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.