The Flyers have come crashing back to Earth from their brief vacation atop the Metropolitan Division. They have lost seven of their last nine contests, with five losses coming in regulation time. Ugly as their current skid is (4+ goals conceded in each of the past four games), few will be surprised that the top-heavy, injury-hit roster has not held up over the stretch. John Tortorella effectively has had to mix and match three checking lines outside of his top unit; he does not have the pieces to compete. That said, Tortorella has coaxed results where he can from a bottom-10 roster, identifying long-term contributors and lending the group the sort of identity they will need to play respectable hockey despite their low ceiling. “Torts” has given the Flyers what they have needed for a decade, a clean slate to rebuild. It is high time for Chuck Fletcher and Comcast to get the memo, or better still, go away.
The Flyers’ recent losses are so damning simply due to their poor opposition. Outside of an understandable drubbing against a dangerous Stars team, the Flyers have dropped games to Ottawa and twice to Columbus. Still, it takes only a cursory glance at the box scores of those contests to see that even fellow Eastern Conference stragglers have more talent than the Orange and Black. That the Flyers are still taking points from half of their games far into November is a credit to Tortorella’s ability to implement an identity of checking, physicality in front of both nets, and accountability to one another. That will not change no matter how bad a roster he has to work with. Tortorella’s philosophy has shone most through gritty players like Nic Deslauriers, Nick Seeler, Lukas Sedlak, and Zack MacEwan. Of that group, only Deslauriers ($1.75 million AAV) makes seven figures. Should the Flyers’ front office start shedding contracts for future assets at long last, Tortorella can still play his brand of hockey. That should keep morale high even as big names walk out the door.
If Tortorella’s on-ice product has been impressive, his impact on the future outlook for certain players has been nothing short of miraculous. He has shown the ability to maximize potential in one-time underachievers Carter Hart, Travis Konecny, and Owen Tippett. Hart was considered an elite goaltending prospect until a hideous 2020-2021 and a 2021-2022 season spent backstopping one of the league’s worst outfits tanked his stock. Even after a recent dip in form, Hart’s stats (2.42 GAA, .929 SV%) to begin the season suggest he can be a reliable presence in goal, especially when compared to the lackluster play of backup Felix Sandstrom. Konecny collected 24 goals in three straight seasons from 2017-2020 but never took what seemed a short leap to stardom. His frustration has ended this season; through 16 games, Konecny is on pace for a whopping 97 points (7G, 12A). Tippett, a one-time top-pick who was a throw-in in the Claude Giroux trade, is finally showing what made him so intriguing for the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads. Tippett, a good skater who stands 6’2, has finally gotten time on the top line and powerplay and has cashed in for 7 points in 11 games while developing considerable rapport with Konecny. The trio, once NHL misfit toys, combine with Joel Farabee and a growing prospect pool to give the Flyers something to build around.
Tortorella is the first coach since Peter Laviolette to bring an on-ice identity to Broad Street, and even longer to give responsibility to young players. The Flyers should take full advantage of their new coach’s strengths to trade away bloated contracts and look toward the future. Powerplay specialists like James van Riemsdyk and Cam Atkinson, both injured, are far more valuable to contending teams even if the Flyers will need to retain parts of their respective salaries. Tortorella has publicly expressed displeasure with Travis Sanheim and Rasmus Ristolainen, both of whom are on lengthy new contracts and could command hefty ransoms from defensively deficient teams like Dallas or Los Angeles. Kevin Hayes is, at last, playing well enough (16GP, 16P) for contending teams to consider his $7.1 million cap hit. Moving any or all of those players would rejuvenate the Flyers’ draft capital and cap situation without sullying Tortorella’s fiery philosophy, which comes cheap with the right roster.
Tortorella has implemented a system not dependent on the Flyers’ overpaid faux star players. Meanwhile, he has found diamonds in the rough throughout their once-barren NHL group to give the organization a reasonable starting point should they choose to rebuild. Initial detractors of Tortorella’s hiring said either that the team was too bad to benefit from his presence or that he would ruin their chances in the draft lottery. Neither seems true through a month and a half, and it is time for a long-overdue rebuild, with or without Fletcher.
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