Usually, when you ask someone if they remember something, the subject in question is older than five years. But, this time, the context is different.
Do you remember the 2019-2020 Philadelphia Flyers?
You should. It was just four seasons ago. Four seasons only feels like a generation ago.
Alain Vigneault was the head coach. Since then, there was Mike Yeo in the interim, then John Tortorella. Chuck Fletcher and Dave Scott are old news. Dan Hilferty, Keith Jones, and Daniel Briere represent the ‘New Era of Orange.’ Suddenly, they’re balancing talent development and winning while riding their hottest streak since 2019-2020.
Seven players (Konecny, Couturier, Laughton, Sanheim, Farabee, Frost, Hart) from 2019-2020 remain on the roster. A rebuild doesn’t mean stripping a team of working components. Tortorella set a foundation, and those players were his footers as he introduced his brand of hockey to a new wave. The 2023-2024 team, who had zero expectations, is pleasantly surprising.
‘Identity’ and ‘culture’ were buzzwords that earned an eye-roll under the Fletcher and Scott banner. However, those buzzwords now have meaning. The ‘identity’ of the Flyers, forged by a hard work ethic, sets the expectation that players will leave everything on the ice. If someone on the roster isn’t giving an honest effort, they won’t be on the ice for too long.
“I think what really was striking was how he [Tortorella] was gonna’ rebuild the culture. Looking at the last couple years, it was tough to watch at times. We were an easy team to play against and you don’t realize how important culture is until you lose it. We interviewed a lot of great candidates; guys that were probably great coaches and could have done the job, but in my mind, I felt John Tortorella was the perfect guy at this time to get us back on track.”Daniel Briere; 3/12/2023
Cleansing the locker room proved critical. Two players instrumental to the 2019-2020 surge were Ivan Provorov and Kevin Hayes, but they didn’t jive under Tortorella. Parting ways with Provorov and Hayes hasn’t slowed the rebuild in Philadelphia. Packing the roster with competitors who believe, buy-in, and understand their role in the lineup assured a profound camaraderie as the season rumbles.
“How fast or how long it’s going to take; the players will dictate that. Everybody’s on board. Everybody agrees that we need to do this the right way. We’ve said it. Torts has said it many times. We might need a little bit of patience from the fans in that regard. It might be some growing pains to go through, but when you look at how some of our young players got better this year, that was really impressive and exciting for the future.”Daniel Briere; 4/17/2023
Briere piqued my interest with this quote. The Flyers are rebuilding, but he reiterates that the players will dictate how long it takes.
There are more than a few similarities between the current state of hockey in Philadelphia and the last time they clinched a postseason berth.
Tortorella, very transparently, provided his feelings when asked about expectations and what the Flyers are this season after a 5-2 win last night versus the Columbus Blue Jackets. The team mustn’t lose sight of where they’re at within the rebuild, but they’re taking in the highs and learning from the lows. Keeping consistent is most important.
“I don’t know where we were supposed to be at this time of the season. All I know is we’re just trying to be consistent. This was a hard game. ‘The trap game’ and all that, there was a lot of emotion in yesterday afternoon’s game. The thing that I appreciate with our club tonight is how we started the game. In back-to-backs, how you start a game determines quite a bit as you go through there.”John Tortorella; 11/19/2023
So, what is this team?
Through 18GP in 2023-2024:
- PK: 81.7% (13th)
- PP: 11.5% (27th)
- GF/G: 3.33
- GA/G: 2.89
A quick look reflects the current outlook of Philadelphia, occupying second place in the NHL Metropolitan Division and 11th overall in the NHL. Approximately 64 games remain in the regular season.
Through 69GP in 2019-2020:
- PK: 81.8% (11th)
- PP: 20.8% (14th)
- GF/G: 3.29
- GA/G: 2.77
In 2019-2020, the Flyers had one more point in the standings (22) after 18 games. The current penalty kill accounts for five shorthanded goals, while the total was eight in 69 games the last time this franchise made the postseason, but the powerplay doubled the goal total by this stage of the season four years ago. Still, under Tortorella, the team is scoring at a higher rate.
Do we remember the 2019-2020 Flyers? Yes, and the current squad leaves reminders of that brand of hockey. The players are dictating the pace of this rebuild alongside reputable coaching. By molding the room, relearning the culture, and holding on to what works, Philadelphia is trending toward ‘winning hockey’ instead of ‘playing for picks.’
(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)