It's fairly obvious that the Flyers went a bit off the map in the hiring of their 19th head coach in franchise history, Dave Hakstol. Hakstol was the first NHL head coach since 1982 to go straight to that position from the NCAA, which goes to show that we don't see moves like this one that often.
But even beyond the NCAA-to-NHL rarity, it's very uncommon nowadays to see that many new coaches just show up on the scene more or less out of nowhere the way Hakstol has here.
NHL dot com's Dan Rosen mentioned this earlier this week after the hire:
The idea that general manager Ron Hextall went off the board and stunned the hockey world Monday by hiring Dave Hakstol to be coach of the Philadelphia Flyers is true only because of how rare it is for teams to go outside of the NHL's insular network of coaches.
Sixteen coaches in the NHL are in at least their second stop in the League, including four who are coaching with their fourth organization. Six of the nine coaches who haven't been coaches elsewhere were at least assistants in the NHL at one point.
The three who weren't are Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche, Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and now Hakstol. Roy won the Jack Adams Award last season. Cooper has the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final and was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award last season.
Coaching positions and front office jobs can undeniably be a bit of an old boys club. Guys who are ushered out of a job the first time often end up finding work at least one more time without much trouble, making it all the more difficult for deserving people outside of that group to get their first crack at it.
And while this is true in a lot of sports, you can really see it here in the NHL. Over half of the head coaches currently employed are on at least their second head coaching gig, and where -- as Rosen mentions in the article -- the main coaching candidates being discussed for current openings (guys like Mike Babcock, Dan Bylsma, and Peter DeBoer) are all guys who have been head coaches before.
But it's also clear that, even amongst the first-time NHL coaches, almost all of them had resumes with a few more NHL-friendly gigs on them.
Let's look at it closer. Below is a table of the nine active NHL coaches who are on their first head coaching gig, with their points percentage as a coach as well as their highest-profile coaching jobs listed out. The number in each box is the number of years the coach spent in that role. (A "+" indicates a partial season, e.g. if a coach initially took over the position midway through the season.)
|NHL Point % (Games)||NHL Assistant||AHL Head Coach||AHL Assistant||CHL Head Coach||USHL Head Coach||NCAA Head Coach|
|Mike Johnston (PIT)||59.8% (82)||8||5+ (WHL)|
|Willie Desjardins (VAN)||61.6% (82)||2||2||8+ (WHL)|
|Jon Cooper (TBL)||61.7% (180)||2+||2|
|Dave Cameron (OTT)||65.5% (55)||3+||3||1||10 (OHL)|
|Mike Yeo (MIN)||56.8% (328)||4||1||6|
|Patrick Roy (COL)||61.6% (164)||7+ (QMJHL)|
|Bill Peters (CAR)||43.3% (82)||3||3||3 (WHL)|
|Jack Capuano (NYI)||52.4% (359)||1||3+||1|
|Dave Hakstol (PHI)||???||4||11|
* Scott Stevens is currently a "co-head coach" in New Jersey, and while he had no head coaching experience prior to that, he is working along with Adam Oates, who had been an NHL head coach prior to his current role. As such, he is not included in this analysis.
Ron Hextall mentioned that it was far more important to him that Hakstol had extensive experience as a head coach than it was that Hakstol didn't have experience at the NHL level. Unsurprisingly, being a head coach at a fairly high level does matter -- of the nine coaches above, only Mike Yeo in Minnesota didn't have at least three years as a head coach between the AHL and high-level North American juniors. (For simplicity's sake, we'll lump both the CHL and the USHL under that label, though of course the CHL is a higher-quality league.)
But you'll also probably notice how important it is for teams that, when bringing in a new coach, said coach has some level of experience with professionals. Almost everyone on that list either spent multiple seasons as an assistant coach in the NHL or as a head coach in the AHL (a professional league that, at any given time, has plenty of NHL players in it). They're all people who have experience dealing with NHLers, all guys who the average GM looks at and has minimal questions about his ability to make that leap to the position of NHL head coach.
The only name on this list that hadn't spent time as an AHL coach or an AHL assistant prior to his hiring was Patrick Roy. Between his whole being-a-Hall-of-Famer thing and his very successful career as a coach in Canadian major junior that included a Memorial Cup championship, Roy was about as high-profile a coach as someone who never had experience coaching professional teams could be.
More on the Flyers' new boss
Full coverage of the Hakstol hire
•Broad Street HockeyDave Hakstol is the 19th head coach in Philadelphia Flyers history.
More on the Flyers' new boss
Compared to just about any other head coach in the league right now, it's obvious just how far out of the box this hire was. While Hakstol isn't an unknown (or, worse, a "no-name") among coaching circles, he made his hay in the USHL and (primarily) the NCAA, and without any exposure at the NHL or AHL. That's just not a trail that's blazed by many who are brought in by NHL teams as first-time head coaches nowadays.
Ron Hextall (who, per reports, also interviewed at least one other coach that didn't have NHL experience) has made a near-unprecedented move here. He clearly meant it when he said that NHL experience was the least important point on his "list". In Hakstol, he saw a guy who had success as a coach at a less-thought-of level and who he believed has the acumen to be a successful coach at this level, and decided to take that and let him develop the experience on the job.
Is that risky? It sure is. It should go without saying that experience dealing with professionals and NHL players -- while not a prerequisite -- is certainly a good thing to have when aspiring to be a head coach. Hakstol not having it means there will absolutely be a learning curve here, and there are several reasons why it might not work out. And if it doesn't, rest assured that we will spend years hearing about the successful veteran coaches who went elsewhere this summer while the Flyers hired some loser from college.
But the fact that Hextall is thinking so far beyond the NHL norms for this kind of thing makes me hopeful. The coaching scene is getting predictable and someone had to shake things up there -- it may as well be our guy.