Dave Hakstol will have something in common with his players when he coaches the Seattle Kraken next season.
Discarded elsewhere, he will have a fresh start with an expansion team, another chance to prove he can excel in the NHL.
“I view it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in order to be part of something that we have an opportunity to build from the ground up,” Hakstol said Thursday in a hotel conference room with a window overlooking Puget Sound.
Let’s face it: Hakstol wasn’t the name people were expecting when the Kraken made their much-anticipated announcement of their first coach. Fair or unfair, the perception might be that he wasn’t the first choice or at least the best choice.
Gerard Gallant, who led the Vegas Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season of 2017-18, was hired by the New York Rangers on June 16.
Rod Brind’Amour, the coach of the Carolina Hurricanes, Kraken general manager Ron Francis’ former team, signed a three-year contract extension with the Hurricanes and won the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year June 17.
Francis said the Kraken started with as many as 100 names and interviewed eight candidates, some multiple times.
Out of everyone available in the end, including former Rangers coach David Quinn and former Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet, they hired Hakstol, who went 134-101-42 as coach of the Philadelphia Flyers from 2015-18, and spent the past two seasons as an assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
That doesn’t mean Hakstol wasn’t the right choice for Seattle, though. We’ll see.
Francis said the Kraken wanted someone with NHL coaching experience, hockey acumen and communication skills who cared about the players and wanted them to reach their potential.
“The guy that we’re hiring checked all of those boxes continually,” Francis said.
Say what you want about Hakstol’s time with the Flyers but they qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in two of his three full seasons before he was fired 31 games into his fourth, and there are good examples of coaches who have fared far better in their second NHL jobs.
Perhaps the best in this case is Peter DeBoer, who went straight to the NHL from Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League the way Hakstol went straight to the NHL from North Dakota of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in the NCAA.
DeBoer went 103-107-36 with the Florida Panthers from 2008-11 and never made the playoffs. He said Thursday he was significantly better when he got a second chance with the New Jersey Devils in 2011-12, going 48-28-6 and making the Stanley Cup Final in his first season. He went on to excel with the San Jose Sharks and the Golden Knights.
“I’ve got to know Dave a little bit through his first round in the League,” DeBoer said. “He’s a teacher. He’s got a teaching background. Seems like a no-nonsense guy. I’ll be surprised if he isn’t successful.”
Francis said the Kraken and Hakstol went over his tenure in Philadelphia and what he learned, and he referred to how Hakstol had learned from Mike Babcock and Sheldon Keefe in Toronto.
“He’s got the experience,” Francis said. “It was a little bit maybe a big jump from college the first time, but now he’s been in the League for six years. He’s worked under some different coaches and gained a lot more experience, so we’re comfortable in that regard. I’ve always been comfortable with his hockey acumen. I like the way he communicates his message, and I know he cares about his players. …
“You just get a sense that he’s ready for that second opportunity.”
Hakstol gave a long answer about his tenure in Philadelphia, when the Flyers were transitioning to a younger roster. His conclusion mattered most.
“My takeaways are, the details, the foundations, you can never take enough time and do enough work on those areas so that as you hit a rough patch you have those things to fall back on,” Hakstol said.
That’s what the job in Seattle will be all about: laying a foundation for a franchise.
The Kraken will select their initial roster in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft on July 21. Hakstol will have to take a collection of individuals who were discarded elsewhere and mold them into a team, and he’ll have to do it while dealing with comparisons to the Golden Knights’ success. There will be changes and probably rough patches along the way.
“Detail, communication is going to be very, very important, not only over the phase over the next few weeks of building the roster, but from there, it’s planning on how everything fits together,” Hakstol said. “It’s planning for training camp, it’s preparation for the detail of not just day to day, but the minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour details that are needed in training camp to bring a group of guys together that haven’t played together before.
“So it’s a very exciting challenge. It’s a very exciting opportunity.”