It’s been about a year since the Flyers named John Tortorella as their head coach. While his first season wasn’t very good, everyone knew it wasn’t going to be. Still, it was a statisical improvement over the previous season. The team had to find what it was in the post-Claude Giroux Era and see which of it’s prized prospects would cut it at the NHL level.
There were moments this season that the Flyers looked amazing. There were also stretches where they couldn’t get out of their own way. Despite it all, Tortorella tried to shield his players from unjust and unfair criticism from fans and media alike, accepting a lot of the blame himself for some of the team’s failings.
Before the season ended, Tortorella had taken time with the new Flyers general manager, Daniel Briere, to discuss how some of the players are doing and what the team needs to do moving forward. With the addition of Keith Jones to the Flyers’ administration team, the three have looked at bringing on a new culture to Philly.
As we prepare to roll into year two, especially in the offseason, it’s time to look at what things Tortorella wants in a player. What does he want to see in a Philadelphia Flyer?
Attitude and Desire
First things first, Tortorella wants a player that puts it all out there on the ice. The coach wants someone with high energy and spirit. A player who can go out there shift after shift and be proud of everything that he’s done.
This is why players like Nick Seeler, Justin Braun, and Nic Deslauriers really meshed well with the new coach. None of these guys were the best player on the team by far. But they each put every ounce of what they had into every moment they were out on the ice. They were always praised by Tortorella for their hard work and effort.
You also saw this with Noah Cates who started off on the last line and worked his way up to the top line. While he didn’t put up major stats, he worked his tail off. The more he worked, the more minutes he got to play. The more he played, the more he showed he belonged and earned the coach’s trust.
Tortorella wants to see players who care about what they do. Anyone who is playing lazy has no business being on the team. Someone who is young and hungry, but perhaps raw, is more highly prized than a long time veteran who “just isn’t feeling it tonight”. With desire comes effort and if you truly care about what you are doing, it’ll show whether you are playing hockey, teaching a class, or working as a nurse in the ER.
Along with desire is a sense of accountability. No matter who you are, there is something more we can learn to do our jobs and roles better. None of us are perfect. There is not a single player in the NHL who can’t improve their game to some degree. Even older stars have to change their game up a bit to adapt to the newer players breaking in.
But this can be the most tragic part of the game. You can have players who are talented but because of their egos, become uncoachable. We saw this this past year with Kevin Hayes and Tony DeAngelo. Both have the skills to be great hockey players and great leaders on the Flyers. However, when they made mistakes, there was no effort to change those parts of their game. When called out by Tortorella to make the necessary changes, they refused. In turn, they sulked, pouted, and became bitter. Now, there are rifts between the players and coach.
In contrast, the first player called out by Tortorella this season was Rasmus Ristolainen. Very early on in the season, Tortorella said that he wasn’t playing up to his (Tortorella’s) standards and could be a better player. Risto adapted his play and by the end of the season became one of the more dependable blueliners for Philly.
Likewise, Travis Konecny was also benched for sluggish performance, along with Hayes. Konency answered the call and kicked his game up a notch to have his best season in his career. Hayes, got hot soon afterwards, but was benched again in order to “awaken the star center within” and then shut down.
And that’s the difference there. Hayes and DeAngelo remained resolved to do their thing and stagnated. Ristolainen and Konecny rose to the occasion and improved. It goes back to attitude and desire.
Taking responsibility for your shortcomings and failings and then working hard to improve yourself shows a lot of maturity. On a team filled with young players, that is something that the vets can show off. It’s okay to make a mistake as long as you learn from it. Making the same mistake over and over, especially when the coach tells you to stop it, is a way to find yourself in the doghouse.
Not About the Stats
Sometimes, your best players don’t show up on the stat sheet. It can be what they do that doesn’t get noticed. Braun was a mentor to younger defenders like Cam York. Deslauriers showed that a guy known for fighting and physicality can still have a role by being a steadying presence on the fourth line as well as protecting the younger players from the NHL’s big bruisers.
Likewise Hayes and DeAngelo had good offensive stats, but there was something else in their game that was just lacking. Numbers don’t always tell the tale. Sometimes your best offensive players can be defensive liabilities as they focus more on themselves and their stats than the team’s overall performance.
There are many things that Tortorella, Briere, and Jones will be looking for when considering trades, when interviewing free agents, and while evaluating potential draft picks. But leave no doubt, attitude, responsibility, and effort are at the top of the list. Having a player that is fully committed to the team and where the team is headed is critical to the future success of the Philadelphia Flyers. And it is all but certain that Tortorella has his fingers on where this team is going. Success is coming soon to the Wells Fargo Center. When it happens, all of this will be worth it.