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 and Jordan Hall.
The topic: Thoughts on the Flyers hiring Kris Knoblauch to run the power play.
There doesn't appear to be much to dislike about the Knoblauch hire. If we're nitpicking, it would be he has no professional coaching experience, but that's the smallest of nitpicks. Especially when the Flyers' head coach, Dave Hakstol, came directly from the University of North Dakota to the pros without any prior experience. I don't think that's a concern at all.
Knoblauch was considered a high riser in the junior coaching ranks, and we know he was itching to make it to the professional ranks. We just didn't know it would come this quick. In late May, he told the Edmonton Journal that he's "ready to make the step [to pro]." One week after Erie lost to Windsor in the Memorial Cup, Knoblauch has made that leap.
I'm intrigued by the hire for a few reasons. Erie's power play under Knoblauch has been a top-two unit in the OHL for the past four seasons, so he comes with a pedigree. Some may look at the talent he's had to work with — Connor McDavid (2012-15), Andre Burakovsky (2013-14), Dylan Strome (2013-17), Alex DeBrincat (2014-17) — and say it would be hard not to boast a potent power play. But I don't believe it's fair to discount Erie's style of play here.
As eloquently broken down by The First Pass' Rachel Doerrie (h/t Broad Street Hockey), the Otters under Knoblauch played a puck-possession heavy speed game, similar to the Russian brand. "From your icing line to the offensive blue line, the puck goes North/South," Doerrie writes. "From the offensive blue line, move the puck East/West." It'll be interesting to see what changes Knoblauch brings to the Flyers' PP.
But I'm also curious to see if he'll work with Hakstol to implement some of this into the Flyers' play at 5-on-5. I don't see this necessarily as a sign Hakstol is on the hot seat as he enters Year 3 as the Flyers' coach. I do see it, however, as GM Ron Hextall jumping on a hot commodity who he believes can help the Flyers' man advantage and also help develop kids.
Another interesting note: It's Hextall's second coaching hire and both have come outside the organization. That's a welcomed change of pace.
Most importantly, I think the Flyers needed a fresh face.
Albeit not easy, change is oftentimes necessary. As difficult as it was to part ways with longtime assistant Joey Mullen, Hextall knew it was needed for the Flyers, which is a positive of the GM.
Here's what Hextall said on April 13 when he announced the firing of Mullen:
"It's just one of those things where I feel like we needed a change. He's one of the nicest human beings. Monday was one of the worst days of my life because of it. That was a hard thing to do. Mully's a great guy. I have an awful lot of respect for him. Please do not think that in any way I'm laying anything on him.
"He's a terrific human being, one of my favorite guys in the whole world, but my gut feeling was to make a change there."
From Jan. 15 to the end of the season, the Flyers' power play ranked 28th in the NHL with a 14.6 percentage. And after finishing with the league's third-most successful man advantage in 2014-15, the Flyers slipped to 11th in 2015-16 and 14th in 2016-17. The power play limped to the finish line this season, often looking stale and overly reliant on perimeter passing and shooting.
As Hextall pointed out, this was not all on Mullen. But new personnel and adjusted strategy should be welcomed.
With Knoblauch, the Flyers get a young (38 years old), up-and-coming coach who has been extolled for his ability to strategize, communicate and adapt.
"Connor McDavid was going to go play in the NHL no matter if Kris coached him or not, but he made Connor a better player," hockey agent Jeff Jackson said to The Associated Press. "He teaches a culture of winning and speed and puck movement, but he empowers all the kids."
This was a telling hire by Hextall and it's hard to dislike right now.
But this is the honeymoon stage of hiring a new coach. Positives are typically flowing the moment the name surfaces, but we'll have to wait and see for the actual results.