The uncanny resemblance between Dave Hakstol and Chip Kelly

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The uncanny resemblance between Dave Hakstol and Chip Kelly

PITTSBURGH — Is Dave Hakstol nothing more than a Chip off the old coaching block?

It's a question worth uncovering as we assess the Flyers' organization two months into Year 3 of the Hakstol era. There's an uncanny resemblance that has shaped the coaching tenures of Dave Hakstol and Chip Kelly in Philadelphia.

First, let's begin with the obvious. Both men grew up in relatively small towns. Kelly was born in Dover, New Hampshire — population about 30,000 — before moving to Manchester. Hakstol was raised in Drayton Valley, Alberta — population of roughly 7,000 people — before eventually leaving for Grand Forks, North Dakota. 

Both coaches came straight to the professionals from the collegiate ranks. The Eagles hired Kelly from Oregon after he led the Ducks to four straight BCS bowl games. While Kelly's teams dominated throughout his tenure, they barely missed winning a national championship, losing to Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers in 2013.

Hakstol joined the Flyers following 11 seasons at the University of North Dakota, where he also played collegiately. Hakstol, like Kelly, dominated with six appearances in hockey's Frozen Four, but he couldn't quite get over the hump to win a national title. 

While there was an entirely different vibe surrounding their respective hirings, both Kelly and Hakstol were unknown coaching entities. Could they adapt from pushing buttons at the college level to massaging egos and personalities of players earning millions of dollars? Considering Hakstol was the first college coach since 1982 to make the monumental leap to the pros, the questions surrounding his hiring were definitely warranted.   

In Kelly's time with the Eagles, this became an obvious problem. The locker room became fractured as a result of some of the personnel decisions and front-office moves that were made to accommodate the coach who also became the de facto general manager. There was the trade of LeSean McCoy, the release of DeSean Jackson and some awful free-agent signings. 

While Hakstol doesn't have the clout and leverage that Kelly was eventually handed, one can certainly question the roster moves that have been made as a result of his coaching. Most notably, Brayden Schenn has gone from a secondary fixture on the Flyers' roster to becoming a primary contributor and the No. 1 center with the St. Louis Blues. Schenn's 30 points would lead the Flyers at this stage of the season.  

Both coaches also developed a penchant for guys they had previously coached. In Kelly's case, his loyalty to anyone who wore a Ducks uniform was borderline obsessive. The team drafted Josh Huff much earlier than when he was expected to be taken. There was the wretched trade of All-Pro running back McCoy for Kiko Alonso, who Kelly coached at Oregon. At one point, the Eagles had nine former Oregon players on their roster.

While it's nearly impossible to replicate that type of favoritism in the NHL, Hakstol had a similar loyalty towards former North Dakota forward Chris VandeVelde, who seemingly became a fourth-line fixture no matter how poorly he played. In the 164 games Hakstol coached during his first two seasons, VandeVelde was in the lineup for a head-scratching 160.

But the waning early success of both coaches is where the comparison starts to get really interesting.  

After a 10-6 season in his first year in Philadelphia, Kelly was guiding the Eagles to a second consecutive postseason. Heading into December 2014, the record stood at 9-3 when the Birds took a late-season nosedive and missed out on the playoffs at 10-6. By the third season, coaches and their defenses had started to figure out Kelly's playbook. The offense had grown stale and predictable and Kelly finished with a 6-9 record, fired with one game remaining.

When you break it down, Kelly was 19-9 (.680 winning percentage) through his first 28 games, only to finish 7-12 (.370) in his final 19 games as Eagles coach.

Hakstol's coaching record has taken a Kelly-like curve. In Hakstol's first 114 games, the Flyers compiled a remarkable 60-37-17 (.600 points percentage). Coming out of last season's 10-game winning streak, something has changed. While it may be difficult to pinpoint the Flyers' source of failure, the downfall has been equally dramatic — 28-32-13 (.470 points percentage) over the last 73 games. 

With Taylor Leier and Jordan Weal scratched for tonight's game against Pittsburgh coupled with last season's growing pains of Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Konecny, Hakstol may not be the right coach in the development of the organization's younger talent. He also may not be the right person for the franchise moving forward.
You could even draw some parallels in the manner in which they deal with the media — neither man has the most endearing personality.

Lurie had seen enough from Kelly after nearly three seasons. Now in Year 3, Hakstol either will ultimately prove he can sharply reverse course in the coming weeks and months, or the resemblance between himself and Kelly will be even more alarmingly similar.

Why the Flyers? How Canadians decided to 'bleed orange'

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Why the Flyers? How Canadians decided to 'bleed orange'

Aaron Roberts proudly wore his No. 88 Eric Lindros jersey when the Flyers traveled to Edmonton in December. Aaron also owns a John LeClair jersey, a Wayne Simmonds sweater, and at the time, a Claude Giroux that was on order.    

Roberts, like many who attended that game, is an Orange and Black diehard who was born and raised in Canada.

“Growing up when Philly won their Cups I started watching hockey,” Roberts said. “I don’t know. I went with a winner then and I just never, ever veered away from it. Of course, there’s temptation, but it’s always been Philadelphia for me.”

It’s not unusual to see a Philly faithful make their way out of the Canadian woodwork. Their popularity even rivals that of American-based Original Six teams.  

“I find that when I go to games Flyers fans are more friendly, like everyone wants to high five and stuff, which is cool,” said Troy Krechuniak, who lives in Calgary, but grew up in Edmonton. “I had to go through all of that (the Oilers winning the Stanley Cup). That’s the problem going through the (Wayne) Gretzky years, 1985 Game 5, 1987 Game 7.” 

So why this allegiance to a team located hundreds of miles away in another country? 

At one time, the Philadelphia Flyers were as Canadian as the Montreal Canadiens themselves, considering they’re still the last team to win a Stanley Cup with an all-Canadian roster. 

“First off, you choose the identity of a team when you’re probably six-to-nine years old, and at my age, I cheered for the Broad Street Bullies - Bobby Clarke, Dave Schultz and so forth,” said Rick LeFort of Saskatchewan. “I moved to Manitoba years later. Manitoba connections are Bobby Clarke and Reggie Leach.”

More than 40 years after bringing the city of Philadelphia it’s first Stanley Cup championship, the Broad Street Bullies left behind a legacy that has impacted a region where hockey is indeed a religion.

“Being in Calgary when there was no team, you got to choose which team you wanted to affiliate yourself with,” said Shawn Cochlan of Langdon, Alberta. “I did love that brand of hockey, and yet, a lot of my friends didn’t. I liked Philadelphia better because they were tougher.”

And the allegiance to the Flyers has been passed down from a generation of fans to their children and siblings.  

“My aunt and uncle were big Flyers fans, and I loved being an outsider,” said Ryan Doram of Edmonton. “Every year when the Flyers come to Edmonton we make sure we come to the games. I loved Lindros. I loved the Recchi years, and you always find your new favorites I guess. You always find players you look and gravitate to.”

Giroux has that gravitational pull. As the Flyers hit Ottawa and Montreal one final time this weekend, you’ll see No. 28 jerseys scattered throughout the arenas for the Hearst, Ontario native.

“We haven’t won a cup in a while. We’ve been there four or five times, but we’re getting better. I like what Ron Hextall is doing, and we’re going in the right direction,” said 54-year-old Tom Banks. 

“You cut me in the winter months, I bleed orange.”

Pekka Rinne notches milestone in Predators' rout

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Pekka Rinne notches milestone in Predators' rout

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Pekka Rinne made 33 saves in his 300th career win and the Nashville Predators routed the San Jose Sharks 7-1 on Thursday night.

Nick Bonino, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson each had a goal and an assist, and Scott Hartnell, Kevin Fiala and Mattias Ekholm also scored for Nashville, which has won three straight. The Predators moved within one point of expansion Vegas for the Western Conference lead.

Nashville defensemen Roman Josi and P.K. Subban each had two assists.

All of Rinne's wins have come with Nashville. He tied former Predators goalie Tomas Vokoun for 33rd place in NHL history.

Logan Couture had the San Jose goal. The loss snapped the Sharks' three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Wild use big 2nd period to top Devils
NEWARK, N.J. -- Joel Eriksson Ek and Chris Stewart scored in a 39-second span during Minnesota's three-goal second period, and the Wild rallied from two down to beat the New Jersey Devils 4-2 on Thursday night.

Wild defenseman Mike Reilly also scored in the second period and Eric Staal iced the game with an empty-net goal, his 900th NHL point. Backup goalie Alex Stalock made 38 saves as the Wild moved into third place in the Central Division after winning for the 11th time in 17 games (11-3-3).

Taylor Hall and Stefan Noesen scored for the Devils, who have lost two in a row after a four-game winning streak. Eddie Lack made 21 saves.

Hall's 13-game point streak is the longest in NHL this season, one more than David Pastrnak of Boston.

Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau made the right moves in this one, inserting Reilly and Stewart into the lineup and electing to give No. 1 goaltender Devan Dubnyk a night off (see full recap).

Matthews exits Maple Leafs’ SO victory with injury
TORONTO -- Tyler Bozak scored the shootout winner and the Toronto Maple Leafs edged the New York Islanders 4-3 on Thursday night.

Auston Matthews tipped in Jake Gardiner's shot to tie it 3-all with 3:29 remaining in the third period, but later left the game favoring his right side after taking a hit from Cal Clutterbuck and did not return. The 20-year-old Toronto star missed six games in December with a concussion and another four games with an undisclosed upper-body injury.

Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly had the other Maple Leafs goals, and Frederik Andersen made 32 saves. Toronto (38-20-5) has won eight straight at home.

Ryan Pulock, Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle scored for the Islanders (29-26-7), and Jaroslav Halak turned aside 28 shots. New York, one point out of a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, dropped to 4-6-2 since the All-Star break and 13-15-3 on the road this season.

With his three points, Barzal has a team-leading 65 and a 14-point lead over Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks in the NHL's rookie scoring race (see full recap).