By Wes Herrmann (@Wes_Herrm)
The Philadelphia Flyers filled their only staff vacancy in-state, but out of organization and league by hiring Kris Knoblauch, head coach of the OHL’s Erie Otters Wednesday. Knoblauch, a New York Islanders draft pick but never NHLer, was named an assistant coach with the Flyers and will handle the power-play duties.
On April 17, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall announced assistant coach Joe Mullen, who had been coaching the power play since 2007, would not be extended following the expiration of his contract. Philadelphia searched for about a month and a half and came back on a coach they had previous dealings with:
The Flyers aren’t the only ones high on Knoblauch. He was rumored for several different AHL head coach openings and is seen as a rising face in the coaching world.
So based on potential and reputation the Flyers have scored. It’s the on-ice product, though, where Knoblauch’s pedigree will be tested though.
His track record speaks for itself while in Erie. The Saskatoon native won at least 50 games in each of the last four seasons after turning around the Otters franchise. Knoblauch took over during the 2012-13 season. That year and the one before it, the team combined for just 29 wins.
As many have pointed out, Knoblauch lucked into Connor McDavid the following season, and even after he jumped to the NHL, Dylan Strome has been a mainstay with the team. But still, it’s not always easy coaching talent at any level, just look at Mike Johnston in Pittsburgh.
Rachel Doerrie, of The First Pass, went into great detail of the way Knoblauch ran his offense with the Otters here. But for the Flyers, it’s more about how he specifically ran the power play.
Doerrie points out that Knoblauch liked puck movement on his man advantages. The offense attacked the penalty kill often in an effort to get an open man. It worked last season where the Otters ranked second in power play percentage in the OHL.
The Flyers have liked to set up and move the puck around a lot on the first power play. The second, with far less talent, was more of a dump-and-retrieve unit. It’s possible Knoblauch changes that.
Mark Scheig of The Hockey Writers and Otters reporter also had this to say on Knoblauch and the power play:
“Loves utilizing point men” could be one of the first characteristics to describe Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol also. It’s easy to see how those two could mesh well in offense philosophy.
Speaking of Hakstol, though, the hiring of Knoblauch certainly opens up another coaching discussion.
It’s common for NHL teams to keep an assistant coach around with the purpose of promoting him to head coach one day. In the last calendar year, the Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins, New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues have all done that.
Most fans wanted Hakstol gone after this past season, but Hextall decided to stand pat. That may not be the same case if Hakstol and the Flyers have another disappointing season. So is Knoblauch the coach-in-waiting for Philly?
I would answer yes and no. Knoblauch is only 38-years-old and has never coached higher than Canadian juniors before. If Hakstol fails this year, it seems awfully bold to give the reins over to such a young, fresh coach. He would likely be a candidate, but maybe not the top one.
Instead, if Hakstol turns things around, Flyers make the playoffs, starting a string of consecutive seasons in the postseason, maybe Knoblauch is the eventual replacement way down the road. No coach lasts forever in professional leagues.
But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves at this point. Knoblauch was brought in to run the power play, along with other assistant coaching duties. For the next few years, that will likely be his main role. So far, it looks like the Flyers got that one right.