Philadelphia Flyers Firing Dave Hakstol Was a Mistake

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - JUNE 26: Coach Dave Hakstol of the Seattle Kraken is seen on the Red Carpet before the 2023 NHL Awards at Bridgestone Arena on June 26, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - JUNE 26: Coach Dave Hakstol of the Seattle Kraken is seen on the Red Carpet before the 2023 NHL Awards at Bridgestone Arena on June 26, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Dave Hakstol took the Seattle Kraken to the playoffs just one year after the expansion draft, and received a contract extension earlier in the week. Neither Alain Vigneault nor John Tortorella have been able to replicate Hakstol’s success. 

Dave Hakstol was dismissed by the Philadelphia Flyers on December 17, 2018, in the middle of his fourth season with the team. The Flyers made the playoffs in two of the three prior seasons, but lost in the first round in six games both times. After being fired, Hakstol spent the next two years with the Toronto Maple Leafs as an assistant coach.

The Seattle Kraken, the NHL’s newest expansion team, picked up Dave Hakstol on June 24, 2021. Of course, it’s difficult to get things straight right away with a limited offseason and a set group of players, so Hakstol’s Kraken floundered to a 27-49-6 record, 60 points, and a 30th place finish – just one point worse than the Philadelphia Flyers’ 61.

Dave Hakstol has already endeared himself to the Seattle Kraken faithful. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – APRIL 22: A fan holds a sign thanking head coach Dave Hakstol before Game Three of the First Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Colorado Avalanche at Climate Pledge Arena on April 22, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) /

This past season, though, Dave Hakstol’s Seattle Kraken looked a little bit closer to the Loch Ness monster than in 2021-22. After having a full season with his core players and a full offseason to add new ones, Dave Hakstol’s team scored 289 goals – the second-most in the Western Conference behind the Edmonton Oilers – and comfortably secured the top wildcard spot in the conference. Unlike the Oilers, the Kraken do not have Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl, or anything close for that matter.

Where Dave Hakstol was able to win with his Kraken group was a team-based approach. No star players, no problem. Six Kraken forwards scored 20 or more goals this year, Calder Trophy winner Matty Beniers among them. The top defense pairing of Adam Larsson and Vince Dunn had the best offensive seasons of their careers by a mile. Waiver wire pickup Eeli Tolvanen played the best hockey of his career after finding his footing with Hakstol in Seattle. To top it off, the Seattle Kraken still finished in the top half of the NHL (15th) in goals against under Dave Hakstol, despite not having one goaltender with a save percentage over 0.900.

Dave Hakstol’s first big task as Seattle Kraken head coach wasn’t an enviable one; the defending champion Colorado Avalanche were looking like no joke heading into the first round. And, despite being heavily outclassed, the Kraken prevailed in seven games. In the following round, the Kraken took the Dallas Stars to seven games as well, but fell just short and lost game seven 2-1. Hakstol was once again plagued by subpar goaltending, as Philipp Grubauer allowed 41 goals in 14 playoff games and managed only a 0.903 save percentage. Still, Hakstol was rewarded with a Jack Adams nomination.

Dave Hakstol won 42 games in his last full season as Philadelphia Flyers head coach – a number no coach since has been able to surpass. Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Shayne Gostisbehere, Sean Couturier, and Ivan Provorov all had the best offensive seasons of their careers. Nolan Patrick and Travis Konecny were just 19 and 20 years old, and had combined for 77 points. It was the last season players like Wayne Simmonds, Michal Neuvirth, Brandon Manning, Jordan Weal, and Andrew MacDonald had even looked like serviceable NHLers.

Of course, the bottom fell through in the following season, with Dave Hakstol fired through 31 games and Scott Gordon coaching the remaining 51. The relieving of Hakstol didn’t make a whole lot of a difference, though; his 0.459 points percentage was marginally lower than the 0.529 achieved by Gordon.

Carter Hart didn’t make his NHL debut until the day after Dave Hakstol’s firing, and before that, the team started Brian Elliott, Calvin Pickard, Anthony Stolarz, Michael Neuvirth, and Alex Lyon. The results were mostly dreadful aside from Elliott, whose play was average-to-slightly-below average across the season.

The bottom line? Dave Hakstol just couldn’t make it work for a Flyers team with an aging and rapidly declining core, few good young players, and absolutely no goaltending. The team lacked a number one defenseman with seasoning, and Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim suffered through their growing pains. Andrew MacDonald and Jori Lehtera were… guys who played hockey for a professional hockey team and scored more NHL goals than you or me.

The Seattle Kraken weren’t much better in their inaugural season, but they stuck it out and turned things around. The Philadelphia Flyers tried to hold on to a Stanley Cup pipe dream while they still had Giroux and Voracek in their primes; it didn’t work. Now, the Kraken will continue to build on their success with Dave Hakstol, while the Flyers are still searching for a taste of their own.

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