PHILADELPHIA (AP)John Tortorella is about the only NHL coach with such a motley compilation of highlight reels. There are censored versions of his rants. Uncensored versions. He’s angry at reporters. At his players. There is a video of ”6 minutes of John Tortorella Angry Moments,” which one can click after watching 10 minutes of his funniest moments.
The Philadelphia Flyers are sure to enter next season with little shot of winning a Stanley Cup.
So why watch the Flyers? Because with Tortorella calling the shots, the Flyers sure won’t be boring.
Tortorella, though, is more than a sound bite – he knows how to undertake extensive rehabilitation projects and turn teams into winners. The Flyers, as currently constructed, are not ready to win.
Under the coach nicknamed Torts, he promises they will be – soon.
”I am going to coach that team hard right away,” Tortorella said Friday. ”It’s going to be a very difficult camp, a high volume of skating. They will be told about this during the summer here as far as how we’re going to approach this. We’re attacking. It’s not going to be, I guess it’s a rebuild, a retool, whatever language that’s used.”
Tortorella, who turns 64 next week, emerged as the latest new Flyers coach for a franchise that has become an afterthought in Philly. The Flyers used The Coaches Agency search firm to compile a list of names – they had to pay someone to come up with Torts and Barry Trotz as potential coaches? – and interviewed eight candidates.
General manager Chuck Fletcher wanted an ”experienced, respected coach” with a ”lengthy track record of success” and settled on Tortorella and a four-year deal. The Flyers last played in the Stanley Cup Final in 2010. They haven’t won a championship since consecutive Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975.
”It takes a little time for players to understand me,” Tortorella said.
He is known for his occasional temper and demanding, no-nonsense coaching style, and he has clashed through the years with his share of players. Tortorella said he’s softened his style though the years as players evolved and old-school tactics have been weeded out of the league. But changes come only to a certain point.
”I want the team to be hard,” he said. ”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.”
Consider his previous stops:
– The Columbus Blue Jackets had two playoff appearances in their first 15 years of existence. Tortorella inherited an 0-7 team in 2015, went 34-33-8 the rest of the way and Columbus made the playoffs in his next four full seasons.
– Tortorella reached the East finals with the New York Rangers in 2012 and had two other playoff seasons until he was replaced in 2013 by Alain Vigneault – who lasted two-plus seasons with the Flyers and was fired last season as they finished in last place in the Metropolitan Division.
– Before they were a modern day dynasty, the Lightning had one playoff berth in their first 10 years, Tortorella took over in 2001, led them to the West semifinals in 2003 and won the Stanley Cup the following season.
Tortorella, who worked this season for ESPN, dismissed criticism that his style wears teams out quickly. Tortorella is 673-541-37-132 over almost 20 seasons, including just one season with Vancouver when he was fired with four years left on his deal.
”I’ve kind of get put in a box,” he said. ”I coach hard. But I’m always going to be fair with these guys and they will have total honesty from me.”
Times have changed for Tortorella, and for the Flyers over the last 20 years. He told Fletcher about how much he loved coaching in Philly in 2004 when the Lightning knocked out the Flyers in the Eastern Conference finals.
”That is a place I would love an opportunity to be and coach,” Tortorella said. ”The passion of the people, the building, everything about the city. It was really neat for me.”
Once one of the more intimidating arenas in the NHL, attendance at the Wells Fargo Center tumbled into just a few thousand people at home games this season and road teams won a whopping 21 times this season. The Flyers have been dragged down by years of poor drafting, inadequate talent evaluation and churned through six coaches in 10 years.
”I am not going to critique anything that’s happened before,” Tortorella said. ”I know it’s been a little bit of a struggle. I think Chuck and I spoke the same language in how we get this fixed quickly.”
Like most new hires, Tortorella was light on what was needed out of specific players or how Fletcher should handle trades, the draft and free agency this summer. Tortorella did emphasize play away from the puck was a necessary source of improvement.
”Players will respond if they know you’re demanding, but you’re demanding in the sense that you care about them,” Fletcher said. ”You’re not being demanding for yourself, you’re being demanding to make the player better, to make the team better.”
The Flyers won’t care how gets results as long as he can add another video to his collection — hoisting the Stanley Cup in Philadelphia.
”I’m not going to sit here and say we’re going to be Stanley Cup contenders next year, I get that,” he said. ”I know there’s some work to do.”
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