Mike Babcock. Todd McLellan. Dan Bylsma (gulp). All these men were available to coach the Philadelphia Flyers. And who did the Flyers choose?
Dave bleeping Hakstol.
You’re not alone if your initial reaction was… “Who the heck is Dave Hakstol?” “Is this Ron Hextall’s cousin?” “Does this guy even exist?” “What about Babcock?” “What are the Flyers thinking?”
Yes, Hakstol is unprecedented. As a follower of Broad Street Hockey, Meltzer’s Musings, and Tim Panaccio/Sam Carchidi/Frank Seravalli/whomever is writing for the Inquirer these days, I can truthfully say that Dave Hakstol is not the hiring anybody was expecting. But a deeper look into Hakstol’s coaching history and techniques show that he can be the guy that takes the Flyers to the Promised Land in the future.
Let’s take a look at the team that Hakstol inherits from Craig Berube. Core pieces like Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, and Steve Mason are elite in what they do. Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Scott Laughton, and Michael Del Zotto offer hope for the future. Bounceback seasons are needed from Vinny Lecavalier (who could become the new 3C if retained over the summer), RJ Umberger (who could be bought out), and Matt Read (who is still a vital all-situations player). The forward corps really only needs one more top 6 left winger to become unstoppable.
The defense is heading in the right direction. Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto, Nick Schultz will return, and potential young guns Shayne Gostisbehere, Brandon Manning, and Sam Morin offer serious upside (Manning is signed to the NHL roster for next season). And in goal, Steve Mason can win a Stanley Cup. If you disagree, provide me 5 games where he let the team down. I don’t think you can.
The point I’m making here is that Hakstol is inheriting a squad with skill. A rookie coach needs this to maintain success. But Dave Hakstol isn’t a rookie coach, per sé. Hakstol has coached a premier college hockey team in the University of North Dakota for 14 years. UND alumni Jon Toews, TJ Oshie, and current Flyer Chris Vandevelde have had nothing but good things to about Hakstol. He brings an extremely serious mentality to the team; some structure to a team that definitely needs it. The old cliche, culture change, absolutely applies here. There’s not much not to like about Hakstol as a coach.
If Hakstol struggles in the beginning, the Philly media will be harsh. But building a winner takes time. Hakstol should be given an extremely long leash as the Flyers look to crash back into the Playoffs. Ron Hextall has not been shy in saying he will wait to develop a winner, and that he will not jeopardize the future in doing so. Signing Mike Babcock would help now, but would cost a 3rd Round Draft Pick as compensation. Signing Todd McLellan or Dan Bylsma or Guy Boucher would entail hiring a retread who grew old in his respective city and lost his team’s support. After dealing with that multiple times as a Flyers fan, I don’t think anyone wants to see a mutiny again.
I’m not saying Dave Hakstol will become Fred Shero, Pat Quinn, or even Peter Laviolette. But I am saying that upon a second review of the situation, the Flyers got the right man for the job.