and it was really intriguing to me. It did nothing but enhance my interest as I went through the process with Chuck and the other guys asking questions about what they want this standard to be.”
What does that involve for the Flyers? There will certainly be roster decisions to come in what is sure to be an aggressive and active offseason. That said, Tortorella’s focus will be on the players he has and worked to establish identity, culture, and accountability.
“There is a lot of things that come into identity. The number one responsibility for me going in here is to listen, to meet the players,” Tortorella said. “We’re going to start that next week, to listen, understand them a little bit. I’ll be honest with you, I think it takes a little time for the players to understand me. I want to go through that process with them. Then you start getting into the teaching of the game.
“When you’re teaching that part, that’s when so many different avenues come into play in teaching what your identity is. Bottom line, I want the team to be harder. I think we need to present ourselves, look harder, coming off the bus, coming into buildings. I want other teams to say ‘you know what we’ve got our hands full tonight.’”
Tortorella also spoke extensively about a culture change needed with the Flyers. He focused on playing with pride and presenting themselves in the right way. That will take a lot of growth and a lot of work and be a daily process.
“If we want to get to growing and who we want to be, that organization that people look at as a standard, then yeah, the culture has to change,” Tortorella said. “Culture. Accountability. All those words, they are really cool summertime words. People like saying those things during the summer. I think us as coaches, when we get the job, it’s about the culture changing, the accountability. It’s real easy to say. Really difficult to do.
“That’s an everyday process. That’s a process I can’t let things go in certain situations on a Tuesday, say ‘You know what, I’ll get that Wednesday.’ No, because something else is going to happen Wednesday probably. That’s the type of discipline a coach needs to get the culture. I hate using the word culture. I just call it standard.
“I want our guys to be proud of themselves. I want our fans to be proud of us, how we look, how we present ourselves, how we attack the game, how we handle situations in the blue paint, and if you’re talking on the ice, how we stick up for each other in certain situations. I want people to be proud of that. That’s when you get the camaraderie.”
That will all start with this season’s preparations in training camp. While the current NHL season has yet to conclude, Tortorella has already thought about the style of his first camp as Flyers coach. Expect an intense few weeks of training in Voorhees.
“I am going to coach that team hard right away. It’s going to be a very difficult camp. High volume skating. They will be told about this during the summer. We’re attacking it,” Tortorella said. “It’s not going to be, I guess it’s a rebuild, retool, whatever language is used. I am approaching each and every day to try to make each individual player play better, as a player, as a person then as a team trying to get better each and every day. That will take care of the time frame, wherever it goes, it goes.
“I’m not going to calmly go about it. I’m telling you I am just going at it as quickly as I can to try to make us the best we can be, especially away from the puck when we first start the season.”
Tortorella acknowledged that there’s going to be plenty of work involved to restore all the standard of Flyers hockey. He added that it will take time, that the team will not magically morph into a Stanley Cup contender or anything close to it overnight. But he’s also not shying away from the perception that the team is miles away from competing and embracing that challenge as well.
“I’m not going to sit here and say that we’re going to be Stanley Cup contenders. I get that. I know there is some work to do,” Tortorella said. “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’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.”
Tortorella’s passion was on full display in his opening remarks as Flyers head coach. He loves the game. He was sincere about the opportunity to coach for a franchise that has long been an iconic brand, and embraces the challenge of changing the culture and identity to the standard that it has lived up to for so many years. It was, as expected with an experienced coach such as Tortorella, a great first impression, but now the real work begins.
“The Philadelphia Flyers chose me to run that team. I’m going to go in there and run that team that way I think I should,” Tortorella said. “I’m looking to try to win games, I’m trying to get our team ready to be the right people, the right pros and play as a team, then we’ll take it one day at a time. I’m not looking ahead, I’m going to focus on an unbelievable opportunity I have to coach with that emblem.
“I feel so very fortunate that I’m going to be part of the Philadelphia Flyer organization. It’s the Philadelphia Flyers. That’s all I need to say. It’s something that I have a tremendous respect for the organization and I couldn’t be happier to be part of it.”