Is Hakstol a Hack?

How long does Dave Hakstol have to right the ship?

Via @DanTheFlyeraFan on twitter

 

Stop me if you’ve heard this story before, a Philadelphia sports team hires a college coach whose system just doesn’t cut it at the professional level. It didn’t work for the Eagles, and so far, it hasn’t worked for the Flyers. However, with rave reviews by Ron Hextall and the Flyers fully behind the ‘trust the process’ motto, how long does Hakstol really have to turn a failing team around?

Now that this dreadful season is officially over, its a perfect time to look at this situation in detail. This is a hot topic among Flyers fans right now as many, myself included, would love to see this guy get kicked to the curb. But what are the chances of that actually happening? Well lets start from the beginning. Dave Hakstol was a great college coach, and with 11 seasons at UND, he never had anything lower than a .605 win percentage (his worst record was 21-15-4) and also took his Fighting Hawks to the Frozen Four 7 times. He was also an 8 time finalist for national coach of the year.

Hakstol came to Philadelphia with critical acclaim from Ron Hextall, and frankly with the disaster known a Craig Berube before him, fans were excited to get a breath of fresh air. Most were not expecting Hakstol’s path to mirror Berube’s as much as it has though. Hakstol took over as head coach heading into the 2015-16 season and, while slow out of the gate, eventually steamrolled back and made the playoffs. Unfortunately injuries stacked up and the Flyers had no chance versus the NHL leading Capitals.

When the 2016-17 season came around excitement built as young stars Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny made the team out of camp. It didn’t take long for that enthusiasm to die down as the Flyers never really got their footing early on. However, a 10 game win streak from November 27th to December 14th momentarily distracted the fans and media from Hakstol.

Since the streak ended, the Flyers have managed only 20 victories. Couple that with Hakstol’s curious player usage and all of a sudden the question emerges, is Hakstol really the coach that can lead this team to the Stanley Cup? I will be the first to admit, its not all on Hakstol. This isn’t exactly a roster that can excel to its fullest with a lack of forward depth and, of course, Andrew MacDonald.

So how much is Hakstol’s fault? well it boils down to his lineup decisions. Chris VandeVelde and Pierre Edouard Bellemare regularly see more ice time than up and comer Travis Konecny. In fact, Vandevelde and Bellemare’s average time on ice is within one minute of Konecny, Read, and Raffl. They are also looked at on the penalty kill and in overtime instead of, well anybody else. I think Both PEB and CVV are fringe fourth liners in the NHL, nothing special, but can get their job done in small doses. When they start seeing more TOI than actual talented hockey players, there’s where I get annoyed.

Defensive pairings have also been lackluster. Again, theres not alot of options right now, being his choices are either MacDonald or Nick Schultz. Hakstol has the same problems on defense that he does on offense, as he continues to use AMac in a top three role instead of better utilizing guys like Del Zotto or Gudas. The defense is in a transition stage, held together with short term options like MDZ and Schultz while they patiently wait for guys like Sanheim, Hagg and Morin to be NHL ready.

I don’t blame Hakstol for the powerplay or the penalty kill as he is not in charge of either. That falls on the shoulders of Joe Mullen and Ian Laperriere. Changing the coaching staff will be tricky, as all three (four if you include Gord Murphy) should get canned. With youth on the rise however, now may be the perfect time to clean house and start fresh. The risk that envokes is the core players that have been here a long time, will have to adapt to yet another system.

Philadelphia Flyers have had 4 different coaches since December 2009, and 8 coaches since the turn of the millennium. Dave Hakstol’s tenure started differently than most. He felt fresh, with all his credentials and all the hype surrounding his signing, we all thought this one would be different. It’s just not the case. Hasktol has clearly lost the fans support, and while at the end of the day that doesn’t mean much, one has to wonder if he has lost the locker room.

My biggest fear with Dave Hakstol coming reccomended by Hextall himself, is wondering if Hexy is willing to admit he was wrong. Mike Babcock, Claude Julien and Mike Yeo (and the latest being Lindy Ruff) have all been free agent coaches since Hakstol got hired. Whether or not the Flyers persued any of them is unknown, and not the point. The point is, there have been some great options for Philadelphia to snag a top tier coach, and they’ve passed up everytime.

My guess is Hakstol makes it through the entirety of next season as well unless things really go bad. His saving grace this season was the 10 game win streak that made The Flyers overall record better than it should have been. He was signed to a 5 year deal in the summer of 2015, which means he still has 3 years on his current contract.

I would be shocked he makes it through 3 more years. Ultimately i believe his future in Philly depends on how he handles the young kids when they make their long awaited debuts with the big club. With Morin and Hagg both likely making the roster next season, and guys like MDZ and Schultz not returning, it will be crucial for Hakstol to continue to develop them the right way. This is where I think Hexy would override him. Hextall has preached patience for years, and if Hakstol doesn’t use these players the organization has spent so much time developing the right way, that may do him in.

Unless the flyers start next season in a tailspin, Hakstol will still be behind the bench for (at least most) of the season. It’s difficult to judge how much longer he will remain as coach. My guess is he will be here all of next season. The earliest I see him getting the axe will be next summer, especially if the Flyers don’t make the playoffs. Philly is finally starting to head in the right direction. However, with at least a few more years before the new era of players are all at the top of their game, who knows how long his leash will be.

If Hakstol remains the bench boss for the 2017-18 season, the least Hexy could do is fire all the assistant coaches and start over there. The powerplay and penalty kill need a facelift, and Hak needs someone whispering in his ear to roll his best lines.

Hextall’s opinion of Hakstol probably differs from that of the fans. All of this is fine, but its going to take a lot for him to turn our opinion. I’m just not sure i could take him seriously, even if he rolled his best lines every night. Hopefully things change as the roster continues to improve, and this upcoming off season (which is the most important in recent memory) will determine the fate of the near future in Philly. The only person that can save Hakstol’s job is Hakstol himself. Should he be back next season, no probably not, but he will. He needs to optimize his lineup night in and night out, not just throw new line combos out there every single game hoping something sticks.

Dave gives off all the signs of somebody in way over their head,  and if this team succeeds, I believe it will in spite of Hakstol. Dave has his chance to rise and be the leader this team desperatly needs, especially with all the talent on the way, but if he doesn’t turn things around soon he will go the way of Chip Kelly, right to the unemployment line.

 

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum) via sports.yahoo.com

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