Tortorella Letter Restates Flyers Rebuild

Will Whole Flyers Organization Follow Through?

Philadelphia Flyers head coach John Tortorella talks to his team during the third period against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers returned from the All-Star break on Monday night with a 2-1 loss to the New York Islanders. The result was once again close, but not surprising. 

The Islanders had just added Bo Horvat to their lineup, their big acquisition as the trade deadline approaches. The Flyers are stuck in the league’s mushy middle, not close enough to the playoffs yet too far away from the draft lottery. In this particular year, the Connor Bedard sweepstakes.

But the bigger story from Monday wasn’t the game. It was what John Tortorella said in his pre-game availability that was ultimately put in writing to the team’s season ticket holders.

“We’re not good enough to think we have everything solved. This doesn’t change my thinking as far as the process of what this team has to go through. This is going to take time,” Tortorella said on Monday morning. “I also need to realize that they’re on a good run here too. You need to let them feel good about themselves. But I’m not getting away from what the process is going to be in my mind as the coach.”

What Tortorella is referring to is the team’s month of January. They had returned from the holiday break with two wins. They turned that into a run of nine wins in 12 games before losing three straight and closing out the stretch prior to the All-Star break with a shutout win in Winnipeg. During that stretch, they was scoring more goals and getting consistent goaltending to stay competitive in games. 

While Tortorella is certainly trying to balance feeling good and getting a few wins, it isn’t helping the team in the here and now completely. If the team is to recognize it needs to rebuild, then everyone needs to be on board.

Building from the Footers

Back in early December, Tortorella had spoken about the road ahead and needing to “build from the footers.” An hour after discussing such a process and the challenges that come with it, general manager Chuck Fletcher discussed his team being just five points out of a wildcard spot.

With less than a month until the trade deadline and 31 games to go in the season prior to Monday’s loss, it made the timing of this letter with a message from Tortorella to season ticket holders interesting:

“I’m not going to lie to you – and I want to be clear about this – we’re not there yet,” Tortorella wrote. “This year was the first step in building the future of the Flyers and restoring our reputation as one of the most respected teams in hockey.”

Building. That’s the key word that Tortorella has now used multiple times this season. 

A rebuild is not always an immediate tear-it-down-to-the-studs operation. There are things to discover about a team that allow you to identify what you need to become who you want to be.

Part of that process will be cleaning out some of the clutter that has built up. There are contracts that will need to be moved if they are not going to be part of the future. There are trades that should be made for whatever value the player can bring. 

It needs to be the opposite approach from the last several offseasons. No more band-aids. No more piecing things together and using injuries as the reason it doesn’t come to fruition.

If the Flyers are going to go this direction, they have just taken the first step – admission of the problem. Now the question becomes will they follow through with it?

Everyone on Board

There’s a reason this message comes from Tortorella. It’s been consistent throughout the season. It’s certainly genuine. And it resonates with a frustrated fan base. But in order for such a process to work, everyone has to be on board.

If, in fact, Chuck Fletcher, Dave Scott, and the whole host of assistant GMs and senior advisors who have dedicated decades upon decades to the Flyers are on board, they don’t need to give some big public address to the media or letter to the fans. They need to show that they are equally as committed and prove capable of the job.

That last part is where most will take issue. The past few seasons have shown just how far behind the Flyers are with the rest of the league. You can grab a bunch of mid-pack NHL veterans, stick them in a lineup coached by a demanded bench boss, as Tortorella is, and get some results, but not nearly enough to make you a contender. In the process, those players will be just good enough to take you out of the running for any generational talent that may be coming along. 

That gets you stuck in purgatory. It’s how you don’t escape the rest of the hockey world passing you by. It can leave you stuck in that position for years – look no further than the last decade of Flyers hockey.

So now the cards are on the table. The Flyers are building. At least that’s what Tortorella says. Let’s see if the front office and ownership group decide to follow through.

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