Flyers unfazed by offseason criticism, give reasons for optimism


VOORHEES, N.J. — Cam Atkinson said he doesn't worry about "outside noise."

The outside noise on the Flyers this offseason was that the team didn't upgrade or change nearly enough following a miserable 25-46-11 season.

One big change the Flyers made was bringing in a new voice behind the bench. How much will veteran head coach John Tortorella improve the Flyers? That's to be determined.

Atkinson, who played parts of six seasons under Tortorella in Columbus, noted how the Blue Jackets didn't have a superstar during the head coach's tenure. With Tortorella, Columbus had a run of four consecutive postseason berths and shocked the loaded Lightning in the 2019 playoffs with a first-round sweep.

Artemi Panarin was there for two of those four postseason appearances, but the Blue Jackets actually had their best regular season before his arrival. Columbus was known for its effort and execution, not as much its talent level.

"All that matters to me is the guys in the locker room," Atkinson said Tuesday, nine days before the start of Flyers training camp. "Doesn't matter who you are, where you played, how much money you make — we're going to play the right way and we're going to play hard.

"Every time we went into an away rink, guys knew, especially with the Blue Jackets, that we were coming in to play hard. We didn't necessarily have the highest skill in the world, but you practice how you play."

Whatever external negativity there is surrounding the Flyers, the club internally doesn't seem too bothered by it.

The coach, who doesn't need any extra motivation, has it.

"I don't spend a lot of time worrying about the noise, I don't," Tortorella said in July. "But I've been privy to a number of different articles and conversations since I've been hired, because I was involved in all of that, and I listen to some of the stuff and you're God damn right it fuels me as far as how negative it has gotten."

More: 'Everyone received a headbutting' — deep dive into the birth of Tortorella time

The players are staying positive. They're eager for Tortorella's grueling camp and old-school direction.

They like what they have in-house. A healthier team and a new start are among the factors for their optimism.

"I think just having everyone here shows the excitement for this upcoming season," Travis Sanheim said Tuesday. "Everyone's happy to have all the bodies back and see what we can do being at full strength. Obviously disappointed with last season, but I think a lot of us see that more as a one-off. Bringing in Torts and getting healthy, I think those are a couple of big steps for us and we're looking forward to it.

"Clean slate, from Day 1. A tough year last year, a long year. I don't think that anybody wants that. You go into the offseason, you watch the playoffs, you want to get there. You see those guys at the end of it.

"For us coming in, just the reset, being able to know that last year is in the past and we can move forward and believe in this group. A lot of people maybe are doubting us, but there's no doubt in that locker room."

Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes, the club's first- and second-line centers, are healthy. The status and availability of top-pair defenseman Ryan Ellis remain significant unknowns.

Couturier played in only 29 games last season because of back surgery. He was practicing with the team at the end of the year. Despite some ups and downs during his summer training, the 29-year-old said he's cleared and good to go.

"My intensity, when I started getting intense again and pushing myself, there were some setbacks here and there," Couturier said Monday. "Nothing to worry, everything's coming back to normal. It was longer than I thought. I'm a guy that usually wants to get back out there quicker than I should be. This one was a little more frustrating because I had to be patient and not push it too hard and make sure I was healing it the right way. Now it's good, though, so I'm excited."

Hayes played in only 48 games last season, 20 of them while injured, as abdominal injuries wreaked havoc on his body. Hayes was forced to undergo his third surgery Jan. 18. It was discovered that he had developed an infection in his groin area. With the issue identified and fixed, Hayes was the Flyers' best player from March 5 to the end of the season. He said those final 28 games were "huge" for him despite the team's season being lost.

"There was times last year where I was leaving games where I was questioning whether I'd ever feel good again," he said Monday.

Hayes listed off six guys that he talked to who had played for Tortorella. He liked what he heard.

"He's an unbelievable guy, he holds everyone accountable in a different way," Hayes said of the feedback he gathered. "It's exciting. If you can't take getting yelled at or pushed to a certain limit, if you don't handle that the right way and kind of fade away from it, it could be a tough route for you.

"If we're going to change the culture, I think Torts is the correct guy to do it. He's kind of a no bulls--t guy, holds everyone accountable whether you've played 1,000 games or you're a rookie.

"I know fans are kind of down on our team right now. It's easy to say, but it's a new year, new team. I think we're off to the right start with our whole team being here pretty early."

The Flyers' offseason, which was criticized for missing out on top-end talent, featured the additions of Tony DeAngelo, Nicolas Deslauriers and Justin Braun.

"Sometimes having a lot of superstars, it's good and bad," Atkinson said. "At the end of the day, you want to build a team. I think we have the team to do it.

"Tony, you can see what he's capable of doing on the power play, making plays out of the zone and slowing the game down.

"Deslauriers, you know when he's on the ice, just like the Islanders' fourth line. You know when those guys are on the ice. I'm pretty sure our fourth line is going to be just as good as that.

"You better believe we're going to be a whole different team this year, for the better. It might not be pretty, but we're going to work our tails off. Sometimes those [qualities] win a lot of hockey games."

Couturier agreed.

"I like the way our team's built," he said. "If you look at our division, it's a pretty tough division. We brought in some toughness. I don't think there's going to be any more teams bullying us around like we've been in the past couple of years at times.

"We don't seem to have, on paper, maybe that big superstar or big-name guys, but I think as a team, we can come together, do some damage and prove everyone wrong."

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