The Philadelphia Flyers returned from their All-Star break to be stifled in a 2-1 loss to the rival Islanders on Monday night. The frustrating defeat was not the biggest news of the day for the Orange and Black, though. Earlier that afternoon, coach John Tortorella made an unorthodox move by writing the team’s season ticket holders something of a midseason update. In one page, Tortorella impressed upon the Flyers faithful a message they had been waiting for since Comcast absorbed the last of Ed Snider’s shares in the team: that Flyer hockey still matters, and it will be back before long.
Tortorella just about admitted that the Flyers cannot make some miraculous charge into the playoffs; at 21-22-9, they will look to sell what they can before the March 3 trade deadline. James van Riemsdyk, Kevin Hayes, and Ivan Provorov are all likely entering the home stretch of their tenures in Philadelphia. “We’re not there yet,” the two-time Jack Adams winner wrote. “This year was the first step in building the future of the Flyers and restoring our reputation as one of the most respected teams in hockey.”
That mission, to reestablish the Flyers as a force in the East and as a team that no one wants to play, has been apparent on the ice. The team plays with fire, forechecking relentlessly, protecting one another on the ice, and, in many cases, overachieving. Tortorella acknowledged that young players and veterans alike have bought into his vision of a resurgent franchise. It shows in their production. From Travis Konecny and Scott Laughton to Wade Allison and Nick Seeler, together, the Flyers have created a team greater than the sum of its parts. When those parts get better and better during the coming seasons, Flyers fans may, at last, have something to look forward to.
In many ways, the letter went over some heads in the Flyers’ perpetually inept front office. Tortorella spelled out that a middling team with a vision for the future beats a doomed playoff run. The latter option has been Comcast Spectacor’s default strategy for over a decade, to sneak into a wild card spot and lose decisively to the Capitals, Penguins, or some other hated rival. Tortorella seems to see what the fans have known for some time: losing the right way will have a greater payoff than being a hopeless back-end playoff team.
Admitting that the Flyers cannot win now but are “in the midst of establishing an identity” might ruffle some feathers. After all, it was only two offseasons ago that Chuck Fletcher traded an arm, a leg, and a kidney for Ryan Ellis and Rasmus Ristolainen in some harebrained attempt to make the Flyers a contender. Dissent is not a bad thing by any means. Tortorella’s promise to bring back Flyer hockey has heartened this fanbase more than all of Fletcher’s nonsensical “retooling” rhetoric combined.
Tortorella’s promise to the season ticket holders that their patience will pay off in future seasons was a bold and unprecedented move. There are some 30 games left, after all. It shows that unlike so much of the Flyers brass, Tortorella lives in reality. He knows this group is not good enough and will do everything he can to prepare them for a time when they are. Maybe that promise will get Fletcher fired and restructure the roster. Maybe it only means that Tortorella understands what the fans want more than Fletcher or the owners. Either would represent a victory in a city starved of meaningful hockey and competent management.
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