December 17, 2018 | 9:25pm ET
By Anthony Di Marco, The Fourth Period
HAKSTOL (FINALLY) GETS THE AXE
MONTREAL, QC -- It was arguably the worst kept secret in hockey; and it, at long last, officially came out on Monday.
The Philadelphia Flyers relieved Dave Hakstol of his duties as Head Coach, a position he held for a little more than three years. Scott Gordon, the Head Coach of the Flyers’ AHL Affiliate Lehigh Valley Phantoms, will immediately assume the role on an interim basis for the balance of the regular-season.
Hakstol leaves the Flyers as the club’s third longest tenured Head Coach (behind only Fred Shero and Mike Keenan) with 277 total games coached, while compiling a record of 134-101-42. He coached the Flyers to two playoff berths during his tenure, ultimately being eliminated in six games of the first round in 2016 and 2018, respectively.
To say that Hakstol was criticized by the Philadelphia fan base during his stint behind the Flyers bench would be a gross understatement. Being hired straight out of the NCAA by then-Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall raised eyebrows at the time, seemingly putting Hakstol behind the eight-ball right out of the gate. But, Hakstol’s past backed up the hiring, as he coached the University of North Dakota to four championships in 11 seasons.
Hakstol provided early success in his tenure, providing a playoff berth in his first year (2015-16) behind the bench. He was a young coach that helped fuel a young team enough to secure a playoff spot, coaching the Flyers to one of their best stretches in franchise history in March of 2016. Even though they were dispatched in quick fashion by the Washington Capitals, Hakstol’s first year behind the bench was a complete success.
The following season (2016-17) is where things began to go awry for Hakstol. After the Flyers put up a 10-game win streak that stretched into mid-December, the club completely fell off the cliff in the second half of the season and missed the playoffs. It was the first time in franchise history that a team missed the playoffs in a year in which it had a 10-game winning streak.
Entering last season (2017-18), Hakstol and the Flyers had pressure to take a step forward. The club was in year three of Hakstol’s reign (and year four of Hextall’s as General Manager), and the step backwards from the prior year had left fans unpleased with the organization’s progression.
Hakstol managed to survive a 0-5-5 stretch, which included chants of “Fire Hakstol” echo throughout the Wells Fargo Center, that lasted from late-November until mid-December. Although he ultimately got the Flyers into the playoffs last year, the end result of last year left Hakstol once again with heavy criticism.
As this year began to unfold, it seemed like it would be more of the same under Hakstol’s watch. Inconsistency, poor special teams, difficulty to close out close games; all aspects that became the identity of the Flyers under Hakstol’s time behind the bench.
Hakstol has basically been a dead man walking since Hextall was fired three weeks ago. General Managers like to pick their own “guy” to coach the team. Newly-appointed GM Chuck Fletcher has been on the job for a little less than two weeks and needed time to assess the team and get settled in to make a final (and fair) call on Hakstol’s fate.
But Hakstol didn’t exactly make it a hard decision for Fletcher.
The Flyers have lost four straight games, 11 of their last 14, and sit dead last in the entire Eastern Conference (28 points). Over the team’s current four-game losing streak, the Flyers have surrendered 22 goals, including blowing a two goal lead with less than two minutes to go against the Calgary Flames. The team numbers speak volumes to the state of the Flyers; having a penalty kill of 73.5% (30th in NHL), a power play of 12.9% (29th in NHL) and a Goals For of 2.97 per game (19th in NHL).
To be fair, Hakstol’s tenure wasn’t all bad. Under his watch, Flyers captain Claude Giroux experienced his best offensive season (102 points last year) after Hakstol moved him to the left wing. Hakstol helped develop young players like Nolan Patrick, Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Konecny into every day NHLers. He was able to find the recipe to help Sean Couturier finally realize his true NHL potential, cracking the 30-goal mark last season
But, in the end, it was not enough. Hakstol’s overall win percentage of .560 is 10th all time amongst Flyers coaches, which is not impressive given the length of his tenure. His refusal to stick with one goaltender and operate in a platoon system was not ideal, ultimately driving Steve Mason out of town. His utilization of younger players was questionable, often giving them much shorter leashes than the veterans. But most of all, he wasn’t able to get the Flyers farther than his predecessor, Craig Berube, did: Game 7 of the playoff quarter finals.
The time had come for a change. Despite reports on Sunday suggesting a decision had already been made, Fletcher didn’t make the move until Monday morning.
The Flyers are in worse shape than ever over the last decade, and Hakstol was at the helm of it. But if the rumors are true, Hakstol may not be the only one held accountable for the current state of the Flyers.
HART ERA IS UPON US
Lost in the head coaching shuffle is the call-up of 20-year-old goaltender Carter Hart.
Hart will be the sixth goaltender to start a game for the Flyers this year, and is the sole player at his position currently under contract with the club to have not been placed on Injured Reserve at least once this season.
He’s as blue chip a prospect as they come. His sparkling Junior career has been well documented, as Hart posted a .947 Save Percentage and a 1.60 Goal Against Average with a 32-11-2 record with the Everett Silvertips of the WHL last year. He also backstopped team Canada to a Gold Medal at last year’s World Junior Hockey Championship in Buffalo.
Since being drafted by the Flyers in the second round (48th overall) of the 2016 NHL Draft, Hart has been the handpicked “savior” by the team’s fan base. His arrival in Philadelphia will be a welcomed one, given the fact the Flyers’ goaltending has been a complete disaster this season.
Hart is in his first year as a pro and has experienced some expected growing pains. He has a .901 Save Percentage and a 3.05 GAA with a 9-5-1 record with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the AHL so far this season.