Philadelphia Flyers head coach John Tortorella hasn’t kept quiet on his decision not to name a core leadership group for the 2022-23 campaign. Right now, left winger Scott Laughton is wearing the only “A” on the team, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t candidates rising from within the group.
As the news broke of long-time leader Claude Giroux parting ways with the Flyers organization to begin a new chapter with the Florida Panthers, everyone was left wondering who would lead the team into a new era. Giroux wore the “C” for the Flyers for 10 years, beginning in 2013 until his departure in March 2022, leaving a city that had grown to love him.
In his 15 years with the franchise, the right winger scored 900 points in 1000 games. General manager Chuck Fletcher remarked, “Claude is one of the best players to ever wear a Flyer uniform.” He is one of the only Flyers to reach the 1000-game mark next to Bobby Clarke, one of the greatest players to ever wear a Flyers uniform. Even in one of the worst seasons in franchise history, Giroux still managed 42 points in 2021-22.
But amongst the disastrous 2021-22 season, a leader arose with the determination to make something out of the struggling Flyers squad team. Thus the birth of the Tortorella era began. At the beginning of September, the new head coach announced he didn’t see the team having a leadership group for the 2022-23 season. He told SiriusXM’s NHL Network Radio, “I’m in no rush to name a captain, so that’s that.” Although there may be no “core” leadership group, there are players who could fill Giroux’s shoes in the future.
Accountability is the chosen “word of the season” by the new head coach.
Although playing under a headstrong, determined coach, like Tortorella, you’ll find a display of different opinions rising from the media about his strategy moving forward with his team. Forward Kevin Hayes spoke up during training camp to express his feelings about Tortorella.
“I think in order to have a successful team, you need to have accountability,” Hayes said. “Whether it’s players holding each other accountable, management holding players accountable, or, in this case, I think Torts is gonna hold all players that make this team accountable. And that’s how you win. You want every single one of your guys, whether it’s your best player or a fourth-line guy that knows his role, to be held accountable.”
Fans and players saw Tortorella’s massive emphasis on the trend of accountability against the San Jose Sharks on Oct 23. Trailing the Sharks after two unanswered goals in the second period, forwards Travis Konecny and Hayes were benched for the entire third period.
Konecny, who had one shot, three giveaways, and was on the ice for both goals, said after the game, “…It doesn’t matter who you are. You have to play the right way. … I had some mistakes tonight, and it was his decision.” Hayes responded similarly, saying Tortorella must not like the way he was playing. Likely discouraged, both players understood the decision and wanted to move forward.
Konecny showed resilience against the Florida Panthers on Oct 27. The 5-foot-8 forward contributed two assists to help his team win 4-3. Konecny confirmed he wanted to show that he was better than he showed in the previous two games: “It wasn’t a good effort from me … the last two games. So, I wanted to make sure I was doing as much as I could to help the team tonight.” (from ‘Flyers leaders step up, lead team to 4-3 win over Panthers’, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 27, 2022). Along with two assists, he helped in defending his teammates and creating scoring opportunities.
Tortorella glued a few more players to the bench in that same game, starting at the end of the first period with Igor Zamula and then into the second period when neither Morgan Frost nor Wade Allison touched the ice until the bottom half.
The trend of accountability hasn’t “worn off” since training camp and will probably become even more visible to fans and players through the remainder of the 2022-23 campaign.
Konecny’s Progress and Leadership
Konecny has often been underestimated. He’s had his ups and downs in his career, but he has always been true to his game and character. In five seasons with the team, he’s moulded himself into one of the core players that the team looks to create opportunities, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him become part of the Flyers leadership group in the future.
Konecny is defined as a straight-line forward, he gets the puck where it needs to go and battles in areas of the ice where needed. At 5-foot-8, he’s fast and gets to the puck quickly, which fits with the team. Drafted 24th overall by the Flyers in 2015, Konecny had cracked the opening-night roaster and would appear in his first NHL game against the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 12, 2016, racking up two assists in a 4-2 victory. Six games later, he recorded his first NHL goal against the Buffalo Sabres. He finished his rookie season with 28 points (11 goals and 17 assists), the most a Flyers rookie forward since Matt Read in 2011-12 (24 goals and 23 assists).
After the finish of a solid rookie season, Konecny continuously challenged himself each year, beating his career-high points each season starting in 2017-18 with 47, 49 points in 2018-19, and then 61 points in 2019-20. He was considered to be one of the team’s “all-stars” following his success in the 2019-20 season and represented the Flyers for the NHL All-Star Game. He fit nicely next to captain Giroux, and the two helped the team become successful, seeing two playoff appearances in the 2017-18 campaign and again in 2019-20.
When the 2020-21 season finally took off in January, he raised expectations by scoring four goals in the first four games. Off to a hot start, fans and the organization were excited about what the then 24-year-old would do. Expectations were high as fans began to look forward to being one of the top players for the Flyers that season. Unfortunately, after the hot start, Konecny faced a series of games where he wouldn’t contribute a single point, the longest of which lasted six games from Jan. 28, 2021-March 2, 2021. He still managed 34 points in the 50 games and strengthened his power play skills amongst others, but people were expecting more from such a determined high producing forward like himself.
The Flyers missed playoffs that year, and then the fateful 2021-22 season was among us. A disappointing season, but Konecny seemed to break free from whatever was holding him back the previous year. Putting up 16 goals and 36 assists, he was still under his three-consistent scoring years in 2017-20, totaling 24 goals in each of those seasons, but he still captured 52 points for the Flyers through one of the most disastrous seasons. Regardless, Konecny still invited energy to the ice and was exciting to watch for fans. He became the leading goal scorer for the team after Giroux’s departure, which meant the spotlight was indeed on him.
At the end of last season, Konecny took part in an end-of-season exit interview where he spoke on the now-famous Flyers trend of accountability, saying, “It’s a good group when everyone’s taking accountability, and we know what we need to do individually and come together as a team and do the right things.” He went on to mention how he is still a younger player, but he wants to be able to win games and “take what we can.”
The young forward could be a positive attribute for future considerations if a leadership group is announced. I’m not saying this exact season, but I think if Konecny could hold the same leadership qualities he has shown through his year with the Flyers, he will be a good candidate for a future group. He isn’t unfamiliar with being appointed a larger role where he’s expected to show guidance to other players. He held the captaincy for Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka U18 tournament in 2014 where the team won bronze, and wore the “C” for the Ottawa 67’s from 2014 until early 2016 when he was traded to the Sarnia Sting.
The Flyers franchise and fans have watched Konecny grow up and mature as a strong head-on player in the league. He displays the qualities of a leader and carries a solid sense of character, which has proven benefits within the Flyers organization and just about any organization he’s been a part of. He’s definitely gotten off to a good start this year, he’s taken the accountability wanted by Tortorella, and has managed nine points in eight games (four goals and five assists). Although plenty of other players could also be considered, I wouldn’t be surprised if the young forward continues to display what the Flyers need within their leadership core.
MacEwan Journalism student Covering the Philadelphia Flyers.
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.