By DAN GELSTON AP Sports Writer
Scroll Philly sports headlines on the smartphone and there’s plenty about Jalen Hurts and the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles. The Phillies are in a pennant race. The Sixers have two of the biggest stars in the NBA in Joel Embiid and James Harden. The Union is one of the best teams in Major League Soccer.
The Flyers? They are on their third coach in the last year. Two trainers sued the team ownership group. The team captain was traded. The franchise goalie is cooperating with an NHL investigation into sexual assault accusations levied against his 2018 World Juniors team. Top center Sean Couturier is out with another serious injury. Aging veterans and second-tier prospects dot the roster of a team that faces 85-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup, per FanDuel Sportsbook.
Outside of coach John Tortorella, the biggest acquisitions in the offseason were the celebrity chefs lured to lend their pedigrees to new restaurants at the renovated Wells Fargo Center. Attendance last season plunged as one of sports’ most loyal fanbases had finally seen enough.
“We know there’s a lot of skeptics, a lot of people that don’t believe we are a good hockey team,” general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “I know our players are eager to prove them wrong, we all are.”
The Flyers finished with a 25-46-11 record last season under Alain Vigneault and Mike Yeo and were last in the Metropolitan Division. Can a decade-plus of draft busts, bad trades, worse free-agent signings and miscalculations on the bench really sink the Flyers at the bottom of the league for years and years? Tortorella is the latest to get his his turn to figure it out.
Want to see how it plays out? The Flyers announced Tuesday the launch of their own YouTube series that offers a behind-the-scenes look at training camp.
The 64-year-old Tortorella was hired in June with some thought that the Flyers would make a splash in free agency. Instead, they passed on making a serious push to sign local favorite Johnny Gaudreau (he signed with Columbus) and acquired defenseman Tony DeAngelo in a trade with Carolina.
Tortorella coached Tampa Bay to a Stanley Cup title in 2004, and he also coached the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks. He was fired in May 2021 after six seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“Last year was embarrassing for our group,” Flyers center Kevin Hayes said. “We weren’t very good at all and if we’re going to change the culture I think Torts is the correct guy to have it. He’s kind of a no (nonsense) guy and holds everyone accountable, whether you’ve played 1,000 games or you’re a rookie.”
The Flyers are trying to re-sign defenseman Travis Sanheim as he heads into the final year of his contract. He had 31 points in 80 games last season and won the team’s award for top defenseman.
“He is probably the one and only player that played to their capabilities last year,” Fletcher said.
The expected No. 1 center, Couturier underwent back surgery in February and missed the rest of the season. He signed an eight-year, $62 million contract extension in 2021 and ended the season with 17 points in 29 games.
He suffered another back injury and will be re-evaluated during training camp. He is considered week-to-week after some nerve irritation.
“He was told it was a normal part of the process, continued to train, and at some point, things deteriorated,” Fletcher said. “It got to the point that he was not sleeping as well and was experiencing some pain. What triggered that I don’t know, there’s a whole host of components that impact your back.”
Defenseman Ryan Ellis’ career might be over. The 31-year-old Ellis played in only four games with the Flyers last year and is not expected to play this season with an injury in his pelvis/back region. Ellis has 275 points in 565 games and is signed through the 2026-27 season.
“There is no timetable on his return to play. I’ll just say that my assumption is that he will not play this season. If he does it will be a bonus,” Fletcher said.
The NHL is investigating a sexual assault accusation against members of Canada’s 2018 World Juniors team. Several players are in the NHL, including the 24-year-old Flyers goalie Carter Hart, who has declined to comment on the case, other than to say he is “fully cooperating” with any investigations.
“This is a really serious matter; I think we all understand that,” Fletcher said.