Flyers

End to End: Evaluating Dave Hakstol's 2nd season as Flyers' head coach

End to End: Evaluating Dave Hakstol's 2nd season as Flyers' head coach

Throughout the offseason, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

The topic: Evaluating Dave Hakstol's second season as the Flyers' head coach.

Dougherty
I wrote in this space before last season began that Hakstol proved he was the right pick as the Flyers' coach after his first campaign behind the bench … and I still believe that. But the leash is shorter than I expected it to be. I don't believe it's fair to cast judgments on Hakstol based strictly on the Flyers' performance in 2016-17. That would be a rash decision that is uncharacteristic of general manager Ron Hextall's managing style.

With that said, the Flyers did take a step back in 2016-17. It would be naive of anyone not to admit that. It is fair to factor Hakstol's second season as coach and look at it from a broader view, however. In Year 1, there were a lot of positive signs. He guided a team lacking playoff talent to a postseason appearance by implementing a system that largely is effective at the NHL level.

In Year 2, however, there were several decisions that should signal alarm. I did not like the way Hakstol handled the goaltenders, and I believe that had he realized Steve Mason was the No. 1 earlier than he did, the Flyers would have made the playoffs. After his exit interview, Mason said Hakstol agreed with the goalie that once he figured out who the clear-cut No. 1 was, things started going better for the Flyers. Mason was right.

Then there were the bewildering lineup decisions. I don't have as much of an issue with the benchings of Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Konecny. I thought some of those were warranted, and both players appeared to learn from them. I think that is more of a testament to Gostisbehere and Konecny than anything else.

What bothered me about Hakstol's lineup decisions was his unwillingness to scratch Chris VandeVelde, the misuse of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and not dressing the best group of players on a nightly basis. Hakstol refused to sit VandeVelde. He played 81 games and was scratched only in the final game to give Mike Vecchione another game. The good news is VandeVelde is an unrestricted free agent, and there is little reason to believe Hextall will re-sign him this summer.

VandeVelde is a fringe NHL player. He doesn't score. He spends most of his ice time in his own end — and not because he's an excellent defensive forward. VandeVelde and Bellemare had the worst Corsi numbers on the team out of players who were here all season — 46.6 percent for Bellemare and 46.3 for VandeVelde. I doubt VandeVelde would crack a lineup on any other team. The decision to dress him on a nightly basis raises some concern about Hakstol. Because of Hakstol's unwillingness to sit VandeVelde — and Bellemare, too, though I do believe he brings more to the table than VandeVelde — the Flyers often didn't dress their best possible lineup on a nightly basis. Nick Cousins and Dale Weise were healthy scratches throughout the campaign. Both bring more to the table than VandeVelde and Bellemare.

Looking at Hakstol from a broader view, however, I think he deserves another season as the Flyers' coach — and he will get it. (He's not going anywhere anytime soon.) I think next season, when more young blood and talent are injected into the roster, is the one we can truly look at and say whether he's the right choice for the job. I think there was enough good in Year 1 to buy him a Year 3.

Hall
Hakstol's second NHL season was certainly no cakewalk.

As the Flyers took a step back and missed the playoffs, he faced the pressure and skepticism — and the coach typically does in the NHL.

Some questioned his system, whether it restricted creativity as the Flyers turned defensive.

Some questioned his lineup decisions as he benched a handful of players, most notably Gostisbehere and Konecny for multiple games.

Some questioned why he didn't sit others.

And some questioned his handling of the goalies — Mason being one of them at his end-of-the-season press conference.

The questions were valid, too.

But inevitably, Hakstol was going to face some growing pains. The transition from college to the NHL wasn't going to be all smooth sailing. Just like young players, Hakstol is still growing himself.

But can he better communicate and explain decisions?

Can he be more transparent with his players?

Should he put greater focus on accentuating their strengths?

I think Hakstol — who really knows the game — needs to improve in those areas.

Either way, Year 3 should be a telling season. With that said, this is Hextall's guy and the GM will be patient with him no matter how impatient outsiders become.

Paone
Much like his team did, Hakstol had his ups and downs during his second season as the Flyers' head coach.

Much like he did at the end of 2015-16, he pushed almost all the right buttons for the Flyers, especially during the 10-game win streak. But as teams started to adjust to the Flyers, the Flyers had issues adjusting themselves. And that goes back to Hakstol and his staff.

Let's take the power play, for example. The Flyers' power play was downright lethal at the start of the year, consistently at or near the top of the rankings. But teams adjusted to it, and the Flyers did not as they kept Claude Giroux along the half-wall and Gostisbehere at the point (when he was in the lineup) and let it run through them. Teams began to key in on it, things got stale and the power play plummeted. Likely hence the reason for Joey Mullen's dismissal at the end of the year. While Mullen ran the power play, it's still up to Hakstol to call for changes. The adjustments weren't made.

And there's where the main criticism of Hakstol lies — adjustments, or maybe calling for the wrong ones. Yes, I'm talking about pulling Gostisbehere and Konecny out of the lineup for prolonged periods of time.

Konecny, a 19-year-old rookie when the season began last year, is obviously young. But remember, despite all the accolades Gostisbehere rightfully earned as a rookie, he was still just 23 last season. And was recovering from offseason hip surgery. And was now a main target for opposing teams.

When the Flyers went downhill, Hakstol wanted both to be more responsible defensively. And I get that. It's obviously a huge part of the game.

But when you have such dynamic offensive talents the likes of Gostisbehere and Konecny, you have to let them play the way that lets them be at their best. If that means some risky freewheeling, then so be it. You've got to take the good with the bad, especially with the goal-scoring struggles the Flyers endured last season. When you have these kinds of guys, especially Gostisbehere on the blue line who can be a firecracker, you've got to let them play the way that lets them fully use their talents (see: Karlsson, Erik — I know that's a lofty comparison, but he didn't get to be a two-time Norris Trophy winner and one of the best players in the world by having his coaches try to mold him into a stay-at-home defender during his early years in the NHL).

Plus, with young players, you have to know there are going to be mistakes. Especially in Konecny's case. I'm a big believer that a young player needs to learn from his mistakes right back out on the ice, and not up in the press box consistently. A game here and there is fine to set a guy's head straight, but not for prolonged periods of time.

So what would I like to see more of in Year 3 from Hakstol? More awareness for adjustments, both with players individually and as a team. It's obviously much easier said than done.

Pekka Rinne notches milestone in Predators' rout

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USA Today Images

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).

Here comes Nolan Patrick, just in time for Flyers

Here comes Nolan Patrick, just in time for Flyers

BOX SCORE

When Dave Hakstol was hired on May 18, 2015, to become the 19th head coach of the Flyers, there was an underlying belief that given his collegiate pedigree, Hakstol was the perfect bench boss to handle the team's homegrown prospects.

However, as we’ve seen over the course of three seasons, the progression of a young player doesn’t always continue on an upward trajectory from the moment they start their NHL career.

As he juggles a roster that is now the youngest in the Eastern Conference following injuries to Brian Elliott and Wayne Simmonds, Hakstol appears to be pushing all of the right buttons, including those connected with the organization’s most prized prospect, Nolan Patrick.

Thursday night’s 2-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets further exemplified that as Patrick scored a power-play goal in his second straight game (see observations). With the injury to Simmonds, Hakstol believed Patrick could slide seamlessly into Simmonds' net-front role on the top unit, and the rookie has yet to disappoint his coach or teammates.

“I think there’s a little less pressure,” Patrick said. “You don’t have the puck on your stick as much. I think my shots are something I need to improve on. It’s kind of nice for me to be there and not try and beat goalies with my shots. I like it there.”

Hakstol recognized early in the opening month of the season that Patrick wasn’t quite ready to handle the role of being a top-six forward, but over the course of an 82-game season, he has gradually given the 19-year-old center more responsibility and Patrick has proved he’s deserving of the coach’s trust.

“His approach, his hockey sense and his intelligence is what gives him an opportunity to be successful in any situation,” Hakstol said. “Each time we’ve been able to give him more of an opportunity, he’s taken advantage of that. Nolan is doing a lot of those little things on a nightly basis — up and down the middle of the rink, playing a good 200-foot game, and the fact he’s taken pride in that is the foundation of his game.”

“He’s been great,” Patrick said of Hakstol. “When I first got here, they made me work for everything. They didn’t put me in situations I wasn’t ready for. Even now, when I’m not playing great, he does what’s best for the team. He’ll hold me back or not put me out there when I’m struggling on faceoffs. He notices that and he’s been huge for me.”

And Patrick has been huge for the Flyers. He’s now scored a goal in three straight games. 

You’re never quite sure when the future will eventually catch up to the present, but with the help of his head coach, it’s coming at just the right time for Nolan Patrick.