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Flyers need relationship between Tortorella, Couturier to improve

Flyers need relationship between Tortorella, Couturier to improve originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Things did not go well enough between the Flyers' head coach and captain this season.

Not nearly well enough.

If they did, John Tortorella wouldn't have spent a chunk of his end-of-the-season press conference discussing the coach-captain marriage, a relationship that was ironically formed on Valentine's Day and has had its bumps ever since.

If things went well enough, Sean Couturier wouldn't have been as confounded and frustrated when he was benched for two games in the heat of a playoff race.

"I know what Sean said to you guys after, it kind of caught me off guard a little bit, but I think it's the first time Sean has been through something like that," Tortorella said last Friday. "So it really wasn't a big deal for me. I think it turned into a bunch of drama."

As the Flyers reflect on their rebuilding season falling short of the playoffs, they have plenty of work ahead. Both Tortorella and general manager Danny Briere admitted the organization has a ways to go in its process after missing the postseason for a fourth consecutive year.

Two key pieces to the puzzle are Tortorella and Couturier. And together they need to fit better. The importance of their relationship should not be overlooked. Players watch Couturier and they listen to Tortorella. If those two are not on the same page, just a tad off, there's a trickle-down effect.

Since March 19, the first game of Couturier's benching, the Flyers went 4-7-3 to finish the season.

"I'm sure we'll have some conversations here down the road and we've had some since," Couturier said last Wednesday at his end-of-the-season press conference. "It's all good. We've moved on and we're just going to keep building this team to the next level.

"I've tried not to look back at it, honestly. It's behind me now. I didn't want to be a distraction or anything. I thought actually the team responded pretty well with three points out of four the next two games. That's all that mattered, really. I might have gotten caught up in some comments that were a little blown out of proportion I think just through my emotions."

While Tortorella said everything was communicated to Couturier the day before he came out of the lineup, there still seemed to be a disconnect. Tortorella said he needed Couturier to play better. In a smaller role, Couturier felt he was playing better.

"I sat with Sean, I'm not going to tell you what I said, we had a discussion about why he's coming out," Tortorella said. "Because I didn't want to see him come to the board at 8 o'clock in the morning and see that he's out. ... Why would I want to disrespect him that way?

"I get he's the captain and the timing of it all isn't great. But the captaincy's not going to stop me from holding people accountable. If I determine that other players are playing better — and it was going on for a while, Sean had struggled for a while prior to that — I'm going to make that call."

Couturier played in 74 of the Flyers' 82 games after missing almost 22 months because of two back surgeries. From mid-February to the end of the season, the 31-year-old center had no goals, five assists and a minus-17 rating in 24 games. He played just 13:50 minutes per game.

"My body was feeling better as the year went on," Couturier said. "Early in the year, I was more banged up at times and got through it, so it's not an excuse for my play. I just plain and simple sucked down the road. It's mental, I think, a lot of it. You don't play for almost two, three years at that stage of the year. You go through some ups and downs throughout the seasons and it's how you handle them. I think I can maybe learn from this experience. Obviously not the right way I wish it would have went, but I guess I'll learn from it and be better down the road here."

In his first 50 games, Couturier played 19:44 minutes per game, had 33 points (11 goals, 22 assists) and a plus-7 rating. All-situation minutes and effectiveness for a player who had not played since December 2021.

"My first 40 games, I thought they were pretty good, honestly, especially coming back off of these two back surgeries," Couturier said. "I think I somewhat proved that I know I can still be a good player in this league. I still have the belief and the confidence that I'll be back to that level next year. I've just got to put the work in this summer to get back at that level."

Tortorella will stay true to how he coaches. He feels he'll have a "very strong relationship" with Couturier moving forward.

"We just talked yesterday and we disagreed on a lot of stuff. That's what I love about him," Tortorella said. "He's willing to say what's on his mind and that's how our relationship is going to grow.

"I'm not in the business to disrespect anybody. If I take a guy of that stature out, I'm going to communicate what it was and I felt I did. ... I want you all to understand that, with Sean, I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. But I am going to coach players the way I think I need to coach them. It could happen again next year."

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