Dave Hakstol, who had a “disconnect” with his players when he coached the Flyers, will get a chance to build a team from the ground up.
The stoic Hakstol, 52, was named the first coach in Seattle history Thursday. The Kraken will play their inaugural season starting in October, and they will have their expansion draft to fill their roster on July 21. NHL teams (except Vegas) will lose one player to Seattle, unless trades are made.
Seattle also has the No. 2 overall pick in the July 23 draft.
“This is a dream that has come true,” Hakstol said at a news conference in Seattle. “This is an awesome thing to be a part of ... This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The hiring was a surprise because some “name” coaches were available, including Claude Julien, Rick Tocchet.
Hakstol, 52, coached the Flyers for three-plus seasons and compiled a 134-101-42 record (.560 points percentage) before being fired and replaced by interim coach Scott Gordon on Dec. 17, 2018. Including the 2018-19 season, the Flyers made the playoffs in two of Hakstol’s four years and never got past the first round.
» READ MORE: Dave Hakstol, unmasked
The Flyers were last in the 16-team Eastern Conference and had a 12-15-4 record when Hakstol was ousted. He had been hired by then-general manager Ron Hextall in May of 2015, a daring move because Hakstol came straight out of the University of North Dakota.
When he was fired by Chuck Fletcher, the new general manager said “there was a disconnect to what he was preaching and how the players were playing.”
Fletcher also called Hakstol a “straight-up guy and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him.”
Hakstol, who coached seven of his 11 North Dakota teams the the Frozen Four, spent the last two seasons as a Toronto assistant.
“Dave possesses great experience, a strong work ethic, a solid understanding of the game, and the remarkable ability to communicate clearly and effectively,” Seattle GM Ron Francis said, discounting Fletcher’s 2018 comments.
Francis, Hakstol and assistant Kraken general manager Jason Botterill were together for four weeks with Team Canada at the 2019 IIHF World Championship. Hakstol was an assistant coach of the team, and a seed was planted.
“I sort of built respect for what he could do,” Francis said.
Hakstol said he was “honored” to be the Kraken’s first coach and that he was “blown away” the first time he saw their arena. “It is such a unique venue. I am looking forward to being part of a group that builds a team that plays with pride, passion, and selflessness for the city of Seattle.”
His Flyers teams didn’t always play with pride and passion. Fact is, they got off to too many slow starts in games and got in a habit of playing catch-up.
Maybe his years as a Toronto assistant better prepared him for his second stint as an NHL head coach. When he was named the Flyers coach, he became the first coach since 1982 to jump from the college ranks to the NHL.
“It was maybe a big jump from college the first time, but now he’s been in the league for six years,” Francis said. “He’s worked under some different coaches and gained a lot more experience, so we’re comfortable in that regard.”
Looking back on it, Hakstol hinted he wasn’t ready for the NHL when the Flyers hired him.
“I hadn’t had the experience of working on the National Hockey League level,” he said. “There’s a different rhythm to the National Hockey League in almost every realm, from an 82-game schedule to the pace of the game. Experience is very valuable. There are a lot of things that I solidified and really cemented as far as philosophies. There are other things where you grow, you learn, and develop. And all those experiences -- not just the last six years (in the NHL) -- are very valuable in terms of how I apply those going forward.”
Hakstol knows the Flyers players better than most, so it will be interesting to see which player Seattle takes from Philadelphia in the expansion draft. Shayne Gostisbehere, James van Riemsdyk, and Jake Voracek are among the players the Flyers are expected to leave exposed, but all have rather hefty contracts.