Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall surprised everyone in Philly on Monday by announcing the Flyers new head coach would be a rather unknown coming straight from Cawlidge Hawkey. Over the next few hours, we got to know a lot about our new bench leader that made most people pretty excited about the decision.
So what exactly is there to know about Dave Hakstol?
Well first off and most obviously:
WE’RE NOT GETTING BABCOCK.
After being a top contender in the Babcock competition, Hextall pulled out of the race. The day before the Flyers announcement, the word going around was that Babwatch had been narrowed down to two teams that weren’t the Flyers. There was a rumor spreading around twitter that the Buffalo Sabers had offered Babcock a contract worth $50 million that was never confirmed.
The good news is that Hextall went out and got a younger untested Babcock according to a couple scouting reports of the University of North Dakota coach. This quote from a Frank Seravalli article sums up what everyone’s been saying since Monday:
Hakstol looks like Mike Babcock. He acts like Mike Babcock. He is a nononsense, anti-cookie-cutter coach who enjoys questioning the status quo and the way “things have always been done.”
In a lot of ways, the Flyers’ newest coach is Babcock Lite.
“I hope in this case we have another Mike Babcock,” Flyers chairman Ed Snider said.”
HAKSTOL’S NEW ERA OF ACCOUNTABILITY.
Craig Berube did a lot of preaching about “accountability” during his time in Philadelphia, but never really seemed to know what that meant. Time after time, underperforming players were allowed more ice time while younger and more talented players were scratched for apparently no reason. Players being scratched never knew what they’d done to get on Berube’s bad side while Nick Grossman got steady ice time. They told the media multiple times that they didn’t know what they could do differently to get back in the lineup.
Berube didn’t seem to know how to properly communicate with his players leading to a lot of confusion in the locker room.
“There’s little talk,” [Andrew] MacDonald said of his communication with coach Craig Berube. “He understands that I’m upset. I’m wanting to play, obviously. But at the end of the day, he’s got decisions to make. It’s not a situation that anyone wants to be in.”
Dave Hakstol seems to be a little better at dealing with his players.
“Expectations are simple of myself, my staff, and my players: Accountability to ourselves and our organization.” -Hakstol
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) May 18, 2015
It’s one thing to talk about it, Berube did that all the time, but according to a lot of people that worked with him and played for him, Hakstol isn’t just talking out of his ass. Elliot Friedman’s 30 Thoughts gives us this little bit about Hakstol’s relationship with his players:
His players really liked him. One (who preferred not to be named), said that good or bad, he’s honest with you. “You always know where you stand.” Craig Simpson, whose son Dillon played four years there, texted the coach was always focused “on preparing players for that next step. Top-notch training on- and off-ice, and mentality of what it takes to be an everyday pro player.”
Will it work the same for those who are already pros? “I won’t change that,” Hakstol said. “The approach is different, but the belief is the same.”
He also makes it a point to talk to each of his players individually and learn what they expect to accomplish; a process that’s supposed to help get the players invested in his process. I’m not sure if I’m the only one who has felt this way, but over the past few seasons it has seemed like the Flyers just haven’t been into their coaches. Especially at the beginning of the season they seem to be unfocused. Hopefully the new coach will be able to hold the players interest through training camp this season.
Not to mention he has had such a positive impact on his players that Chris Vandevelde is even more eager to return to Philly now that his former coach has joined the bench.
Former Moorhead Spud Chris VandeVelde tells me: “I already wanted to go back to Philly, Hakstol being there makes it even more so.”
— Dom Izzo (@DomIzzoWDAY) May 18, 2015
ALWAYS ADAPTING THE COACHING STYLE.
No one can really tell you exactly what kind of game Hakstol coaches. He’s been aggressive and offensive, physical, defensive, but the only common factor that links all of his team styles is winning. We hear a lot about coaches who didn’t do well in a certain city because they have a more defensive style system that isn’t accommodated by their roster. Hakstol has made a career in adapting to a constantly changing roster. College Hockey is not a place for stable rosters and Hakstol has been able to adjust his system to the players at his disposal instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
One thing Hakstol is looking for in his players is speed. “They (North Dakota) play the game hard every night and if you watch the playoffs right now you know it’s a hard game not just from a physical stand point but from a work hard and check hard and backcheck and forecheck. It’s a fast game right now. That’s the type of identity that he’ll bring on the ice.” Hextall said about Hakstol’s teams at UND. This is a move to build the future. This is a little preview of what kind of team Hextall wants to build.
Hakstol also had some interesting thoughts on how to use the defense.
“You’re going to see with me an expectation that our defensemen are involved in an awful lot of our play in terms of our play with the puck. I think it’s essential both getting up the ice as well as in the zone.”
For that plan to work in Philadelphia, first we’ll need a few defensemen who can actually join the rush and have some offensive ability. Michael Del Zotto comes to mind as a prime candidate for the Hakstol defense.
We also know that he was interested in analytics while at UND, he even approached the economics department about statistical analysis for the team. So now that he has access to it, it will be interesting to see how Hakstol uses the fancy stats to inform his decisions. By now it’s obvious that he isn’t an old-school coach and the fact that he’s had a history of interest in the statistics is a good sign going forward.
DON’T WORRY ABOUT HURTING HIS FEELINGS.
Philadelphia has a pretty rough reputation, and if the season doesn’t start well there’s a good chance that Hakstol will be a popular scapegoat for most fans. Pressure doesn’t really bother Hakstol though. His first season with the University of North Dakota may have been one of the worst years of Hakstol’s life and an extremely difficult time to be successfully coaching.
If you want the full story of Hakstol’s journey that eventually brought him to Philadelphia, this article from the Grand Forks Herald does a pretty good job of telling his full story. In his first season as UND head coach, the team got off to a slow start after losing Zach Parise and Brandon Bochenski in the offseason. By that point, the fans had started to question his qualification. Then midway through the season his father passed away. Fans in Grand Forks may be just as intense as Philly fans according to people’s accounts so there’s no doubt that Hakstol faced a lot of criticism before turning that first season around and made a run for the National Championship.
Hakstol likes to block out the external noise and keep his staff focused, they know what their jobs are and how well they’re doing they don’t need fan input.
“I don’t think I ever tried to let that enter in,” Hakstol said. “You’ve got to be able to mentally handle that. It’s easier to say than to do. I learned very quickly in my first year in Sioux City that you have to have a plan and do things your own way. You have to have a real strong conviction. As a staff, we had that. We stuck with it.”
So that’s what we know so far. The only downside that everyone keeps pointing out is that he has no NHL coaching experience, but he’s already helped develop great players like Mike Greene, T.J. Oshie and Jonathan Toews so he must know how to handle NHL talent and he’s done well with developing younger players which must have been a factor in Hextall’s decision to hire him; we need someone good to make all these prospects grow into their potential. When the Flyers settle down and Hextall starts to put his roster together, everything will come together and Dave Hakstol may just end up being the new Mike Babcock.
Cross your fingers.