IT’S A REBUILD: What does that mean for John Tortorella and the Philadelphia Flyers?
Flyers Head Coach John Tortorella sat down with John Clark of NBC Sports Philadelphia for an interview as part of his podcast series, The Takeoff. It is a tremendous interview, and all of it is worth listening to. If you want to feel more sane about the Flyers’ direction, this is the podcast to listen to.
I want to focus on a few comments in particular. A few statements Tortorella made that announced the direction of the Flyers, and I want to explore those comments in greater detail.
“You’re not gonna get me to make a projection.” Tortorella said. “I’m not interested in all this new language–the retool, rebuild, are we going for it?–I’m not interested in that. I’ll tell you right now, we have some work to do. Both in the physical part, and we have a lot of work to do mentally.”
John Tortorella doesn’t like the language that fans and media use to describe the direction of a hockey team. Fair enough, it can be quite limiting.
So instead of constraining himself with terms like retooling, or rebuilding, or competitive windows, he simply describes the situation that he sees this team is in. And what situation is that?
One where a lot of work is required. One where they have a lot to work on, in terms of the physical game. and of the mental game.
The “mental game” portion is almost self-explanatory. Be it underperforming players or prospects who refuse to reach their full potential, the mentality and the psychology of the organization is broken. And it needs fixing. We all knew that was a problem. And we all know it needs to be fixed.
The “physical game” is a bit more indicative of the team’s direction.
You can read that as Tortorella thinking more body checks will solve the problem, but I disagree. When he says this team needs work physically, he means they do need significantly more talent than they have at their disposal. On what am I basing that? Well, I’m basing it on what Tortorella said later in the same interview:
“We have pieces. Eventually, we’re going to need more pieces. But the pieces we have right now, that’s the biggest part of building a foundation. That’s where the young kids come in. And I’ll tell you right now: we’re going to develop the kids. A little disappointed. Some kids fell off towards the end of camp and might have to start in the minors a little bit. But that’s the situation we’re in. And in a cap world, we’re going to need to develop from within.”
Well, there you have it. John Tortorella is fully acknowledging that this team is not equipped to win a lot of hockey games.
There are pieces on this team. There are players with talent on this team who could play significant roles on a Stanley Cup contender. Many of those pieces have been underperforming, which traces back to the mental work that needs to be done.
But even if they were all operating at peak capacity, this team wouldn’t be good enough to compete in the NHL. It needs more. How are we going to get more?
Well, there’s a simple answer.
The 2023 NHL Draft is one of the most anticipated drafts we’ve ever seen in the league’s history. It’s already up there with the 2015 Draft and the 2003 Draft in terms of how heralded so many of these kids are. It has the potential to deliver several game-changing players.
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I can almost guarantee that multiple superstars will come out of the first round.
As many people know, the headline of this ridiculously loaded draft is Connor Bedard. The most acclaimed prospect since Connor McDavid. A kid who has talent which has been described as generational.
Now, I may joke that the Flyers are a team in prime position to draft Bedard. But that isn’t really true.
They’re the rung above that. They’ll draft high, but they’re unlikely to win the lottery or even pick second and draft another generational talent in Russian super-prospect: Matvei Michkov. It’s well within the realm of possibility, but it isn’t a likelihood.
Some fans are angry with that. Why don’t they go even farther? Why not strip down everything in an attempt to get Bedard or Michkov?
Well, the truth is: you don’t want to do that. If you have nothing around him, Bedard will not bring a team to the promised land. No single player in the sport of hockey is that good.
I’m a fervent believer in the idea that a team needs a superstar to succeed. Preferably, there will be multiple superstars nowadays.
But whether it’s the best player in the NHL or the tenth best player in the NHL, that doesn’t really matter. The gap between those players isn’t wide enough to fret about. And the influence that a superstar has on the game–while necessary and significant–isn’t great enough to sacrifice everything for the best player.
This all goes back to what Tortorella said. We have pieces, and we have prospects that we need to develop. We have to build from within. What team would you rather have, of the two I’m about to lay out?
Team 1: a team with a bunch of scrubs with Connor Bedard playing as the top-line center.
Even if Bedard develops into a player as good as McDavid, I can promise you that team won’t go very far. And it will have trouble acquiring the pieces around Bedard to make a championship roster. The Oilers have McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They still haven’t gotten it right. They only just now reached a Conference Finals.
Team 2: a team with difference makers that were developed from within. For example, say Cam York is a top-pair defenseman who can generate offense with the best of them from the blueline. And say Morgan Frost is playing like a 70 point player in the National Hockey League. And Carter Hart is an elite goalie with rediscovered confidence. But–instead of Bedard–you drafted 7th overall and selected a player who develops into David Pastrnak.
What hockey team is more likely to win a championship? A solid team with multiple difference makers led by one superstar? Albeit, not as good as a generational player, but a superstar all the same.
Or a team that’s utterly bereft of talent to insulate the best player in the league?
The Flyers believe the second door is what leads to greater opportunity.
And while they have made many imprudent decisions in the recent past, I happen to agree with them on this.