Written by @antgratzi
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The 2016-2017 is one of the most infuriating seasons I can remember.
As a fan, I am furious about how this season turned out, but not because we missed the playoffs. Take playoffs out of the equation, expectations for the season were not that high, lets not kid ourselves, but execution was a major problem with this team.
Even before the season ended, the, “dismantle the core” narrative was already in full-effect.
This is the biggest problem surrounding the Flyers that does not include direct roster changes. Who is really to blame? Obviously, all of grey-areas are intertwined in some way, execution of the system is place has to be in question.
You have one group of fans that blames the core, and that group also blames the core for causing the coaching carousal over the last couple of seasons.
That is blasphemous.
Peter Laviolette was a great coach that had his players playing for him. Berube was not a great coach, and to the point, reminds me a lot of Dave Hakstol. Berube hasn’t been a coach in the NHL since he was fired from the Flyers, and if Dave Hakstol is ever let go, I do not see him being a hot commodity in the league either.
However, Dave Hakstol was brought in as Hextall’s hand-picked selection. A successful college coach that could help “develop” young players entering the league, a perfect situation for the Flyers and their abundance of youthful talent.
Since joining the team, Hakstol has implemented a system relying heavily on the blue-line and their skating ability, along with their offensive ability. The only problem with this is that the better talent was not yet inserted into the line-up.
Before Provorov and Gostisbehere, our best defensemen was 40 year old Mark Streit. Not to mention, Streit was in an obvious decline.
Debating his usage of mediocre players could go on for a long-time, but that is a discussion for another day. This discussion is strictly for the system in place. With a core of players that can be creative, their being hindered by a system in which doesn’t allow players the opportunity to get creative. The only time this team is creative is when a game goes to 3-on-3 overtime.
Dave Hakstol’s version of offense ignores the middle of the ice, cycling of the puck in the corners, and the handling of the puck behind the net. The first look a rushing forward will make is toward the blue-line. This system has also effected the average shot distance, which the Flyers were last in throughout the entire league.
Granted, even with this information, blame should also be put on the players. The core is still a solid group of players that can help this franchise achieve its goals, but another problem is their inconsistencies with 5-on-5 scoring and a mediocre bottom-six.
This also raises another question, is the bottom-six that bad? On paper, not necessarily, but their over-usage, that is the problem.
For example, I receive some black-lash for not being a fan of Bellemare, I get that he plays hard and gives it his all, but that is not what it is about. I would like him as the 4th liner he is if his role was strictly the 4th line. He is a high-energy guy that is solid on the penalty kill, but first unit? Not so sure about that. This is more of the discussion of how Hakstol runs his systems. Players like Raffl, Read, Schenn, and Konecny should never have less playing time than a 4th liner.
A system is the most important aspect of being a coach in the league, and after that, its the optimization of the roster in order to successfully execute the system. The same system was in place last season, we just had a few talents (Mason and Gostisbehere) overshadow the problems we had.
It starts with the coach. If we all agreed that the system in place was one that is successfully working, we would not be relatively close to blaming Hakstol and would put more of the blame on the players.
This is a grey-area that has lingered over the Hakstol era during his two completed seasons with the Flyers.
If we can easily see that it starts with Hakstol, how do we feel about Hextall not acknowledging this? Of course it would be hard for someone to admit a mistake, or criticize a coach with a lot of roster problems, but how much of this is arrogance by Hextall?
Hakstol was hand-picked, so of course it would look bad for Hextall and this current retooling if he said Hakstol isn’t the right guy.
Hopefully during the course of the off-season, Hextall and Hakstol have some meetings and discuss expectations because Hakstol will be in a much better situation as compared to last year.
The core is most-likely sticking together, so that indicates Hextall has faith in a playoff push with all of the younger talent coming up.
Personally, I think Hakstol has around half of a season to prove his system can work and that he can get the core players to contribute with their 5-on-5 play. If his asinine decisions of benching and over-usage of mediocre players continues, Hextall must address the problem before it begins to linger.
Although I do not see us winning and taking the next step with Hakstol, I still have faith in Hextall and the next wave of young players joining the Flyers. It is just a shame that we have to worry about our coach and if he will play the better players. That should be the least of this teams worries heading into the off-season, but Hakstol has given us too many reasons to question that ability.
[Photo Source: The Washington Post]