Who will captain the Flyers under Tortorella?

Flyers' Sean Couturier
PHILADELPHIA, PA – JANUARY 11: Philadelphia Flyers Center Sean Couturier (14) reacts to referees after the game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers on January 11, 2020 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

Without a captain since the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline, the Philadelphia Flyers leadership hasn’t had a face since Claude Giroux. Giroux went to the Florida Panthers with intentions of hoisting the Stanley Cup. Currently, the Colorado Avalanche holds a 3-2 lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Finals.

After trading Giroux, some speculated he could return to the Flyers. He won’t, and it makes sense. The Panthers have a better chance of winning the Stanley Cup in 2022-2023 than Philadelphia. If he doesn’t choose Florida, the Ottawa Senators also make sense.

Now that the Flyers have a new head coach, John Tortorella, who could lead his roster?

Tortorella has a previous bond with one strong candidate but named another in his first press conference. There are a couple of homegrown candidates who deserve discussion too:

Cam Atkinson

Atkinson ought to be at the top of the list of candidates. He showed the right kind of leadership on a team without a permanent head coach.

Tortorella has a history with Atkinson, coaching him on the Columbus Blue Jackets. In the 2022 Break Up Day interviews, Atkinson mentioned Tortorella outright. This script writes itself.

On the Blue Jackets, Atkinson played some of the best hockey of his career under Tortorella. He understands how the new Philadelphia Flyers bench boss will read his team. Atkinson, in this landscape, acts as a fountain of knowledge. Unintimidated, Atkinson will hold his teammates accountable while leading by example, both themes during Tortorella’s introductory press conference.

He is a safe option for captaincy at face value, but Tortorella did make it a point to state how critical it was for him to learn about his players on his intuition without outside influence.

Kevin Hayes

Tortorella mentioned Hayes as early as his introductory press conference with the Philadelphia Flyers. He was one of the first players to which the new head coach reached out. Tortorella says Hayes is a “huge piece” with another level to unlock.

Hayes’ tough season in 2021-2022 featured many variables on and off the ice. He remained a leader in the locker room. Tortorella recognizes how critical he is to the team, working on a mutual bond between player and coach, similar to Hayes and Vigneault. Undeniably, coaches across the NHL identify Hayes to be a leader.

Last season, Hayes continued to be a solid playmaker while protecting the puck. He hasn’t lost a step, and Tortorella knows it.

Sean Couturier

Ahead of the 2018-2019 season, Couturier became an alternate captain. He is currently the longest-tenured player in a leadership role for the Philadelphia Flyers. In his second season as an alternate captain, he earned the Frank J. Selke Trophy. Unfortunately, injuries have told his story since.

Hayes is a critical piece to Tortorella’s puzzle, and so is Couturier.

Tortorella wants the Flyers to be tough again. He knows what Philadelphia is, and of all the players remaining on Broad Street, he understands that Couturier is one of the final pieces remaining from the “hard” teams he faced while coaching the New York Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets. He has a mission to restore how the franchise is perceived. Not long ago, the Flyers were amongst the elite. Tortorella wants to mentally and physically test his players, and Couturier leads by example.

Scott Laughton

Admittedly a dark horse candidate, Laughton remains one of the most consistent players on the Philadelphia Flyers. His best years were under Vigneault, pacing to break his career-high in points in both shortened seasons.

His work ethic will be something that Tortorella appreciates. Every year, Laughton is one of the hardest working forwards. Every candidate on this list fits the mold that Tortorella seeks in his players. Ones that will arise to the challenge of championing their career outside of their comfort zone.

During the 2021-2022 season, Laughton became an alternate captain following the trade that sent Giroux to the Florida Panthers. Mike Yeo made it official. Yeo said this about Laughton, formerly the captain of Canada’s 2014 IIHF World Junior team:

“He’s so vocal on the bench right now. Doesn’t matter if we’re up a goal or down a goal. And his leadership goes far more than what they’re saying. He’s the guy that’s doing things the right way, shift after shift.”

Mike Yeo; 2/20/2022

Yeo opened this lane, and it is up Tortorella’s avenue.

(Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)