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Torts, You Tease

TAMPA, FL - MARCH 9: Head coach John Tortorella of the Philadelphia Flyers reacts to being ejected during the first period against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on March 9, 2024 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/NHLI via Getty Images)
Mike Carlson/NHLI via Getty Images

It must irk John Tortorella at least a bit that his glorious outburst Saturday night wasn't even the best coach snap of the weekend. The Flyers coach went to the trouble of looking like he was ready to throw down—wearing all black with a cast on his right hand (from a recent surgery, rather than punching out his longtime media bête noire Larry Brooks)— with referees Wes McCauley and Brandon Schrader, and refused to leave the bench after they kicked him out of the game.

Eventually, though, he caved—“eventually” being after about two minutes—and disappeared down the tunnel in Tampa so that he didn't have to watch the final three Lightning goals (or the last 49 minutes of the game) in what was eventually a 7-0 clowning. He didn't speak on the subject afterward and waited patiently for the NHL to finish today what the zebras started, a $50K fine (twice the going rate) and a two-game suspension (well above the norm for a petulant coach in a sport that markets petulance as a customer draw).

To be reasonable about this, it might have been the four goals in the first 10:49 that caused him to blow, or the tripping penalty to Ronnie Attard shortly after the third goal, or the misconduct penalty to Garnet Hathaway right before the fourth. But Torts was getting his money's worth in the time-honored coaching way, by using the officials as beards so he didn't snap at his own players.

But was he getting his money's worth really? More importantly, was he giving us the Torts performance we need and expect from him, especially on Oscars weekend? Did he stand with one foot on the dasher and look like he was going to jump on the ice while he was carpet-F-bombing? No. Did he throw any equipment onto the ice? No. Did he even send out team captain Sean Couturier, who just got the job less than a month ago, to playersplain to the refs why Torts was all purple and forehead-veiny? No. What he did was change goalie Samuel Ersson, who gave up the goals, with Felix Sandstrom, who gave up the final three. And then he left.

Frankly, this felt like a Draymond Green punishment: getting called to the principal’s office and getting done in for his role as a frequent flier. He was yelling at the refs so he could distract us from his decision to change goalies, not changing goalies so he could yell at the refs. He had us for a second when he yelled, "I'm not going!" but when he did go … well, that's not the Torts we have known and loved all these years. There are standards, and if he's going to air out someone, he has to commit to the bit. He has to defend his brand. Maybe these two games will help him reflect on what our expectations for him are, and how he has to realize that going all in means going all in.

Because you know who went all in this weekend? Roberto D'Aversa, the manager at Serie A side Lecce who watched his fellows drop a potential relegation six-pointer to Hellas Verona Sunday and headbutted Verona striker Thomas Henry at game's end. Sure, D'Aversa got sacked today—but sometimes yelling at a referee just isn't enough. Torts knows that, of course. He just has to remember that even after 20 years doing this, he has to live it.

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