At the 2023 NHL All-Star Break, John Tortorella has his team at a record of 21-21-9. Not a winning or a losing record. The Philadelphia Flyers are on neutral ice.
This time last season, the Flyers were 15-22-8 in a season split between Alain Vigneault and Mike Yeo. At the 2022 NHL All-Star Break, Philadelphia possessed 38pts in the overall standings.
This current rendition has a fighting spirit. They’ve played resilient hockey, not straying from their game and coming back often against opponents. A slight uptick in wins from last season by the NHL All-Star Break shows Tortorella’s staff are crafting a rebuild from the footers, setting a foundation moving forward. At times, this team is outright surprising.
“This team needs to be built from the footers. We’re not even in the foundation.”John Tortorella; 12/1/2022
The Flyers are six points out of a wildcard berth in the first year of a rebuild.
Ahead of the 2022-2023 NHL season, Connor Bedard seemed like a legitimate prize that Philadelphia would be competing. Chuck Fletcher didn’t make a move for Johnny Gaudreau, opting to hold onto James van Riemsdyk, then swapped a lot of capital for Tony DeAngelo before adding Nicolas Deslauriers and reacquiring Justin Braun. “Fire Chuck” was, and still is, the mantra for most of Broad Street. At a time, the hot seat was molten but cooled once the Flyers found a rhythm. What is the state of hockey in Philadelphia at the 2023 NHL All-Star Break?
Dave Scott is hands-off, which is fine if the people making hockey decisions are correct. Fletcher hasn’t had a good off-season since before the 2019-2020 season.
Being self-aware is a quality of a great owner. For the Flyers, self-awareness is non-existent. Scott likely doesn’t make a decision surrounding the future of the GM role in Philadelphia, whether Fletcher keeps his position or not, before the end of 2022-2023. At the midway point of the season, it’s not a spoken topic from the front office.
Scott also owns the Philadelphia Wings, where Paul Day is the dual GM and HC of the franchise. Unlike Fletcher, Day makes the right decisions to run a professional lacrosse team in the NLL. The Wings achieved their first playoff berth a season ago.
The larger entity owned by Scott, the Flyers, is off the heels of their second-worst season in franchise history.
We’ve watched Philadelphia sludge through a ten-game losing streak in 2022-2023. Since then, we’ve also witnessed this team go 8-2-0 after Christmas. Tortorella is getting the most out of his lineup, despite not having the top talent at his disposal. The recent success doesn’t have much to do with Fletcher. It has even less to do with Scott, echoing the sentiment fans have for Comcast Spectacor to sell the team.
The approval rating for Fletcher as the GM of the Flyers had a drop-off only Carson Wentz could understand. In 2017, Wentz had an MVP-caliber season. In 2019-2020, the Flyers were an elite NHL team. Both nose-dived into obscurity. Only Howie Roseman was aware, alleviating the Eagles of their issue.
What if Scott does rid Philadelphia of Fletcher? Is Daniel Briere the correct replacement? Technically, yes. He is under the thumb of Comcast Spectacor with the Maine Mariners, but his hockey decisions helped the Mariners improve each season, including their first playoff berth in 2021-2022.
The Flyers are 21-21-9, however. It’s not necessarily an improvement to secure another season for Fletcher. It does buy him time, likely finishing the 2022-2023 season.
Aside from Fletcher, Philadelphia might have a better house than we realize.
Player development, drafting, and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms seem to trend in the right direction. All of those are critical to a rebuild, with or without Fletcher involved long-term.
Everyone who came into the 2022-2023 season with wishes of the Flyers tanking likely believes Tortorella is the worst coaching hire for the situation. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s the opposite; Tortorella was the most vital acquisition.
His lineup isn’t getting pushed around. They’re not the most talented lineup by far, but Tortorella has his players keeping tight throughout most of the season. Just under half of the total losses (including overtime) were by a one-goal margin. Additionally, Brad Shaw and Kim Dillabaugh are doing a fine job accentuating the positives.
Tied with the Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia shares the NHL lead with nine shorthanded goals scored. The ‘power-kill’ is flexing its muscle. It’s the most improved part of special teams, behind a group of forwards new to killing penalties and solid goaltending.
The Flyers would be closer to a top-overall draft selection without the right coaching staff. With Tortorella, tanking was never an option. It is the right move for Philadelphia, navigating rough waters to see what stays afloat. How else will Tortorella know what he wants or doesn’t for the future? Missing out on Bedard by playing an honest season instead of intentionally tanking is beneficial.
Again, the Flyers are without their heavy hitters. Sean Couturier, Cam Atkinson, and Bobby Brink are forwards that would go a long way with the contributions we’ve witnessed throughout the lines. Ryan Ellis would help stabilize the defense, which is all it ever required. The offense ranks 26th in the NHL, which would improve with those few talents. Defensively, Philadelphia is 20th in the NHL.
In the absence of a healthy lineup, we’ve watched prospects find a groove at the NHL level. Noah Cates and Wade Allison both make the most of their time, thriving under Tortorella. Additionally, Cam York might be the top pair defenseman primed to partner with Ivan Provorov. Tortorella challenged him to work on the physical edge of his game by not naming him to the opening night lineup, but then York figured it out.
That doesn’t include the favorable goaltending situation Tortorella has with Carter Hart and Samuel Ersson.
As those prospects bloom, other veterans are rekindling:
- Kevin Hayes; NHL All-Star C/LW
- Travis Konecny leads the team in goal-scoring
- Owen Tippett and Morgan Frost tie for second in even-strength goal-scoring
- Scott Laughton is second in powerplay goal-scoring
- Rasmus Ristolainen is playing the best defense of his career
- Nick Seeler is playing the best hockey of his career
Tortorella found the footers to his foundation in the first year of a rebuild. Whether or not the rest of the structure requires Fletcher isn’t up to him.
(AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)