To wrap up what new Philadelphia Flyers’ head coach John Tortorella intends to do with his new team in a phrase, it’s to “make the Flyers harder to play against.”
In an interview earlier this week with the NHL writer Adam Kimelman, Tortorella noted that he believed “one of the most important attributes of a head coach is to find and teach the structure away from the puck.”
Tortorella added that teaching that structure is “a huge part of winning, as you see in the playoffs right now, as you listen to some of the players talking about it in the playoffs right now. It’s a huge part of being who you want to be and I think it really develops a standard of being a hard team to play against.”
As far as on-the-ice changes, Tortorella wants his skill players to take advantage of their skills and to play to their abilities to engage their offense with the puck. Toward that end, he has a tough road ahead.
The Flyers have not been a strong team for the past 10 seasons, missing the Stanley Cup playoffs six times in those 10 seasons. Last season, the Flyers had the fourth-worst record in the NHL 25-46-11. He’s going to have to get his team to flip those numbers around to 46-25-11 to have a chance at the playoffs. A tough road, perhaps?
No Criticism (of course), But Tortorella Says the Culture Must Change
Not to be too personal, but whenever someone says “no criticism intended,” I always expect criticism to soon follow. That’s what Tortorella immediately did.
Specifically, he noted “That’s not a criticism. But if we want to get to growing and be who we want to be, that organization that people look at as a standard, then the culture has to change.”
Of course, that’s exactly the criticism he laid on the Flyers 2021-22 team. The standards for what happens both on the off the ice must change; or, if they don’t, the team will keep missing the playoffs. As a result, Tortorella pointed at the culture and the standards for what’s acceptable on the team as his main focus.
Players Should Expect a Change as Early as Training Camp
To get there, Tortorella said his initial focus when training camp starts will be improving play away from the puck. The first step in his culture-building structure will be to get his players to buy into being hard to play against when they are away from the puck. That makes sense because the Flyers allowed 3.59 goals per game last season (sixth-worst) and 34 shots on goal per game (fourth-worst).
But it isn’t only on the ice that Tortorella wants to make a difference. He noted that he thinks “we need to present ourselves, look harder coming off the bus, coming into buildings. I want other teams to say, ‘You know what? We got our hands full tonight.'”
For him, that’s the way to build a team. One characteristic he named that he wants is “hardness.” Specifically, “We’ve got to get some skin. We’ve got to grow some skin. And it goes through a lot of these different experiences that we’ll go through as we start our camp.”
For Tortorella, Show Him Something Away from the Puck or You’re a Checker
Tortorella added that the players need to “show me that you’re willing to give us something away from the puck. I’m not going to turn you into a checker, but you’ve got to show me, and more importantly show your teammates, that you’re willing to do some of the other stuff as an offensive guy away from the puck.”
“Then you have something, and I think that’s what develops the right camaraderie of a hockey club, and it develops the right attitude of a hockey club and how hard you have to be. I think it starts with your top guys.”
Tortorella Has the Reputation of Being a Demanding Coach
Tortorella has spoken to some of his new players and will continue to do so. He named his number one responsibility to listen, meet the players, have them meet him, and give the players a little time to understand him. Tortorella has a reputation for being a demanding coach, but he thinks that there are a lot of demanding coaches in the NHL.
His new general manager Chuck Fletcher notes that “ultimately players will respond if they know you’re demanding but you’re demanding in a sense that you care about them.” For Tortorella, it’s worked. He’s won 673 NHL games, which is 14th in NHL history and second among United States-born coaches after Peter Laviolette (717).
He’s also coached for 20 seasons with the New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Vancouver Canucks, and Columbus Blue Jackets. Tortorella’s teams have made the playoffs 12 times in those 20 seasons. He’s a two-time winner of the Jack Adams Award, has been voted as NHL coach of the year, and led the Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004. He then swept the Lightning as the coach of the Blue Jackets in 2019.
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