For the final five games of the Philadelphia Flyers’ season, John Tortorella made polarizing defenseman Tony DeAngelo a healthy scratch. DeAngelo’s messy first campaign with the Flyers would’ve already brought his future with the team into question, but the benching has turned up the volume on those rumblings.
For what it’s worth, DeAngelo told the media on Friday that he’d like to remain with the Flyers, but he also made it clear that he’s at an impasse with Torts. The 27-year-old described Tortorella’s decision to sit him in the final five games as “ridiculous” and chose not to delve into what must be some considerable differences.
"He's the coach of the team, so you gotta respect that and I respect what he does," DeAngelo said. "Do I agree with what happened in the last five games? Absolutely not. I think it's ridiculous I didn't play the last five."
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) April 14, 2023
The Athletic’s Charlie O’Connor points out that the healthy scratches weren’t merely a matter of Tortorella trying to put the best lineup and ideal defensemen on the ice. For instance, in the closing game of a back-to-back set, Philly rolled out a very unusual lineup of five defensemen and 15 forwards. That sends a message, and not necessarily a subtle one.
The healthy scratches wrap up a miserable first season in Philadelphia for both Tortorella and DeAngelo.
While there was room for DeAngelo’s passion to possibly mesh well with Torts’ fiery nature, the defenseman’s double-edged-sword-style of skilled (but risky) offense and leaky defense seemed destined to be a terrible fit for Tortorella.
Tony DeAngelo was a very weak defensive player when he came to Philadelphia and somehow he's gotten worse. It's surprising that he got as much rope from his coach as he got. pic.twitter.com/pt1g21Pg7D
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) April 7, 2023
In December, DeAngelo was placed on non-roster status for personal reasons. While Torts would occasionally say positive things about the defenseman in the media, Tortorella also admitted in February that the Flyers didn’t realize how much work DeAngelo needed on his defensive game.
When a player delivers a hit or is guilty of an action that might incur supplemental discipline, teammates and coaches often choose their words carefully to try to shine a positive light on a possible offender. Tortorella and the Flyers were, instead, pretty withdrawn when it came to defending DeAngelo for spearing Corey Perry in the groin, an action that led to a two-game suspension.
Despite all the Flyers gave up for his negotiating rights alone, he’s only under contract through next season at a $5 million cap hit. Perhaps there’d be interest in a right-handed defenseman with skill (and serious flaws) if the Flyers retained some of that $5 million AAV. The Flyers could also consider a buyout, which could save them $3.33 million up front (while carrying a buyout cost of $1.67 million for the 2023-24 and 2024-25 seasons).
Of course, there’s also the possibility that Tortorella and DeAngelo could work through their clear divide. There have been rumblings that the Flyers might try to move other players who’ve been in the veteran bench boss' doghouse, such as Kevin Hayes.
At minimum, the Flyers need to learn from all of this, and Torts shouldn’t get a free pass either. Plenty of people have clashed with DeAngelo in the past, and Tortorella’s not exactly the easiest coach to deal with. We’ll see if the Flyers manage to clean this mess up during the offseason, or if it will be an issue that lingers into the 2023-24 campaign.