Flyers Fire Dave Hakstol, Name Scott Gordon Interim Coach
As I mentioned in the Hart article, December 17th, 2018, will be a day that lives in Flyers infamy, with two franchise altering transactions made within an 3 hour span. While Hart's promotion was a major surprise, the 2nd transaction was one that had been building up for the last 12 months and had all but been sealed last weekend - Dave Hakstol has been fired as the head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers.
If only if it were that simple. For all the trash that I (and most of the fanbase) have talked about Dave Hakstol, he did not deserve the final hours he got. At 3:55 PM yesterday, Dave Isaac of the Courier-Post tweeted an article claiming Hakstol was being fired, and Joel Quenneville was going to be brought in to replace him. Philadelphia celebrated with joy, ready to embrace the 3-time Cup winner as their own.
Except it wasn't actually true. Several other outlets were quick to report they had not received the same report, and shortly after the Flyers plane from Vancouver landed, the team denied the report, saying Hakstol was still their coach. The plan was to have Hak coach practice Monday, with Dave himself saying he planned to provide a medical update on Brian Elliott himself. And then, he was gone.
The worst part of it all is that Fletcher wasn't even going to fire the guy. As a result of these reports, Hak came to his GM Monday asking for a word of reassurance that he would not be fired. Understandibly, Fletcher could not justify giving that to Hakstol, whose team entered Monday dead last in the Eastern Conference. And with that, Dave Hakstol was gone.
When Ron Hextall hired Dave Hakstol on May 18, 2015, it was a hire met with optomism. Hakstol was a fresh, out-of-the-box hire who had done some pretty good things at the University of North Dakota. It seems like a distant memory now, but Hak's first year in the NHL was a pretty big success. He improved the team by 12 points despite minimal offseason improvements, pushing them into the playoffs and letting rookie Shayne Gostisbehere freely thrive, allowing him to break out as the Calder runner-up. It wasn't perfect - Jake Voracek significantly regressed under Hakstol (81 points to 55), and he overworked Steve Mason down the stretch, leaving him cooked for the playoffs. But things were looking up.
By his 2nd year, Hak's reputation had taken a total 180. The confounding decisions to healthy scratch Ghost and rookie Travis Konecny were nearly always perplexing. He played veterans like Andrew MacDonald and Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare in roles way over their heads. Chris VandeVelde dressed for 81 games. Claude Giroux scored the fewest amount of points since his rookie year as Hakstol failed to find the right linemates to boost his captain. The Flyers regressed by 8 points, and became the first team in NHL history to miss the playoffs in a season where they won 10+ straight games.
Hakstol's 3rd, and ultimately final season of the head coach, played out in the end like his first, but had all the frusturations of his 2nd. The Flyers were incredibly inconsistent, losing 10 straight one moment and then getting a point in 12 straight next. They were last in the Metro in December, first in it in February, and eventually clawed into the playoffs on the last day of the season, before being embarassed in the playoffs by the Penguins, stomped in an eventual 6-game series loss.
This year under Hakstol has played out like most of his tenure, only this time with much poorer results thanks to awful goaltending and special teams (not Hak's fault). Ron Hextall may not have always given him the greatest roster to succeed, but Hakstol always seemed to do whatever he could to frusturate the fans. That was a theme that was prevelant throughout most of his tenure, and it was one of his many undoings.
Dave Hakstol failed to connect with the fanbase for a large part of his Flyers career. He often benched young talent in favor of marginally skilled veterans. He often lacked emotion of the bench. He was never especially prevelant in the community. But most importantly, he never brought this team to the winning status that Flyers fans have long expected. While Ron Hextall's lack of win now-moves was overshadowed by his great work with the cap and prospect pool, Hakstol had no such areas to fall back on.
The future of the Flyers behind the bench is still largely in question. Joel Quenneville is NOT the Flyers head coach, and has said he does not want to even think about accepting a new job until after Christmas. Scott Gordon, the head coach of the Phantoms, was a logical promotion as Hakstol's fill-in. But what was less obvious was Fletcher saying he'll give Gordon the whole year to prove his worth, suggesting that bringing in Q is no imminent.
Gordon has had his fair share of success with Lehigh Valley, but over the years I have heard things calling Gordon's decision making into question. But I'm willing to give him a shot - he can't be any worse than Hak, right? In the mean time, Kerry Huffman, an assistant under Gordon in Lehigh Valley, will take over as the Phantoms head coach. As of now, Laperriere, Knoblauch, and all of the assistants are still here, but that could change at any moment.
With the front office and coaching staff mostly gutted, the bulk of the remaining change that is sure to happen shifts towards the players. That could mean a lot of things - an addition, like Alex Pietrangelo or a veteran goalie, or the removal of a core player, most likely Wayne Simmonds. Regardless, we have what we want, Flyers fans. Let's just hope it works.