Last year, the Philadelphia Flyers were looking for a new coach. They landed one named John Tortorella; a coach with a winning pedigree and a “temper“. He demands a lot of his players and sometimes gets under their skin. However, you can see the results. In one season, the Flyers improved from last to seventh place in the division, from 25 to 31 wins, and from 61 points to 75. Ok, it’s not a huge step forward, but it is a step forward.
Also last year, we saw the Calgary Flames make a huge splash. They traded away star forward Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers for forward Jonathan Huberdeau, defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, prospect Cole Schwindt, and a 2025 first round pick. Many thought that the return that Calgary got would help propel them to the top of the Western Conference. Instead, it is Florida that is in the playoffs and Calgary finishing in ninth place in the West, just missing the playoffs.
In the days that followed, Calgary fired head coach Darryl Sutter. Sutter has coached the Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames, Los Angeles Kings, and the Flames again. In his 18 seasons as a head coach, he has only missed the playoffs three times, including this season. He has won two Stanley Cups, in 2012 and 2014, as coach of the Kings. His 737 career wins as a head coach place him ninth all time. (Sidenote: Tortorella is currently 11th with 704. With a 35 win season, he’d pass Sutter as well as former Flyers coach Alain Vigneault and be just 13 wins away from passing another former Flyers coach, Peter Laviolette.)
Apparently, one of the reasons Sutter was fired was that he did not get along with his players. In fact, Yahoo Sports has reported that several Flames’ players have rescinded trade requests following Sutter’s dismissal.
Which brings us to Tortorella. Many media sources this year loved to paint Tortorella as the source of the Flyers’ woes. They ignored the massive amounts of injuries to key players. They ignored the many rookies who had to fill roles they may not have been ready for.
Even then, Tortorella has stuck up for his players and praised many of the younger players. Sutter has been an abrasive coach for years, but has the results to back it up. If you win two cups and make the playoffs almost every year, your players should listen to you.
Things haven’t gotten to the point in Philly where numerous stars are demanding trades. We aren’t even sure if Hayes and DeAngelo have demanded trades. However, this should be a warning for the Flyers.
Tortorella needs to have the freedom to work with Daniel Briere and build the team to best fit his system. He should find and develop the players that will work within the culture he is building. If players don’t fit well, they should be moved. At the same time, the players shouldn’t turn into a cancer. Huberdeau said he didn’t click with Sutter and blamed Sutter for not putting him “in to win“.
If there is one good nugget from this year, it was that Hayes and DeAngelo never took their disagreements public. It also never seemed to affect the clubhouse as a whole. And that’s what the Flyers have to avoid. They need to make sure that this doesn’t infect the whole team.
Tortorella is onto something good right now. If he keeps it up, this team can turn around quickly. Let’s use the Flames as an example of a team not to follow: a team loaded with star talent and good young stars that implodes under its own weight. But whatever issues they do have within, they can’t let it become the toxic environment that festered in Calgary.