You are currently viewing How Flyers’ John Tortorella chose to talk about Tony DeAngelo, Travis Sanheim and Joel Farabee is revealing


TAMPA, Fla. — One Philadelphia Flyers player speared an opponent in the nether regions on Tuesday night and ended any chance of the team coming back down 4-2 with 2:40 remaining. He’s probably going to be suspended for it.

And he wasn’t even the player that John Tortorella was most angry at in the wake of the team’s 5-2 defeat to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Yeah, things are going swell at the moment.

It was little surprise the Flyers lost to the Lightning in Tampa on Tuesday, even with the two-time champs having dropped five straight and missing Victor Hedman from the lineup. After all, they still had Nikita Kucherov (two goals and an assist), Andrei Vasilevskiy (.943 save percentage), Brayden Point (one assist) and Steven Stamkos. The Flyers had … 24 minutes worth of Owen Tippett and Carter Hart desperately trying to make up the talent gap between the two clubs’ skaters. This wasn’t going to go well, even for Hart.

But it could have been just another loss during a stretch run that will surely be full of them, another example of a Flyers club trying hard but falling to a clearly superior team. And for most of the players on the team, that’s exactly what it was.

For Joel Farabee and Travis Sanheim, however? It was far worse.

Both players have been disciplined by Tortorella in recent weeks; Farabee via a rest-of-the-game benching in Calgary after a blown coverage, and Sanheim via a surprise scratch for that same game due to continued poor play, culminating with a disastrous game in Vancouver two days prior. There was fallout in each case. Farabee’s camp leaked general dissatisfaction with Tortorella in the days following the benching, leading Tortorella to rip Farabee’s agent but defend the player, acknowledging that his lost offseason due to his neck surgery has played a role in his underwhelming season, and he was going to cut Farabee some slack as a result. Sanheim, on the other hand, was clearly hurt by the scratching, not because it wasn’t deserved, but because his family and friends had traveled to Calgary for the game — a slight that was not received well in the Philadelphia locker room.

It appeared that the dust was settling on both situations. Until Tuesday, when Sanheim had a truly horrific shift at the end of the first period culminating in a tripping penalty, and Farabee took two penalties of his own, with both leading directly to Tampa Bay power play goals.

Tortorella had seen enough, and stapled both to the bench for the entirety of the second period.

“Yeah, I don’t know where I go there,” Tortorella said with clear exasperation in his voice after the game when asked if it was frustrating that he felt the need to punish both again so soon after his last discipline.

Hoo boy.

Tortorella did ultimately send them back out for regular shifts in the third period — something of a logistical necessity, given that both Tanner Laczynski and Brendan Lemieux are probably not in peak physical condition after long absences. Keeping them on the bench would have left the team with just eight full strength forwards, given that they dressed only 11 to start the game, and No. 7 defenseman Justin Braun has cracked the 12-minute mark in a game just twice since Jan. 1. So Tortorella gave both Farabee and Sanheim another chance. Why?

“Trying to see if they would answer the proper way,” he said.

Did they?

“I got to watch the tape,” he said.

Again, hoo boy.

Over the past two weeks, my understanding was that Tortorella had settled into something of a resigned acceptance regarding the Farabee and Sanheim situations. He had decided to essentially punt his true evaluation of Farabee to next season, admitting to himself that holding the 2022-23 season against Farabee wasn’t quite fair. As for Sanheim, the frustration lingered, but the hard truth is that given Sanheim’s eight-year contract that kicks in starting in 2023-24, Tortorella is just going to have to figure out a way to fix him. He’s not going anywhere.

That patience lasted a whole two weeks before disintegrating.

I suspect Tortorella has more time for Farabee at this point. A few weeks ago, he referred to the 23-year-old as “sneaky tough” — a glowing compliment in Tortorella speak — and even on Tuesday, he found it in himself to acknowledge that he noticed Farabee creating a couple chances and being involved in the offense in the third period after the temporary benching.

Sanheim is a different story.

It was a fait accompli in some Flyers fan circles heading into 2022-23 that Tortorella and Sanheim were destined to clash. I never quite bought that, because I assumed two things. First, that Tortorella would be impressed by Sanheim’s first-on-the-ice, last-off-it work ethic. And second, that Tortorella — who is more open to statistical evaluation of players than even he often lets on — would be convinced of Sanheim’s usefulness by his knack for driving positive scoring chance differentials.

Tortorella hasn’t had an issue with Sanheim’s work ethic; he made a point to note a few days after the scratching that he thinks the world of Sanheim as a person. But Sanheim’s on-ice results? They’ve completely and inexplicably tanked.

sanheim years

All stats courtesy of Evolving-Hockey. RAPM model even strength only.

Even Sanheim’s fiercest defenders acknowledge that purely by the eye test, he can look ugly at times, as he has a penchant for big defensive gaffes and a discomfort with the physical side of defending. But in the past, those backers could always point to the numbers to justify Sanheim’s continued place in the lineup. It was all the little things — and occasionally big things, at least offensively — that Sanheim did well that mattered more, helping his club to outshoot and outchance opponents with him on the ice.

That aspect of his game has completely disappeared in 2022-23, leaving only the glaring gaffes and obvious defensive holes.

Combine that with Sanheim’s naturally quiet and unassertive personality not exactly fitting what the fiery Tortorella is generally drawn to in hockey players, and it’s no wonder the head coach hasn’t been impressed.

Which brings us to Tony DeAngelo.

DeAngelo’s action at the end of the game on Tuesday was arguably even more harmful to the team’s chances of victory than those of Farabee and (especially) Sanheim. With 2:40 remaining in the game and the Flyers down by only two goals, they were putting serious pressure on the Lightning; Morgan Frost had just been stopped on an electric end-to-end rush, and Hart had raced to the bench for the extra attacker. The Flyers weren’t likely to win the game, but it was at least possible.

Well, it was, until DeAngelo chose to spear Corey Perry in the private parts.

DeAngelo, unsurprisingly, was tossed from the game and given a five-minute major for his troubles — putting the Flyers on the penalty kill for the remainder of the game.

Unlike Sanheim and Farabee, however, who were both requested by media for a postgame interview, DeAngelo was more than willing to discuss his newsworthy incident in detail. He denied that he intended to spear Perry in that particular area — but he unapologetically said that he certainly meant to spear Perry.

“I was trying to give him a little shot, I wasn’t looking for it to go there,” he said. “He tried to slash my stick out of my hands a second beforehand. He talks all game. I asked him to fight, he doesn’t want to fight. He’ll tell you that he’s asked me to fight for years. I don’t say no. So, there’s not much of an argument there.

“I took 30 punches on the ground (from Lightning players), and when I get up, (the officials) don’t let me do what I gotta do.”

The Department of Player Safety probably isn’t going to look kindly on those comments during DeAngelo’s hearing on Wednesday.

Tortorella, on the other hand, probably loved them. Loved them a lot more than he did anything that Sanheim and Farabee did on Tuesday.

“I want him to have that personality, that competitiveness,” Tortorella said after the game. “A couple of guys I did sit, I wish a little of that would rub off on them.”

It’s not that Tortorella hasn’t been critical of DeAngelo in the past — he’s scratched him as well, and been open about the need for DeAngelo to improve defensively. But through it all, Tortorella has loved DeAngelo’s attitude. He’s praised his competitiveness, his fire. It very clearly strikes a chord with Tortorella, and that’s something he intends to continue to encourage, even if Tuesday night DeAngelo went too far.

“That’s the line you walk as far as going over the edge,” Tortorella said. “That’s a part of who Tony is, and I think he’s done a pretty good job this year in staying on that line (while) competing. Because he competes. Maybe he crossed it tonight. I’ve got to look at the tape.”

And this is where it’s fair to wonder if the Sanheim situation especially — my guess is that Farabee will eventually earn Tortorella’s respect when his body isn’t failing him — is going to get any better with Tortorella as the coach. Sanheim, in many ways, is kind of the anti-DeAngelo, regardless of the fact that they both qualify as puck-moving, offensively oriented defensemen. Sanheim is quiet, reserved and not the most physical; his critics don’t hesitate to dub him “soft.” DeAngelo never stops yapping, flies all over the ice looking for opponents to engage, and for all his defensive faults, would never be saddled with the soft label — it’s a big reason why NHL coaches cut him so much slack for his defensive gaffes.

The kind of slack that those coaches — such as Tortorella — aren’t going to cut a player like Sanheim.

Perhaps this ends up just being a down year for Sanheim, a good player getting trapped in his own head as he tries to adjust to a new head coach and a new system. Perhaps his underlying numbers will rebound in a big way in 2023-24, and then Tortorella will be able to appreciate what he does bring to the table, rather than what he doesn’t.

But in the here and now, this doesn’t exactly look like a comfortable marriage of player and coach.

Luckily, they only have eight more years to figure it out.

(Photo: Len Redkoles / NHLI via Getty Images)


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