Surprise, surprise: Flyers hire off-the-radar Hakstol as coach
There were lots of big-name coaches available, including Mike Babcock, Dan Bylsma and Todd McLellan.
Instead, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall went with a relative unknown to most NHL fans, naming the University of North Dakota's Dave Hakstol as the franchise's 19th coach on Monday.
Hakstol, 46, is regarded as a no-nonsense coach who sometimes delivers a message with a "scary" stare, according to Flyers forward Chris VandeVelde, who played for him at North Dakota.
Ed Snider, chairman of the Flyers' parent company, Comcast-Spectacor, called it a "gutsy" hiring.
"We need a fresh approach," said Snider, whose team missed the playoffs for the second time in three years and fired coach Craig Berube after the season."We aren't hopeless. I think we have a lot of young guys coming. . . . We have a damn good nucleus and we know that we have to sort out our defense and we think that's coming very well. Our defense is going to be totally different over the next few years. It's going to be fast, mobile, young."
Hextall would not name the terms or length of the deal but said it was a multiyear pact.
Hextall's son, Brett, a winger, played for Hakstol from 2008-09 to 2010-11, scoring 12, 14 and 13 goals in each of his seasons. Brett now plays for the Phantoms, the Flyers' AHL farm team.
While watching his son play at North Dakota, "I grew an appreciation for Dave, the way he coached," the elder Hextall said. "I thought about him long before this as a head coach in the National Hockey League. I believe he was destined for it. He's got a lot of pro qualities. He's got a lot of experience as a head coach. So I started going through the process here, and the guy that I needed to get to know the most was Dave."
They met for parts of four days and were constantly on the phone.
"And everything checked out the way that we hoped it would check out," Hextall said. "I had a list of things that I wanted from a head coach and went down the checklist in my mind and every box was checked except for the NHL experience. Quite frankly, for me, that was one that was least important."
Hakstol, an Alberta native, said he prefers a fast-paced style and getting the defensemen involved in the attack. He spent the last 11 seasons at North Dakota, compiling a 289-143-43 record (. 643 percentage). Last season, he directed the team to a 29-10-3 record and a spot in the NCAA Frozen Four.
North Dakota earned a tournament berth in all 11 of Hakstol's seasons and reached the Frozen Four seven times. Hakstol was an eight-time finalist for national coach-of-the-year honors. He spent four years as an assistant at North Dakota before becoming its head coach.
"He's developed young guys and it's pretty cool to see a guy go from college to the NHL," said Shayne Gostisbehere, a defenseman who is a big part of the Flyers' future, perhaps as early as next season.
Gostisbehere called North Dakota a "mecca" for college players and "where everybody wants to go if you're not from the East. He's done a great job there."
Hakstol is the third person to go directly from the college ranks to the NHL as a head coach.
"He's a proven winner," Hextall said.
Hextall said the fact that Hakstol comes from the college ranks "doesn't mean any young player will get here sooner or later." But he added that "one of the attractive things was that Dave has coached an age group from really 18 to 24, 25. We have a lot of young players on our team, but we also have a number coming, so that was a factor for sure: How has Dave developed young players? How has he integrated young players into his lineup?
"I think one of the strongest points that he has is his ability to push people. . . . He gets the most out of his players."
Hakstol, a stay-at-home minor-league defenseman who never played in the NHL, said he was excited and proud to be named the new coach. "Through the process here with Ron, and everybody in the Flyers organization, I have gained even more of an understanding of the history and tradition of the organization," he said.
While he coached at North Dakota, Hakstol's program produced 20 NHL players, including Jonathan Toews, T.J. Oshie, Travis Zajac, Drew Stafford and VandeVelde. His teams have produced 42 NHL draft picks, including eight first-round selections.
Hextall would not reveal the other candidates he interviewed, but he supposedly had a phone conversation with Babcock, the highly successful Detroit coach who is being considered by several teams.
"I'm hoping in this case, we have another Mike Babcock," said Snider, who added there was a time in the negotiations when he thought Hakstol might decide to remain at North Dakota. "I'm hoping he will be here for a long, long time."