The Flyers gave it the good old college try.
Hiring the first coach straight from the collegiate ranks for the first time since 1982 came with mixed reviews, but for a deeply entrenched fan base that had attached its fervor to Ed Snider’s “win now” philosophy, the Dave Hakstol era will be viewed as a failure.
As well it should.
And it’s every bit of an indictment against former general manager Ron Hextall as the head coach himself.
General manager Chuck Fletcher is firing Hakstol and hiring Joel Quenneville as the team's next head coach, according to a report Sunday by Dave Isaac of the Courier Post. It comes just three weeks after the team relieved Hextall of his duties and replaced him with Fletcher. Per the report, the Flyers will announce the firing Sunday night or Monday morning.
No Flyers coach in the history of the franchise was given this amount of tenure to achieve sustained success more than Hakstol. His 277 games coached ranks third all-time, yet his .560 points percentage wouldn’t land him in the organization’s top 10.
In three-plus seasons on the job, Hakstol accumulated 134 victories, a win total that would rank the Flyers no better than sixth in the Metropolitan Division behind the Capitals (180), Penguins (160), Blue Jackets (146), Rangers (142) and even the Islanders (136). Each of those teams has turned over their head coach at least once in the time Hakstol was hired, and twice in the case of the Islanders.
Surprisingly, at the time of his firing, Hakstol had the fourth-longest tenure in the league behind Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper, Nashville’s Peter Laviolette and Winnipeg’s Paul Maurice — all of whom had guided their respective teams to a Conference Final, and in the case of Cooper and Laviolette, a Stanley Cup Final.
But qualifying for the playoffs alone should never be the measuring stick of success and Hextall, who hired Hakstol, admitted as much last season.
“An achievement making the playoffs? I don’t know,” Hextall said this past April. “We kind of expect to make the playoffs. I don’t know if I’d look at that as an achievement, more as, the first step in the process.”
Hextall’s comments emphasized the underlying failures of the Hakstol era — an inability to make the jump from that first step to the next step. Hakstol never coached past Game 6 of the opening round, losing to the Capitals in 2016 and again to the Penguins in 2018.
Of the eight-longest tenured coaches in Flyers franchise history, only Hakstol and current team president Paul Holmgren failed to win a playoff series, and in the case of Holmgren, those Flyers teams never even qualified for the postseason.
Hakstol also proved incapable of taking any momentum of a previous playoff appearance and carrying that into the following season. After sneaking in as a wild-card team in Year 1, the Flyers regressed to a sixth-place finish in Year 2. This season, Hakstol and the Flyers set lofty expectations coming off a 98-point season in 2017-18 coupled with the addition of James van Riemsdyk, Hextall’s most significant free-agent signing as general manager.
And yet one step forward was typically met with another step backward. Slow starts had become a Hakstol signature as the Flyers were repeatedly forced to overcome a two-month slump to begin each new season, and the Flyers found themselves in that unenviable position yet again with a 12-15-4 record in their first 31 games.
Still, regardless of the ire of a fan base growing impatient, it became clear over time that Hextall treated his first-ever coaching hire with the same methodical approach to that of his draft picks that required a gradational development, and the two seemingly went hand in hand. Hextall's firing was followed by the hiring of Fletcher as new general manager, which put Hakstol's future in serious jeopardy.
When Hakstol was hired, he was viewed as a coach who could mold the organization’s prospects and ultimately develop them into NHL regulars. Whether he did that successfully or not is debatable, but he couldn’t quite mesh individual production with organizational prosperity.
Even during Hakstol’s tenure at the University of North Dakota, advancing to the Frozen Four six times in his 11 years at the helm, the program finally won that elusive national championship in the year after he came to Philadelphia.
While Hakstol doesn’t leave the Flyers in that same stratosphere of challenging for a championship, there are still very reasonable expectations of returning to the postseason and winning a Stanley Cup playoff series, which the Flyers somehow haven’t been able to do since 2012.
It can be said that Dave Hakstol coached the Flyers to his potential.
He just wasn’t capable of coaching this Flyers team to its potential.
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