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Fast, aggressive hockey: What Dave Hakstol brings to the Philadelphia Flyers

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Here's what we know about Dave Hakstol's coaching identity.

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New Philadelphia Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol met the media on Monday at the Wells Fargo Center, and he talked a lot. He said a lot of stuff about his decision to come to Philly, his time at North Dakota, his life as a coach, etc.

But the biggest thing we all want to know about Hakstol is his coaching style on the ice. What type of team is he going to put out 82 nights a year, and how will that shape the team going forward?

It seems as though one can't really sum up Hakstol's style simply. During his time at North Dakota, he won with a lot of different teams -- offensively focused, defensively focused, physical, etc. At least from an outside perspective, it seems that Hakstol is constantly adapting his so-called style, adjusting to the personnel he has on his roster.

That's obviously important as a college coach, where you lose your best players every single year, and where the entire roster turns over every four years. There's constant adjustment, and to qualify for seven Frozen Fours in 11 years and the national tournament every single year is a testament to Hakstol's ability to adjust. Maybe that means he's able to get players to mold to his style, but more so, it really seems that Hakstol has a knack for molding the game he coaches to the players at his disposal.

He played a fast game, played an aggressive game, and that’s the way our league is now -Ron Hextall, on Hakstol's teams at UND

Hakstol didn't really talk about that on Monday, specifically. That's more of an impression I get after reading up on him a bunch. But the one big thing that Hakstol and Hextall really seem to be on the same page about, and they both mentioned this distinctly on Monday, is the idea of having a fast team. That speed is a prerequisite to winning hockey at any level in 2015.

"You talk to anybody that’s played against North Dakota," said Hextall, "they'll tell you he got everything out of his team. He played a fast game, played an aggressive game, and that’s the way our league is now. There were a lot of things that we looked at before we made this decision and I believe people are going to talk about us and the Philadelphia Flyers and how we really play the game the right way."

"They play the game hard every night and if you watch the playoffs right now you know it’s a hard game not just from a physical stand point but from a work hard and check hard and backcheck and forecheck. It’s a fast game right now. That’s the type of identity that he’ll bring on the ice."

Hextall's not saying a ton here, and why would he in a press conference like this? There are a lot of platitudes in there. He's not going to reinvent the wheel in front of a microphone in May, he's not going to share the intimate details of the philosophical hockey conversations he and Hakstol had before agreeing on a contract, and he's never going to give away state secrets.

But it gives you at least some perspective into the type of team he wants to build, and Hakstol made it clear that they're on the same page.

"The game is so fast," Hakstol said. "When you see games today, it's played at such a high speed. You've got to be as good a team without the puck, you've got to work and play fast without the puck and with good structure. It's about transition. But you've got to have the puck, you've got to get the puck in order to be able to transition up ice. You're going to see with me an expectation that our defensemen are involved in an awful lot of our play in terms of our play with the puck. I think it's essential both getting up the ice as well as in the zone."

This is something Hextall has reiterated numerous times since taking over as general manager, and it appears he's hired a head coach that is on that same page -- one who will help implement the type of game that Hextall wants his team to play.

Now, might that take time? Sure. The talent on the roster might not exactly dictate a speedy, aggressive type of game, and Hakstol will have to adjust to the personnel he has on the roster this year -- especially on defense. But this is the type of hockey the Philadelphia Flyers will try to play, and that they will build toward. We should judge personnel moves made by Hextall by how well they help create a team that can carry out this philosophy.

If this team wins a Stanley Cup this decade, they'll do it with this vision.

Below, here's every word Hakstol said on Monday about his coaching style and on-ice philosophy. Draw your own conclusions.

* * *

What is your coaching style?

DH: I don't know if I can sum it up in one word. I can tell you the way I approach my business on a daily basis is in a very direct manner. I think expectations are quite simple of myself, of my staff and our players. Maybe to sum up in one word, accountability to one another, to our organization.

In terms of style of play, the game is so fast. When you see games today, it's played at such a high speed. You've got to be as good a team without the puck, you've got to work and play fast without the puck and with good structure.  It's about transition. But you've got to have the puck, you've got to get the puck in order to be able to transition up ice.  You're going to see with me an expectation that our defensemen are involved in an awful lot of our play in terms of our play with the puck. I think it's essential both getting up the ice as well as in the zone.

How do you think the current roster fits with that style?

DH: I don't think I'm ready to comment too much on what I've seen from last year. That's something I have to get into now as we move into the summer and something that I will spend an awful lot of time on, both myself as well as along with our staff, evaluating exactly what our group is and from there forming the plan as we move forward.

How are you different as a coach now from when you took the UND job?

DH: I don't know any coach that's in the business that's not excited to get better every day. We're in it to have our teams improve, to help our players improve, and no different for ourselves. I'm a much different coach. Certainly experience plays a large factor in that. As you go through the different things not only in the game but in life, you change your perspective and your outlook on everything. I would say I'm obviously much more settled than the guy who took the job at North Dakota 11 years ago. 

On balancing the expectation of winning with building a team:

DH: Number one, winning is a mindset. Our job as a staff is to win with the group of players that we have.  Obviously you talk about development, and that's one of the things that as we have gone into each and every year, we've gone into each year with a mindset of getting better every day. You have to do that at the college level. You start with a new group of players, a lot of times you have new players learning new systems, and some players grasp things immediately and very quickly, others take time. Development is always part of the process. But at the end of the day, winning is the goal.  

On his confidence that his coaching style will transfer over to pros from college:

DH: Well, that's a fair question, and it's something that I'm very confident in. It's going to take an awful lot of communication. I have to get to know our players, and I want them to get to know me. I want to have some clear expectations of the way we're going to play the game.

Obviously we want players that are buying into the philosophy of winning and what that takes. Really when you break that down, it comes down to doing all the little things day after day. Taking care of the details, being disciplined enough to do them day in and day out, and knowing and understanding why you're doing them is going to be very important. That's something that I'm confident that I can convey to our group.

Identity of team characteristics at North Dakota vs. Flyers:

If you look at the pace of the game and the way it's played today, I think you have to have everyone contributing in that role. Everybody's goal is different, but you have to have everyone contributing within their role to be successful. You have to do those things on a consistent and daily basis as we grow and develop.

...

I see it at every level. Teams play so well without the puck, teams are detailed, teams are structured. They play fast without the puck, it's hard to generate offense. You have to be playing from the back end. That doesn't mean you have to lead every play from the back end, but you have to have support and you have to be active from the back end to gain offense.

What do they mean when they say you coached an NHL style of play at the college level?

I guess that's maybe an easy term. I haven't tried to describe the way we play I guess in that matter. We play hard. We play fast. We play honest. We value guys that show up and compete. We value guys that are willing to do the job without the puck. On the other end of the game ... skill ability and creativity, some of the things you can't teach ... you have to have some of those things along with that ultimate compete level.