Can John Tortorella Fix The Flyers’ Culture Problem?

Once upon a time the Philadelphia Flyers were a world class organization. The team was always in the hunt for a Cup and failing wasn’t accepted. The standard was set high and only certain players would rise to the level demanded of them. Fast forward to 2022 and all of that is gone. The loser mentality has infested the franchise and there seems to be no way out of the dark cloud that has enveloped the team.

With things at an all time low, it’s left fans and the front office alike scrambling for answers to try and save a quickly sinking ship. It all seems to boil down to culture. The culture of the team is no where close to where it was even a decade ago, let alone 20 or 30 years ago. But “culture” is a broad term with various branches that effect different fronts of the team. Player development, leadership, the identity, and the fans all play a role under the bigger culture umbrella.

From an outsider’s perspective, the most palpable problem currently plaguing the Flyers seems to be accountability.

There seems to be a lack of coaches and players both holding each other responsible for their play. It all feels like a close knit group of friends who get together a few times a week to play a fun little game of hockey that, win or lose, doesn’t matter. There doesn’t seem to be any interest in criticizing the man in the next stall over after he screwed up a play. No demanding better. No pushing each other to the limits. No interest in critiquing the play of your friends.

Mike Yeo threatened multiple times late last season to demand accountability, which never seemed to surface, and when Alain Vigneault demanded more out of his players and started calling out bad play and cutting veteran player’s ice time, the team revolted and he was never able to regain control of a rogue locker room.

That’s where new head coach John Tortorella is going to more than likely shine the most. His take-no-shit approach and fearlessness to cut ice time to hold players accountable is exactly what the team needs, and he doesn’t come off as a guy who will let the players overpower him in the locker room. No more inmates running the asylum.

Not only has the team been poorly constructed, but it was done so without an identity. The Broad Street Bullies are a thing of the past. While the Bullies mentality would be a difficult one to uphold in the modern day version of the league, the spirt should still be within them. It may not necessarily be busting actual skulls every night anymore, but the fighting spirit and defying the odds should still be a staple of the franchise.

How do you play for one of the richest cultural teams in the league yet when you pull that sweater over your head you disregard the history that came before it?

John Tortorella’s Tampa Bay Lightning battled the Flyers during the 2004 Eastern Conference Final in route to their Stanley Cup victory. Torts clearly still holds fond memories of that era as he reminisced about the respect he had for the hard working nature of the team and passion of the city.

This is a guy who remembers what the heyday of this franchise used to look like.

A presence like that is clearly missing from the current incarnation of the front office. Sure, guys like Bobby Clarke and Paul Holmgren are still on the payroll, but they’re more or less retired and don’t hold much of a presence in the day-to-day ongoings of the team, and the rest of the front office is new folks that weren’t Flyers fans and don’t understand how things used to go. It’s also what makes Danny Briere as heir to the general manager throne so intriguing; there were few players respected on the ice in Philadelphia over the last two decades as he was.

Tortorella will be here to weed out the weak, but it will be up to Fletcher and the front office to take his findings and course correct accordingly. And, from a fan perspective, that’s where the path of confidence diverges.

On one hand with Torts at the helm and an actual influx of youth, especially at forward, it feel like there’s serious change coming, one way or another. A legitimate “transition year” could very well finally be underway.

On the other, it’s so hard to take the notion of change seriously considering the stale holding pattern the organization has been stuck in for years. It’s easy to chalk up the building false hope as preseason jitters and reality will come crashing back once the puck drops in October.

After all, this is the same front office who refused to make any significant roster shakeups despite knowing there is a growing concern for an unwieldy locker room. It’s like Tortorella’s entire job this season will be to diagnose the underlying issues and call out the problem children.

What’s the solution to fix a culture problem of this magnitude? There really isn’t an easy one. A complete teardown of the organization both on the ice and in the front office seems to be the best way, but also the most unlikely. The be approach might be strategic. Fletcher and company will have to sit down in the war room and make honest assessments of the on-ice talent and get rid of people that it may be unpopular to get rid of at the time, but could ultimately help right the ship in the near future.

These are desperate times in Philadelphia. The Flyers are at an all time low and there’s no easy way out. There’s no more runway let for the organization. They’ve exhausted every trick in the book to extend their lifespan. Now it’s make or break. John Tortorella is their last hope, but he also seems like a guy best suited for this kind of job. The on-ice success doesn’t even feel like a priority at this point, it feels like this season will be all about tearing down the monster in the locker room and rebuilding a new, exciting, and easy to handle team in it’s place.

If john Tortorella can’t save the Philadelphia Flyers, nobody can.

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By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)

photo credit: nhl.com

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