Dave Hakstol stood placidly behind the bench, seemingly unemotional, as Seattle Kraken players celebrated in front of him.
Hakstol’s Kraken team had scored another playoff goal and his players reacted accordingly.
And so did Hakstol— quietly and analytically.
Expansion to playoffs in two years
Hakstol, the former Flyers coach, became the first coach in Kraken history in 2021. One season later, he has his team on the verge of eliminating the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.
Seattle defeated the Avalanche, 3-2, in Denver on Wednesday night. Seattle can win the first-round series on home ice Friday night.
Yeah, that Dave Hakstol.
Accepting the accuracy and wisdom of hindsight, Flyers fans might reconsider their viewpoint on Hakstol’s firing given everything that has happened since. At the time, it was mostly good riddance.
Hakstol coached the Flyers from 2015-18. He was fired 31 games (12-15-4) into his fourth season. He made the playoffs twice — both first-round losses. He was fired a mere two weeks into new general manager Chuck Fletcher’s tenure.
When Fletcher replaced Ron Hextall in 2018, he was the first general manager since 1994 who wasn’t a former Flyers player.
Given Fletcher’s subsequent job performance in Philly — he justifiably got fired in March— you wonder if firing Hakstol was made in haste. It certainly felt like an impatient decision made by a new GM looking to start his own legacy.
Hakstol came to the Flyers after coaching the successful University of North Dakota hockey team for 11 years. Seven of his UND teams went to the Frozen Four.
Hiring a college coach was outside-the-box thinking for Hextall and the Flyers. Only four other college coaches have gone directly into NHL head-coaching jobs.
Hakstol was 134-101-42 in Philadelphia. The four men who have coached the Flyers since Hakstol — Scott Gordon, Alain Vigneault, Mike Yeo, and John Tortorella — have a combined 147-150-43 record, with one playoff appearance. There are many reasons why, but the numbers are the numbers.
Sports-crazy Seattle has become home for Hakstol. In his first year, the expansion Kraken went 27-49-6. Seattle made a remarkable turnaround to 46-28-8 this season.
“Everybody in this room a year and 10 months ago was new, but we’ve grown a little bit,” Hakstol told reporters after the Kraken clinched a playoff berth earlier this month. “And we’ve probably just put a little building block of tradition in place by solidifying a playoff spot.”
Seattle’s playoff roster includes seven players who have won the Stanley Cup. Hakstol told Seattle reporters it was important to have former champions on a team to help turn the page after either a big win or tough loss.
Seattle’s 15 playoff goals have been scored by 13 different players, so it’s not relying on one big line. Goalie Philipp Grubauer has been good enough. He has a 2.61 goals-against average against a high-powered Avs offense.
And this isn’t Seattle’s first crack at a playoff run. In 1917, the Seattle Metropolitans were the first American team to win the Stanley Cup.
The 1919 final between the Metropolitans and Montreal Canadiens was halted at 2-2-1 due to the Spanish flu outbreak.
The Kraken have a long way to go to get the Cup finals this year but their progress is one of the NHL’s best stories.