When John Tortorella took the job of head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, he knew it wasn’t going to be easy. By signing a four-year pact, Tortorella essentially committed his remaining years as an NHL head coach to this organization, and it should come to nobody’s surprise if he needs that full timeframe to get his team back to respectability.
With year one mercifully nearing its close and the Flyers poised to miss the playoffs by 20-some points, it seems worthwhile to look back on Torts’ track record to see just what he was able to accomplish in each of his stops. It won’t be an apples-to-apples comparison, but it might help to speculate about what we can possibly expect going forward.
John Tortorella’s first NHL head coaching job came, of course, with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He took over during the 2000-01 NHL season, and the team put up just 69 points during his first full year at the helm in 2001-02, missing the playoffs by 18 points. But the Bolts racked up 93 points the following season, capturing a division title (albeit in a very weak Southeast Division) in the process. Tampa would make go on to make four consecutive playoff appearances under Tortorella, including a Stanley Cup win, before he was let go after missing the playoffs in 2007-08.
This sounds great on the surface, but there seems to be little point of reference here. Those Tampa teams were filled with burgeoning talent like Martin St. Louis. These Flyers, unless they luck into Connor Bedard, not so much. So maybe there isn’t much to take away from this.
We should all be trying to figure out a reasonable timeframe for the Philadelphia Flyers to rise above mediocrity under John Tortorella.
Torts’ next stop, with the New York Rangers, began when he was hired late in the 2008-09 season, and he put up some nice results as the Blueshirts squeaked into the playoffs before losing a 7-game battle to Washington in the first round. Following that, the 2009-10 season would end with the Rangers missing out on a playoff berth by just a single point following a devastating and extremely unlikely shootout loss. But Tortorella’s squad would manage three straight seasons of playoff appearances after that before he was dismissed in 2013.
This case also appears to be dissimilar to what Tortorella faces with the Flyers, as he entered the fray in New York to replace a coach (Tom Renney) whom the team had entirely tuned out. His immediate task was to get the club into the playoffs that year, which he did, before the team took a step back the following season and then reestablished itself as playoff caliber. It wasn’t akin to the “rebuild” that he knew he was facing in Philadelphia.
John Tortorella’s one season in Vancouver can’t really be analyzed, and so we move on to his time with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Taking over an 0-7 club early in the 2015-16 season, Torts steadied the ship but still saw his Jackets miss the postseason by 17 points. But the club made the leap the next season, shooting up to 108 points, easily the best regular season in franchise history. This kicked off a run of four straight playoff seasons in Columbus, which rightly earned Tortorella the reputation of being a miracle worker. The Blue Jackets, far from the most talented team around, had bought into what he was selling and became hard to face on a nightly basis.
This, in the end, is what everyone is striving for during Tortorella’s remaining tenure with the Philadelphia Flyers. His second-year turnarounds have been largely remarkable, but frankly I think it would be extremely difficult to pull off at this point. In an absolute best case scenario, the Flyers gain some direction during the 2023-24 season and find themselves higher up in the standings but still in all likelihood out of the serious playoff mix.
In all honesty, the franchise should be targeting a playoff push in the 2024-25 season with any of the moves it makes this offseason and beyond. This core, if you can even call it that, seems in no way poised to make a jump into actual playoff contention in 2023-24. Instead, the next year-plus should be spent trying to populate the roster with players that Tortorella deems capable of functioning within his system, such as we’ve seen with the likes of Owen Tippett and Noah Cates this season. This won’t all happen overnight, and several big roster additions will have to be made before we can talk playoffs around these parts again.
Let’s get real. The Flyers are about to miss the playoffs for the third year in a row. The last time this happened was after the 1991-92 season, and the Flyers took that opportunity to shock the world by trading for Eric Lindros. But even after that seismic move, the team suffered through two more non-playoff seasons before they finally surrounded the ‘Big E’ with enough talent to get back to the postseason in 1995. Rest assured, there isn’t a move of such a magnitude coming this offseason (absent a draft lottery win), but a succession of shrewd moves beginning now could give John Tortorella enough ammunition to make the Flyers a playoff club in 2024-25.
Flyers fans will believe it when they see it but, for now, there is at least a shred of optimism about the club’s charted course over the next few years. We’ll learn a lot more in the coming months, yet it certainly appears that even a ‘miracle worker’ like John Tortorella will need at least two more seasons to get this Flyers club playing meaningful hockey games come springtime.