After John Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets mutually parted ways after the 2020-21 season, it was unclear whether Tortorella would return to coaching in the NHL. The now 63-year-old coach had been in NHL roles for what seems like forever, getting his start as an assistant coach with the Buffalo Sabres in 1989. When he made the move to broadcasting, joining ESPN’s NHL coverage for the 2021-22 campaign, some had thought that signaled the end of his lengthy coaching career.
It now seems that Tortorella will be back in the fold next season. Tortorella reportedly interviewed with the Philadelphia Flyers for their head coaching vacancy in late May, and the fit between the coach’s infamous personality and the team’s historically aggressive identity seemed just too perfect. After a few weeks, the Flyers have zeroed in on Tortorella as their top finalist, with ESPN’s Kevin Weekes reporting late last night that the team had offered the position to Tortorella. He also noted that there were “more negotiations required for the deal to be completed,” which TSN’s Pierre LeBrun says will take place Thursday.
There’s some fair criticism of the Flyers for choosing an option with such an old-school approach in a league that’s evolving more every season. Tortorella went viral for some of his quips on ESPN this past season, including chastising Anaheim Ducks forward Trevor Zegras for his lacrosse pass to Sonny Milano for a goal early in the season and saying that Connor McDavid would have to change his game for the Edmonton Oilers to win in the playoffs, which didn’t age well. It’s fair to wonder if that’s the right voice in the room for the Flyers, who, as their core continues to age past its prime, need to focus on the development of their existing prospects in order to be competitive.
However, Tortorella does have a track record of success that’s impossible to ignore. His time with the Columbus Blue Jackets gives the most accurate picture of the coach the Flyers might get, and there are definitely some good takeaways there. Aside from guiding the team to their first playoff series win in franchise history (against a historically great Tampa Bay Lightning squad), he showed an ability to cool his temper and adapt that he hasn’t shown in past jobs. However, he did have some pretty notable rifts with younger players, especially Pierre-Luc Dubois. The Flyers can ill-afford to botch prospect development at this point.
If Tortorella does complete negotiations with the Flyers and takes the job, he’ll be one of the most interesting stories to watch in the NHL for the 2022-23 season.