Flyers

Flyers hire Dave Hakstol as head coach

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Flyers hire Dave Hakstol as head coach

After a month-long search, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has found his guy.

The Flyers on Monday named Dave Hakstol from the University of North Dakota as their 19th head coach in franchise history replacing Craig Berube.

Two sources told CSNPhilly.com's Tim Panaccio that the Flyers did not ask to speak with Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock, but did interview Todd McLellan at the world championships before hiring Hakstol. 

Hakstol, 46, comes to the Flyers with no NHL experience, but he’s spent the last 11 years coaching at UND, where he coached several NHL players. Among those are Jonathan Toews, T.J. Oshie, Drew Stafford, Travis Zajac and Matt Greene, as well as Hextall’s son, Brett Hextall.

"In watching my son over the years, I grew an appreciation for Dave [and] the way he coached," Hextall said at Monday afternoon's press conference. "I've thought about him long before this as a head coach in the National Hockey League. I believe he was destined for it. He's got a lot of pro qualities. He's got a lot of experience as a head coach."

That said, Hextall admitted of all the candidates he considered, the guy he "need to get to know the most" was Hakstol. The two talked over a four-day span.

"Everything checked out the way we hoped it would check out," Hextall said. "I had a list of things that I wanted from a head coach and went down this checklist in my mind, and every box was checked except for NHL experience. And quite frankly for me, that was the one that was the least important. It's no different from a rookie player or a rookie coach. Does Dave have things to learn? Absolutely. He'll be the first to admit it.

"Every head coach in the NHL at some point is a rookie, right? That's reality. Some of them go through the American League. Some of them don't. Some of them are NHL assistant coaches, and quite frankly, if you said to me, 'You can bring in an NHL assistant coach, you can bring in a guy that's been in college for 11 years as a head coach. I'll take the head coaching experience. That's the valuable part.

"If Dave had never been a head coach — different conversation. But being a head coach, being the guy in charge, making the tough decisions, putting your lines together, the gut feels you have on putting guys out there at the right time — he's got all that experience. Yes, it's at a different level, but that's valuable experience." 

Hakstol leaves North Dakota with a 289-143-43 record in 475 games. Last season, North Dakota made the Frozen Four, but lost to Boston University. North Dakota went 29-10-3 in the regular season last year.

While he's had tremendous success at the college level, Hakstol acknowledged he'll have to make some changes now that he's dealing with NHL players, but he's going to stick with what earned him appearances in the NCAA Tournament during his entire tenure at North Dakota, including seven trips to the Frozen Four.

What's more, his teams have produced 20 NHL players and 46 professionals overall. He coached Chris VandeVelde, who has played 90 games with the Flyers the last two seasons, and Derek Forbort, whom the Kings drafted when Hextall was the assistant general manager in L.A.

"There's going to be several adjustments along the way, but I think No. 1, I believe in what we do and I believe in the things that I do, and I'm not going to change that as I come to this level," Hakstol said. "I think maybe the delivery of the message may be a little bit different. Certainly, the fact that I do not have experience at this level, I'm not going to pretend what I do.

"But I do have an awful lot of confidence in terms of knowing the game well, knowing how to relate and communicate with players — and that's one of the first things as I get started here, and probably one of the most important things as we move through the summer, is communicating with and getting to know a lot of our players, and that's going to start to build the foundation of the plan that we have moving forward."

Chuck Fletcher: Flyers are 'bullish on Philippe Myers' upside'

Chuck Fletcher: Flyers are 'bullish on Philippe Myers' upside'

Back when Philippe Myers was called up to the Flyers in February, it was evident general manager Chuck Fletcher liked the 22-year-old prospect.

The Flyers were rolling through an NHL-best 10-game stretch at the time and pushing for the playoffs. Still, Fletcher had no qualms with trusting a kid who had no NHL experience to possibly jump into a postseason race.

"The fact that he's getting the call is a recognition of what he's accomplished and that he's knocking on the door," Fletcher said Feb. 9.

Where are the Flyers now on Myers?

Pretty high.

"We're bullish on Philippe Myers' upside," Fletcher said Saturday in a conference call.

Some of Fletcher's maneuvering with the Flyers' defense over the past two days has revolved around Myers and his ability to jump on a full-time role in 2019-20. The Flyers on Friday traded 29-year-old Radko Gudas in exchange for defenseman Matt Niskanen (see story). On Saturday, they parted ways with Andrew MacDonald, placing the 32-year-old on unconditional waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract (see story).

While Fletcher's work is far from done, the Flyers' defense is already rounding into shape, with visions of Myers taking a big step forward. The overwhelming point of trading Gudas was to acquire Niskanen, who can benefit the Flyers' defense in a variety of ways (see story). But the move also came to fruition with Myers in mind.

"Radko has been a very effective third-pairing defenseman for us," Fletcher said. "He's been a great member of our organization, he's competed hard and certainly we appreciate everything he did for our organization. 

"Going forward, we feel we have an in-house player in Philippe Myers that can come in and take on some of that role. He's only played [21] games in the NHL, so there could be an adjustment period, but having the ability to maybe slot Philippe into that third slot on the right side, we feel is a real proper place for him to potentially start his NHL career."

Myers, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound righty shot, was rated a top-50 prospect by the NHL Network last season. He's come a long way from going undrafted in 2015. He's quick for his size, a fluid skater and brings offensive qualities, as well.

He showed plenty of glimpses in his 2018-19 showcase.

Here's an early look at the Flyers' potential 2019-20 defensive pairings:

Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen

Shayne Gostisbehere-Travis Sanheim

Robert Hagg-Philippe Myers

"Certainly if we can find a guy that can play in our top four that we have the ability to acquire, we'll certainly look at it," Fletcher said. "I will say that we have some really top-end young defensemen here that have the potential to grow into that role. If you look at Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim … Shayne Gostisbehere is a young man that's been very effective in his young career so far, and by bringing in Matt Niskanen, we feel that we have some quality defensemen.

"You're always looking to upgrade if you can, but it will certainly depend on whether we can acquire that player and whether even that player is available.

"In saying our defense corps is young, I do believe it's the strength of our team going forward."

Myers can make it younger and stronger. In just two days, the Flyers cleared him a path, as if to say: Here's a spot, go take it.

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Chuck Fletcher, Matt Niskanen see a Flyers team ready to pop

Chuck Fletcher, Matt Niskanen see a Flyers team ready to pop

At first, Matt Niskanen was "a little surprised" and caught "a little off guard."

He had just been traded by the Capitals, a team with which he won the 2018 Stanley Cup and experienced fond memories, and was now headed to a division rival.

But after Niskanen spoke with Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher, his emotions slowly started to shift. Fletcher wanted Niskanen to believe in the Flyers' situation and how the accomplished defenseman could be integral to it taking off.

"He said he likes their team, he felt that they're ready to pop," Niskanen said Friday in a conference call after being dealt to the Flyers (see story). "He kind of feels the same way that I do about the group there — young talent, they're close, just need to add some more pieces along the way. 

"It sounds like he's trying to put together a real good team and we'll see where that takes us. But I'm excited to be there. Trying to be a real solid piece for what they have there already. They have a lot of talent, these guys can play and put up some goals, and maybe get our goals against down — so maybe that's where I come in, to help out with that. I'm excited for that challenge."

From the start, the Flyers fell well short of expectations in 2018-19, which put Fletcher in the team's GM chair. The 82 points were the Flyers' fewest in a full season since 2006-07 and the club hasn't made the playoffs in consecutive years since 2010-12, when it last won a series.

In this league, things can change quickly, though. 

"We're all close," Fletcher said on April 18.

The Flyers went 0-4-0 against the Capitals in 2018-19 and were outscored 18-9, but Niskanen remembered looking at one of his teammates during the regular-season series and saying, "Man, they should be doing better than they are."

Fletcher sees Niskanen as the type of player to change that narrative.

"This is a guy that has played over 1,000 games in the NHL when you factor in his playoff experience," Fletcher said Saturday on a conference call. "He's a guy that commands respect with how he plays and how he prepares, he shows up every day.

"I'll give Ron Hextall and Chris Pryor (former general manager and assistant general manager) a lot of credit here — we have some top-end young talent on that back end, and I think the goal right now is to try to surround them with the right people and add some talent back there, as well."

Niskanen didn't need a whole lot of convincing by Fletcher. The GM's message only helped build the excitement for the former Capital and Penguin who has played 38 career games against the Flyers.

"Over the last few years they've gotten younger. I like their team," Niskanen said. "They have dangerous people, they've added young players with a lot of promise, hard to play against.

"They have good people, dangerous players, talented forwards, a young group of D that can really play — they're just young, I think. They're on the upswing. It was hard to play against the Flyers. Good organization, they play the game hard, they play to win. A lot of promise there. I'm excited about that."

With the Capitals' first-round exit in the 2019 playoffs following their Cup run the previous season, Niskanen said he has been training for over a month now and feels much better physically. He knows about the Flyers' defense. He referred to the group as "young studs" multiple times (see story).

So, yeah, as tough as the trade is, Niskanen believes in Philly.

"I've been fortunate to be on real good teams," he said. "I've been around and I know what good hockey looks like, I know what a good culture looks like. I'm not going to be a rah-rah guy, but I think with my résumé, my words hold a little bit of weight, especially with young players. 

"They have a good team and I'm not going to come in and ruffle any feathers, but I think my word will hold some weight. I'll come in and try to have real good practice habits and have a good attitude, bring a good work ethic, and hopefully I'll be another piece to what they already have there."

And potentially make the Flyers pop.

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