What Is The Torts Effect? Is THAT the Key To A Flyers Rebuild?
Recently, I talked about the incoherence of Flyers fans who suddenly champion the same strategy they wanted Chuck Fletcher fired for enacting. I went into how painstakingly difficult it would be to rebuild this team if they didn’t do the smart thing and bottom out.
Read: The Flyers, and Some Fans, are Incoherent
Now, I’ve discussed a lot of these concepts on Twitter, and a lot of the response I get during this discussion has everything to do with one man: John Tortorella.
Everything will be okay because we have Torts, and Torts is the greatest coach of all time plus-plus. He’s basically the Michael Jordan of NHL coaches.
He’s so good at coaching that he has a phenomenon named after him, evidently:
“The Torts Effect”
The Torts Effect is real, actually.
John Tortorella’s ability to get rosters to play above their talent level, and scratch out victories that they simply shouldn’t is real. And it’s very impressive.
His ability to “do more with less,” is well renowned across the league. It’s this ability that Flyers fans believe can be the core piece of accelerating a rebuild.
If he can do all of this with a shitty roster, then imagine what he can do with a good roster? That’s the logic we like to use. But does that logic actually hold true with Torts teams? Does he turn “doing more with less” into doing “more with more?”
Or, does he finally get more and then accomplish the exact same amount? Or does he accomplish even less?
Read more: Two Flyers prospects selected to AHL All-Star Game >>
To answer that question, it’d help to figure out how Torts manages to accomplish more with less. Most of this is well known, because it’s talked about on television all the time.
Torts teams play with an unyielding adherence to solid defensive structure when trapped in their defensive zone… which can be often. This turns the other team’s offensive zone sequences into something less fruitful than they should have been. This can be captured analytically, and in fact has been captured in the past.
Torts teams consistently produce less actual goals against than expected goals against… until they don’t anymore.
This is every season John Tortorella spent in Columbus, and a breakdown of how many expected goals they surrendered per 60 minutes opposed to how many actual goals they surrendered per 60 minutes.
2016-2017 Blue Jackets:
2.37 xGA/60 vs. 1.98 actual GA/60
2017-2018 Blue Jackets:
2.44 xGA/60 vs. 2.19 actual GA/60
2018-2019 Blue Jackets:
2.35 xGA/60 vs. 2.5 actual GA/60
2019-2020 Blue Jackets:
2.10 xGA/60 vs. 211 actual GA/60
2020-2021 Blue Jackets:
2.36 xGA/60 vs. 2.77 actual GA/60
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that change is because the Blue Jackets changed goaltenders after Bobrovsky left for free agency. On that, you would be wrong.
When the collapse in defensive results began in 18-19, Bobrovsky was still the netminder. And his 91.3 save percentage–while certainly down from previous superhuman seasons–was not really the culprit. In fact, Joonas Korpisalo had an 89.7 save percentage when faced with the same environment.
Bobrovsky left in the following season, and the difference between expected goals and actual goals. It wasn’t the goaltending at all, though Bob can certainly credit himself with the ridiculously good results of 16-17.
But it wasn’t the goaltending that changed. Not really. It was the defense.
There’s a somewhat misguided belief that the way to measure a player or a team’s defensive acumen is to check how many expected goals–or scoring chances–they surrender per 60 minutes. And that is certainly part of the test, but it’s nowhere close to the full picture.
The expected goals model is imperfect in its design, and shots can be either more or less dangerous than they indicate all the time. There’s a wide array of factors that go into it.
Did a shooter have time to label a corner and fire an accurate shot from a dangerous area of the ice, or were they swarmed by defenders and had to get off a weak shot on the goal? If a goalie can see a weak shot from the inner slot, it doesn’t really matter that the inner slot is generally very dangerous.
Do shooters miss the net or hit opposing players more often when they play one team vs when they play another? The difference, again, is defensive pressure. The defense swallowed up the scoring chance, but the expected goals model counts it anyway.
Do teams clear the crease and make sure their goalies have quality sight lines as well as minimal deflections? The expected goals model has no clue, but the goalie will sure as hell outperform those expectations if those conditions are true.
This isn’t even an exhaustive list of ways that sound defensive play can override or “deceive” the expected goals model.
John Tortorella’s entire system, his coaching philosophy, exists to defy expected goal models. That’s part of the reason he has such noted disdain for analytics, because he exists to defy them.
The defensive structure and intensity that he coaches into his players will turn “expected goals” into “expected saves” before you even account for the quality of the goaltending.
That’s a noble, effective way to play hockey. While it does take a level of talent–only Bergeron can be Bergeron, for example–it takes decidedly less talent than playing a game that’s centered around possessing the puck more than the competition.
Here’s the problem: it’s damn exhausting.
Imagine showing up to every game with the intention to pressure shooters, block shots, eliminate cross seam passes with tireless stick checking and all the rest.
For all 82 games, you’re going to show up with the intention of playing–frankly–a boring and painful brand of hockey that will leave you with more bruises than wins before you even make the playoffs.
Then you’re going to do it again next year. And again the year after that. It gets psychologically taxing in ways that hockey players will never confess to, because it makes them sound soft.
Eventually, one of two things happen:
- Players leave and find greener pastures, with the intention of playing for a team that doesn’t make them play hockey in the most masochistic way possible.
- Players stay but quietly revolt against the team philosophy and don’t actually follow it to the same level that they had been before.
In Columbus, both of those things happened. Pierre Luc Dubois didn’t request a trade out of Columbus because Torts said something mean to him. He requested a trade out of Columbus, because he couldn’t stand playing that kind of hockey anymore.
Artemi Panarin was surely attracted to the bright lights and extra attention that the New York Rangers afforded him, but was that really the only factor leading to his exit? Or did he just get tired of playing that brand of hockey for 82 games of a regular season, over and over again?
Either way, the result is the same. That style of hockey that allowed you to win games you shouldn’t? It doesn’t exist in that locker room anymore. The players are done with it.
And the players who often get fed up with it the fastest? They’re the same kind of players who the Flyers desperately need: the game-changers. Now, I’m generalizing, some high-end talents absolutely thrive under people like Torts. But all in all, it’s true.
Torts makes it harder to get stars by making your team too good to reliably draft them, then tries to force them into playing a style that is completely alienating to them until they get fed up and leave at the first available opportunity.
This is a problem, because the Flyers are currently suffering without that game changing talent.
Have you ever heard Torts talking about “managing the flows and momentums of games?”
If you’ve heard Torts talk even once during this season, there’s a nearly 100% chance that you have. He harps on it endlessly, and he’s not wrong to.
There are some minutes in a hockey game where momentum swings against you, and you just have to survive. Likewise, there are times when the shoe is on the other foot and you have to put slam your foot on the gas. Successful teams do have a sense for how to survive the bad minutes, and when to go for the throat while the minutes are good.
The problem Torts teams run into is that great teams don’t just follow momentum swings and adjust accordingly. Great teams dictate momentum. They make plays to change the momentum and get back on the positive end of things.
The Flyers turtle up and hope to survive. Just like they did in their rematch against the Washington Capitals.
The Flyers had a 3-1 lead in the third period. The Capitals came out with a push to tie the game, and they kept pushing to tie the game for that entire 20 minutes. There was never a rest. Never a point in that period where the Capitals weren’t completely in control.
The Capitals generated 74.81% of the expected goals in that period at 5 on 5, and 64% in all situations. It was actually their second most productive period of the game.
In the first period, the Flyers produced only 0.26 expected goals as compared to the Capitals’ 1.09. That was an 80.95% expected goal share.
When a good team has momentum on the Flyers, they can do nothing to wrest momentum back. They simply succumb to the avalanche of scoring chances, and hope the immensely talented Carter Hart can bail them out.
Unfortunately for the long term health of this franchise, Hart can bail them out more often than most.
There is one glaring reason the Flyers have trouble turning momentums of games back in their favor.
The Flyers don’t have the kind of players who can singlehandedly change the flow of a game.
They don’t have guys who are so dynamic that one of their shifts can throw the opponent back on their heels, and make sure they stay there for the succeeding 10 minutes of a period.
It’s a tricky thing, knowing when you have that level of dynamism and when you don’t.
Nikita Kucherov is the Lightning’s leading scorer, and indeed of the great point accumulators of our time. He is certainly a guy who can change the momentum of games for them. They have multiple options, but he’s not the guy who does it.
The guy who does it for the Lightning is Brayden Point, who can pick up a loose puck at any point and skate by an entire roster of checkers then cutback and wait for trailers while the Bolts set up an offensive zone sequence.
Point changes the momentum of games because of his sheer brilliance in transition.
The Flyers do not have that guy, and if they insist on being as competitive as possible, it will be very difficult to go find that guy. As I touched on yesterday.
But… if you’re looking for some hope… Brayden Point was a 3rd round selection.
And if you’re looking for more hope than that, the next thing I write on this team–a third part to this unofficial series of longer form posts–will be significantly more optimistic.
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Mandatory Credit: Getty Images