Dave Hakstol’s Time with Flyers Ends with Disconnect
From the start, there was always something different about Dave Hakstol.
As Ron Hextall’s selection as the new head coach, Hakstol was fresh out of college, an unconventional choice for any NHL team, let alone the Flyers. His style was different, not nearly as rough and tumble as coaches in the past.
Ultimately, there was a disconnect between Hakstol and two parties -- his team and the fan base. That disconnect and the overall inconsistency of the team is what will define his era as head coach.
There was a time when the fan base didn’t display sure ire toward Hakstol. Upon his hiring, it was different than the big name coaches or connections from the past the franchise typically hired. But Hextall was also a different kind of GM, so people were open.
People were even more open when Hakstol started behind the bench and in his first season had the Flyers winning with regularity. The team made the playoffs against difficult odds. Hakstol looked like a coach who could turn this team around.
That, ultimately, was one of the biggest parts of his downfall. The Flyers were in rebuild mode then. A playoff appearance indicated otherwise and changed the expectations.
So when Hakstol was behind the bench the following season and the team went from winning 10 straight games to missing the playoffs, it was a problem. When the team suffered a 10-game losing streak last season, it was a problem.
Perhaps the only thing that saved Hakstol last season was the mid-season turnaround that put the Flyers in playoff position again. But much like the GM, the expectations going into this season changed. When the GM wouldn’t make changes amid more inconsistency, he was fired. When the play didn’t improve and the players looked like they had stopped responding to the voice behind the bench, Hakstol was fired.
Throughout those trying times, the fan base grew more impatient with Hakstol’s shortcomings -- the questionable lineup calls, riding the hot hand in goal to a breaking point, the nights when the team just looked plain lifeless.
It started to reach a point of hostility. You could hear it at the arena. Fans had loved previous coaches for their fire, for their passion that resembled the city. And here was Hakstol, watching the same mistakes and same shortcomings with little reaction. He just wasn’t somebody the fans ever related to.
Hakstol may have the chops to coach in the NHL. He ends his time with the Flyers with the third most games coached in franchise history and the fifth most wins. That doesn’t happen by accident, and in a better situation, he may be a success. He may also be more cut out for the college scene, even after his four-year trial at the NHL level. Whatever happens next, it will be a new chance for him to connect geographically with a fan base of some level. It worked in North Dakota. It didn’t in Philadelphia.
And when his own players appeared to be tuning out his message and lifeless in response, it was simply time. That disconnect between the coach and players is what did Hakstol in at the end. The fans could hate on him all he wanted, but if he was getting through to the players and was modestly successful, chances are Hakstol would still have a job.
It was an unconventional move by the Flyers some four years ago when Hakstol entered. Sometimes a different voice is good and the Flyers will have one for the rest of this season and beyond. Ultimately, the disconnect between the college ranks and the NHL and Hakstol and the team and the city is what was his downfall.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.