Some have wondered if John Tortorella has changed over the years.
Sure, at 64 years old, he has evolved with the game. He'll admit to listening more now than he did at the beginning of his coaching career. His patience has probably grown with time.
But do not be fooled. You can't take the fire out of the competitor.
And Tortorella is still as fiery and competitive as ever. From Day 1 as Flyers head coach, he has been "looking forward to getting to the bunker" with his guys and going to battle.
So does the man behind the bench have enough for battle? A cloud of criticism has formed over the Flyers this summer, particularly general manager Chuck Fletcher. There's debate surrounding Fletcher's offseason work and whether the GM has retooled aggressively and proactively following a 25-46-11 season in 2021-22.
The Flyers traded for righty-shot blueliner Tony DeAngelo on Day 2 of the NHL draft. They brought back veteran defenseman Justin Braun and inked hard-nosed winger Nicolas Deslauriers on Day 1 of free agency. Because of salary cap constraints, Fletcher said the Flyers were "not involved in the Johnny Gaudreau sweepstakes." Gaudreau, the premier free agent this offseason, ended up signing a seven-year, $68.25 million deal with the Blue Jackets.
Does Tortorella feel like the Flyers can win now with this group? Essentially, is there enough here?
"I've got to see the players play. I know you're talking about free agency, I know that Chuck has been criticized through the free agent time here," Tortorella said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "I'm a little pissed off about some of the things said about a couple of the players and Tony DeAngelo, at least some of the things I've read. I haven't read them all, I don't spend my day trying to listen to everybody, what they're talking about.
"But everybody's upset about Johnny G, that Johnny G wasn't signed. Any general manager would be interested in a guy like that and I'm sure Chuck was. But there's sometimes the lay of the land, where your contracts are at, where your cap's at and where your team's at, quite honestly. Is it time to sign a free agent like that? I think we have a little bit of building to do here and a little bit of growing."
The Flyers are entering a transitional phase after missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. They traded longtime captain Claude Giroux at last season's deadline, summoned a new leader in Tortorella this offseason and are aiming to stabilize from the back to the front. Over the last two seasons, the Flyers have allowed 3.56 goals per game, tied for worst in the NHL, and sported a 74.6 penalty kill percentage, last in the league.
The club sees DeAngelo as a pivotal addition to its back end. Last season, the 26-year-old put up 51 points (10 goals, 41 assists) and a plus-30 rating in 64 games with the Hurricanes, who were the best defensive team in hockey. DeAngelo, considered a polarizing player, was on a one-year, prove-it deal in Carolina. He made the most of his second chance after his time with the Rangers ended abruptly and contentiously.
"The thing that bothers me and some of the things I've read is people are upset about Tony DeAngelo," Tortorella said. "Tony DeAngelo's a hell of a player, Tony DeAngelo has personality. Is he going to say and do some stupid stuff? You're damn right he is. But I'd rather have a guy doing stupid stuff than having a choir boy here just going about your business. You don't win that way, you don't win championships, you don't build a team without any personality. Tony's going to bring that and, plus, he's a hell of a player.
"Nic Deslauriers, another one. A number of teams were after him and what he can bring. He can bring some toughness, he can kill penalties, he's a good pro.
"It pisses me off, some of the things that have been said about those guys because I think everybody wanted the big splash. Well, we have to wait our turn for that big splash. We still have some things to do with our foundation of the team and maybe when our cap releases and contracts are moved or things are sorted out that way, maybe that's when you look for that."
Tortorella understands the Flyers' position. He did when he was hired in June and he does now.
Does the outside doubt add some fuel to his fire as he looks to turn around the franchise?
"I don't spend a lot of time worrying about the noise, I don't," Tortorella said. "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.
"Listen, I'll say, we make our own bed, too. I think we were third from the last, I'm not sure where we were, 61-point team? You've got to take some s---, too. But I really look forward to the challenge of this. I appreciate, but it also fuels me, some of the media and how it's all perceived, how they're talking about the team. They have a perfect right to talk about the way it is now because of where we're at.
"But it also gives me, and more importantly I hope it gives our players, a little bit of fire as far as getting it straightened out, let's get it back on the rails."
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