Dave Hakstol will not wait for training camp to start coaching the Seattle Kraken. After the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft on July 21, he will reach out to players over the phone and video conference.
“As soon as we have players on the roster, as soon as we come out of that expansion draft, the first huge piece of it is building relationships with each individual player,” Hakstol told NHL.com in a phone interview this week.
Hakstol, introduced June 24 as the Kraken’s first coach, will be available to provide input ahead of the expansion draft. But general manager Ron Francis and his staff have been working on it for months now. They are responsible for collecting assets and building the roster.
It will be Hakstol’s job to turn that roster into a team, and it will be different than when he coached the University of North Dakota from 2004-15, coached the Philadelphia Flyers from 2015-18 and was an assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs the past two seasons.
These will not be college kids he recruited. These will not be NHL players who, at least for the most part, have played together before. Hakstol will have about a month from early September to early October to prepare them for the inaugural regular-season season opener, setting the standard, teaching the system and defining roles at least to start.
“We’re obviously going to know a lot about the player on the ice,” Hakstol said. “We’re going to know a little bit about the player off the ice and what his makeup is. But then, for me, you said it, it’s an entire new group of players. It’s not three or four new guys added to a dressing room during the offseason. It’s a completely new group coming together.
“So it’s building those personal relationships as quickly, as strongly as possible, before we get into training camp, and then it’s really evaluating what the entire group looks like and deciding how some of those pieces are going to fit together as we go into training camp.”
Hakstol said he wouldn’t necessarily travel to meet with players, mostly so he can get more done in less time.
“There might be some in person where I’m traveling or I’m in Seattle as players are coming in and out of town potentially,” Hakstol said. “I think that would be really valuable. But I don’t think it has to be in person.
“We’ve learned a lot of really creative ways to communicate over the last year and a half (during the coronavirus pandemic) without sitting across from each other at a table. I think we’ll use all those tools at hand to make it efficient as possible, so you can have as much contact and communication with as many people as possible.”
The expansion draft rules are complex but boil down to this: The Kraken will select one player from each NHL team except the Vegas Golden Knights, who are exempt after entering the League in 2017-18. Teams can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie or eight skaters and one goalie, and all first- and second-year professionals and unsigned draft choices are exempt.
That means the Kraken won’t get top-tier players but won’t have to settle for bottom-tier players, either. Aside from players they might acquire via trade or free agency, they will have a group of middle-tier players. Each should be eager for more opportunity, having been considered expendable elsewhere. There should be little to no hierarchy.
“There’s going to be a lot of good players,” Hakstol said. “You may look at it as guys on their second chance, second opportunity, but for sure it will be a highly motivated group. So I think we’re going to have to provide opportunity, not just have them molded into one role or one area. …
“There’s a clean slate in terms of the opportunity for that core leadership group to grow and who’s going to grow into that. That’s going to be a part of what we watch develop.”
Hakstol wants to have a competitive, fast team, and he makes it clear that playing fast is about more than footspeed. It means thinking fast, executing fast. That means he’ll have to set a foundation as fast as possible while moving slowly enough for everyone to get it.
“You’re going to have to be mindful of that in training camp,” Hakstol said. “Again, it’s not like there’s just a few new additions, and we have to find chemistry and assimilate them into a system. We have to grow and become comfortable with the details of the system all together. That’s from the ground up. Everybody’s starting from the same spot on Day One.”
Hakstol said the Kraken can learn from the Golden Knights, who made the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season. At the same time, this is Seattle’s own journey, and the Kraken have to set their own course.
“I think there’s an opportunity for success, and I think it’s important for us to achieve success as we’re growing as a team,” he said. “That’s not easy. It’s not going to be an easy task. That’s not a comparison to anybody that’s done it before us. That’s just what our standard is going to be.
“We’re going to go into training camp, and we’re going to prepare ourselves to be at a level where we can compete and have success as we go into Year One.”