With the Flyers having just hired a new coach in John Tortorella and the NHL draft (July 7-8) and free agency (July 13) quickly approaching, the offseason is heating up. With one major domino down and two others on the horizon, we had our beat reporters, Giana Han and Olivia Reiner, answer some of the biggest remaining questions surrounding the Flyers and who they think will win the Stanley Cup.
The Flyers have hired John Tortorella to be the 23rd head coach in team history. What should Flyers fans expect from him behind the bench next season?
GH: Tortorella has an identity, and typically so do his teams. That’s something the Flyers lacked last season, according to players and front office personnel. Tortorella will put the team through its paces — just ask former Columbus Blue Jackets Scott Hartnell and Cam Atkinson — but the tests will reveal and hone each player’s true character. Some players come out hating him for it, and others love him. But he’s had lots of success along the way, and Hartnell and Atkinson speak highly of him. Tortorella has become a larger-than-life character in the NHL with his escapades over the years, but his tough, gritty, uncompromising nature might fit in well in Philadelphia.
OR: Accountability. Tortorella showed in past stops that he’s upfront with his players and isn’t afraid to bench them to send a message. He noted in his introductory news conference on Friday that his “job is to push athletes to levels that they are not used to getting to” and that training camp will be “difficult” with lots of “high-volume skating.” Additionally, the Flyers should expect an emphasis on the defensive side of the game and the team’s structure away from the puck. His approach to coaching will be an adjustment, to say the least, for the Flyers. Tortorella’s words in his news conference reflected that he’s evolved from his old-school ways, but his actions will speak louder once the season gets underway.
With Tortorella now in place as coach, and just over two weeks until the NHL draft, is there the potential for a major trade or move before then?
GH: The Flyers have a lot of needs, from high-end skill to size, heading into this offseason. To be competitive, the Flyers need to make some moves, but they’re also pushing the salary cap. After such a terrible season, few players are very marketable, especially the ones with the largest salaries like James van Riemsdyk and Kevin Hayes (injury concerns). The Flyers could make them more desirable by throwing in draft picks, but the team has been intentional about stocking up on picks. The Flyers need to do something, but it will be interesting to see what they’re willing to give up.
OR: General manager Chuck Fletcher has reiterated — most recently on Friday — that he is going to “try to be aggressive” in improving the team this offseason through trades and free agency. If the Flyers want to swing for the fences and land a top free agent like a Johnny Gaudreau or Nazem Kadri, they’re going to have to make room by unloading a contract or two (or three or four), seeing as they currently only have $5.1 million in cap space according to CapFriendly. The most glaringly obvious player that the Flyers should try to move is the 33-year-old van Riemsdyk, who carries a $7 million cap hit next season and is in the final year of his contract. Paging Arizona? Seattle?
» READ MORE: Which Flyers Should Stay or Go? Swipe and Decide
Speaking of the draft, the Flyers hold the No. 5 pick and could go a number of different directions with it. Who would you select and why?
GH: I like Cutter Gauthier for the Flyers. He fits perfectly into the Flyers’ lineup needs with the ability to play left wing or center. The Flyers lost their elite left wing in Claude Giroux, and they struggled up the middle all season with numerous injuries. He has some connections to the organization as well, from his dad playing for the Reading Royals to his own plans to go to Boston College, where many current Flyers went to school. Gauthier would add size to a relatively small Flyers team, and he’s in pretty elite company after posting a 34-goal, 31-assist season for the U.S. National Team Development Program.
OR: With center Shane Wright, winger Juraj Slafkovský, and center Logan Cooley expected to be off the board by the time the Flyers pick (if they stay) at No. 5, they will have their selection of one of the two top defensemen in the draft, David Jiříček or Šimon Nemec, or from the next tier of forwards including Gauthier. Assistant general manager Brent Flahr told me earlier this offseason that the Flyers will target the player who has the potential to make the greatest impact at the NHL level. But in this exercise, I’m the one making the pick, and I can’t shake how last season exposed just how organizationally thin the Flyers are up the middle of the ice. If I’m the Flyers, I am selecting 6-foot-3, 200-pound Gauthier at No. 5 for his size, power, strength, and scoring capabilities.
After a disappointing season, this summer takes on added importance. Which Flyer do you believe has the most important summer ahead of him and why?
GH: Ryan Ellis’ career might depend on this offseason, and the Flyers’ defensive solutions depend on him. Ellis was the Flyers big trade acquisition of the previous offseason, and they bet their defensive success around having him available. With Ellis out almost all of last season, the defensive corps veered far off course. At player exit interviews, Ellis said they finally determined what’s wrong with him (a “multilayered” injury to his pelvic region) and now have a plan. Both he and Fletcher spoke confidently of his ability to return, but that remains to be seen, especially considering it took a whole season just to determine what was wrong with him.
OR: Hayes. Tortorella said last week that he’s most excited to start working with Hayes as he said he believes “there’s more there” for the second-line centerman. Hayes, 30, faced a difficult 2021-22 season, dealing with the death of his brother, Jimmy, and three surgeries, most recently to treat a groin infection. He played 48 games and registered 10 goals and 21 assists for 31 points. However, he was most productive toward the end of the season as he got healthier, scoring 70% of his points in his last 28 games. Hayes carries a $7.1 million cap hit (8.7% of the Flyers’ salary cap next year) for the next four seasons, and the Flyers desperately need him to play up to it.
Colorado has a series lead in the Stanley Cup Final. Who lifts the Cup?
GH: While Game 3′s score was a bit of a surprise, I also didn’t expect the Lightning to go down without a fight. Their biggest strength is Andrei Vasilevskiy, but they’ve got talented players like Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov around him with Stanley Cup experience. However, the Avalanche have been the clear favorite all year, and they’ve barely slowed down as the competition has gotten tougher. I’m choosing them to lift the Cup.
OR: I’m going with the Avalanche, even though the Lightning have the clear advantage in goal with Vasilevskiy and the experience to boot. But Colorado will need an improved performance from goalie Darcy Kuemper (17 saves on 22 shots in Game 3) — and from their defense — in Game 4. I picked the Avalanche to make it to the Final in my preseason predictions … but I also had the New York Islanders winning the Cup, so maybe don’t place any bets on my behalf.