Dave Hakstol was named the 19th head coach in Philadelphia Flyers history on Monday morning, and it's kind of a complete shocker. Nobody really expected Hakstol to leave North Dakota, and his name was never discussed publicly as a possible candidate to lead this team.
So ... we have some questions about this hiring, about Hakstol, and what it means for the Flyers going forward.
1. Why Dave Hakstol? Nobody has ever heard of this guy.
When Ron Hextall fired Craig Berube, he said a few important things: One, he was going to take his time with his coaching search. He certainly did that. Two, he was going to do his due diligence in finding the right fit -- not necessarily the big name fit -- for this team.
There is no doubt that Hakstol isn't a big name -- well, certainly not in the NHL ranks. He's never been an NHL coach at any level, and if you don't watch college hockey, you probably don't know who Hakstol is.
But in terms of guys who currently are outside of the NHL, Hakstol is as big a get as any. Aside from maybe Jerry York at Boston College, no current NCAA head coach has a more impressive resume than Hakstol.
Seven Frozen Fours in 11 years, a .692 winning percentage (never had a losing season), an eight-time finalist (again, in 11 years) for the Spencer Penrose Award as college hockey's top coach, and he's developed 20 NHL players -- including Jonathan Toews and T.J. Oshie.
You don't put up those types of numbers with that kind of consistency without being a great hockey mind and a great head coach. Period.
2. Hakstol is an intense guy. Does that wear thin, like it did with Peter Laviolette?
UND just lost a home game and didn’t play particularly well.
Coach Dave Hakstol, at the end of his postgame TV interview, looked directly at the camera with his piercing stare that has become so famous during the last 10 years.
"That stare," one former player said, "will penetrate the back of your helmet."
The fans have seen it, too.
On that particular night, some of them grabbed screenshots, posted it online and it even became the subject of a Twitter account, ‘Angry Dave Hakstol.'
Hakstol has now been head coach at UND for a decade. Fans know him for his stoic, straight-forward personality, his intense presence and his team's knack for playing its best hockey at the end of the year.
So does that wear thin on his players? Here's a quote from UND senior captain Stephane Pattyn at the 2015 Frozen Four, right after Hakstol's team lost to Jack Eichel and Boston University in the national semifinal:
"He turns kids into men," Pattyn said. "Guys show up at 18, 19, 20 years old and leave three or four years later as men. He's more worried about the people we become than his winning percentage. I think that says a lot about him. He's by far the greatest coach I've ever played for. He's taught me a lot on the ice and as a person. Every guy in that room has his back. He genuinely cares about all of us."
3. How have NCAA coaches done jumping to the NHL in the past?
Well, it's best we probably leave that unanswered, since it hasn't happened in nearly 30 years.
Herb Brooks was the last NCAA coach hired as NHL head coach (1987, from SCSU); already had NHL experience at the time.— College Hockey, Inc. (@collegehockey) May 18, 2015
Hakstol is 3rd coach in @NHL history to get his first head coaching job straight from college (Bob Johnson, Ned Harkness).— College Hockey, Inc. (@collegehockey) May 18, 2015
The Flyers are in uncharted territory here -- at least in terms of today's NHL.
4. How did North Dakota fans feel about him?
Well, in short ... North Dakota fans are the New England Patriots fans of NCAA hockey. They are insufferable and think that nothing short of a title is what they, the truest of the true college hockey fan, deserves. So when you see things like this, take it with a grain of salt:
2,282 replies pic.twitter.com/TUnZ1jtbWo— joe м (@dr_pizza_MD) May 18, 2015
Then, again, look at the facts: It's harder to win in college hockey -- a one-loss elimination tournament that's been won by such college hockey powerhouses as Yale, Union and Providence the last three dang years -- than it is in the pros, even if you have the best and brightest team in the land.
You can't control bounces in hockey, and sometimes, like in the 2014 national semifinal against Minnesota, stuff like this happens:
5. Will Hakstol be a good NHL coach?
Unfortunately, there is literally no way to answer this question -- and thus, there's really no way to judge the hiring of Hakstol just yet. Anybody who's trying to do so before the guy has even coached a game or made a decision is being way, way too premature.
Yes, he's been an amazingly successful college coach. Players love fighting for him, even though he is relentlessly intense. But for all intents and purposes -- in the modern era of the National Hockey League -- this has never happened before. College coaches do not jump to the NHL like this. There are so many differences between the NCAA and the NHL, from the length of the season to recruiting to the style of play, that we just don't know how this is going to play out.
We do know, however, that Ron Hextall has done his homework here. His son, Brett -- who now plays for the Phantoms -- played for Hakstol at North Dakota. There's familiarity there. This decision is probably the biggest one Hextall will make as general manager of the Flyers, and there is no doubt that he feels he made the smart call here. As a fan of the Flyers, you have to have some trust in that.
Is it a risk hiring Dave Hakstol -- or any college head coach -- to run your NHL squad? Absolutely. But with this particular guy, it's about as safe and calculated as risk gets.