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BSH Midseason Roundtable: What first half grade does Dave Hakstol deserve?

To celebrate the official midway point of the Philadelphia Flyers' season, the writers at BSH had a roundtable discussion taking on some burning questions from the season's first half. First, we grade coach Dave Hakstol.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

With 41 games down in the 2015-16 Philadelphia Flyers season, it's a good time to sit down and assess the performance of the team as whole. To that end, the writers at Broad Street Hockey bring you a roundtable discussion, as we provide our opinions on the key topics from the season's first half.

Over the next two days, we will break down and answer four specific questions. Participating in the roundtable are myself, Travis Hughes, Kurt R., Al K., Brent G., Mary Clarke, Kelly Hinkle, Collin Mehalick, Ryan Gilbert, Allison J., Kevin Christmann, and Andrew D.

First, we analyze the performance of first-year NHL coach Dave Hakstol.


After 41 games, what letter grade (College!) would you give first-year NHL coach Dave Hakstol and why?

Travis Hughes: B

I think he's been solid, and a clear improvement over Craig Berube from a year ago. He hasn't been perfect, there's not a ton to work with here, and a lot has quietly gone wrong this year. But that they're in the playoff race is impressive.

Look at how poor this team is scoring so far, especially from the bottom-six, and look at the personnel on the blue line. Add that the special teams have been shit so far and it's not hard to imagine the Flyers as a bottom-five team. And yet somehow, they're playing pretty solid at even strength -- the goal differential is only negative-three and they're a positive possession team (barely but they are!). I think that has to be attributed in part to Hakstol.

Al K: B

To me, Hakstol has earned himself a solid B. We all knew going into this season that despite the coaching change, this team was going to be mediocre at best. I think Hakstol is delivering pretty much exactly what I expected. I maybe would be willing to give him a B+ if it weren’t for the Jake Voracek experiments and the seeming obsession with Nick Schultz, but what can you do?

Brent G: B-

I’m going to go with a B-. Not great, but passing.  Coaches are responsible for four things - game management, skill development, skill maintenance and motivation. His system, when the players are executing it properly, does seem to work at the NHL level. The team seems motivated most nights, and the results while not great, have been better than advanced billing by most pundits.

Some players have definitely developed and improved under his watch (Gudas, Couturier recently) - whether or not that’s because of Hax is up to you to decide. It doesn’t hurt his cause (or his grade in this exercise). On the skill maintenance end of things, there isn’t anyone who you’d say "man, what happened to that guy?" In short, there isn’t one thing that stands out - of the four I suppose motivation might be his strong suit - but being at least solid in three out of four categories is not bad.

However, he loses points, and fair number of them at that, for some curious game management tactics such as Schultz playing every game while Medvedev has been a healthy scratch, an overreliance on White/VandeVelde (and as much as I hate to say it) perhaps Bellemare, why is Umberger playing every night, and some others.

Charlie O'Connor: B

I believe that Flyers GM Ron Hextall decided to move on from Craig Berube not because he had done a terrible overall job as coach, but because Hextall believed that Berube was not the right coach to take the younger, more dynamic roster that Hextall was in the process of building to the promised land. Thus far, Dave Hakstol has looked far more like the right guy. His aggressive system (particularly in the neutral zone and on the forecheck) is a far cry from Berube's passive tactics, and young assets like Sean Couturier, Michael Del Zotto and Shayne Gostisbehere are flourishing in ways that I don't believe would have been possible under Berube.

Still, this is a first-half grade, and it's hard to ignore that for a three-week period spanning from the end of October through the middle of November, the Flyers were one of the worst teams in hockey. Sure, the team was in the process of figuring out the new system, but that stretch has made it an uphill battle for the Flyers in their race for the playoffs. Some will quibble with his roster decisions, but only the elevation of the Pierre-Edouard Bellemare unit to third line status and his trust in Nick Schultz have really hurt the team. It's the early poor stretch that primarily deflates his grade, but the Flyers appear to be trending in the right direction. This grade could go up dramatically by season's end.

Kurt R: B+

Man. It's genuinely really hard to grade NHL coaches, in my opinion, and it's especially hard to grade guys who have been coaches for just half a season. Hakstol's had some personnel decisions that I haven't always liked, but that's true of pretty much every NHL coach. We've started to see his system take hold, and it's one that the players themselves have clearly been catching on to and one that falls in line with how the game today is played. And while I can't really speak to how well he controls the locker room and the team (because I'm not there), I don't at this point have any reason to believe he's done a poor job there.

I'll give him a B+, because really, more than anything, I think this team is playing pretty close to what its ceiling is right now. Could they be doing better? Probably. Has Hakstol been perfect? Nah. Are there steps forward that need to be taken? There sure are. But given this roster, there are more guys who I look at right now and say "he's been better than I thought he'd be" than ones for whom I think "he's been worse than he should be", and I think that reflects positively on the job the coach has done. I'm not all-in on the guy, but it would've taken a flawless performance for that to be the case after just half of a season. And at this point, absolutely nothing we've seen has led us to believe that Hakstol can't be the next great Flyers coach. May sound like a low bar, but it's a good start.

Mary Clarke: B

I think a solid B is fair in this instance. For me, this first year under Dave Hakstol would be a success if he was able to keep the team's heads above water while not running Steve Mason ragged, unlike the final few months of Craig Berube's tenure here. The team seems motivated in Hakstol's system and the system as a whole seems to be working. There's only so much Hakstol could do with the roster he was given and through 41 games, he hasn't done anything egregiously offensive that stands out as a red flag.

The only niggle I can think of is his scratching of one of the team's best defensemen in Evgeny Medvedev while continuously playing defensively-absentminded Nick Schultz. However, a lot of that got lost in the confusion of Medvedev's possible injury mystery that was never really solved. If the only slight wobble in the Dave Hakstol era so far is that one quibble, I think a B holds up. I don't hold the lack of offensive production against him, though I'd be more willing to give him a B+ if the Flyers were not sitting at seventh place in the Metro.

Let's be real here, Hakstol's first season here wasn't going to be easy given the roster situation. For him to have a seemingly working system in place and to commit no huge fouls in his first 41 games is more than enough for a grade of a B in my eyes.

Kelly Hinkle: B-

I'd give Professor Hakstol a solid B-minus. I think he's been a clear improvement over Berube, players seem to be responding to him, and his "system" seems to be okay for the personnel we currently have. He's docked points for doing weird things like loving Nick Schultz and sitting Medvedev too often.

Collin Mehalick: B

I've got Hakstol at a B. Philadelphia's hovering around a 50% adjusted Corsi For percentage for the first time in three easons, which currently puts them at 18th in the league. Last year? They were 22nd. There's visible improvement. He still doesn't have much to work with, particularly with the bottom-six, but he's done a good job handling Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn and the logjam on defense. Going into the season, it seems management has pegged him as a long-term solution (rightly so), and he's done nothing to quell my feelings that he could be the guy for the future.

His handling of Nick Schultz sure is... confusing, though.

Ryan Gilbert: B+

Dave Hakstol gets a B-plus from me. He has been pressing all the right buttons in terms of line combinations and defensive pairings. His adjustments have worked and the team has adapted to his system. His only flaw is his over-reliance on Nick Schultz, which can somewhat be explained by his defensive zone play and penalty killing.

Allison J: B

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the way Hakstol has coached. I like his style of play, not only because it’s entertaining to watch, but it also seems to benefit the pieces that he has. It’s clear he’s a smart dude, and he certainly seems to understand what to do in order to maximize the players he coaches. Also, since he’s been in Philly, I feel like we’ve seen a lot of improvement in the transition game and in puck possession. I’d give him a B. I knocked him down a letter grade because he doesn’t want to bench Schultz, which is the hockey equivalent of turning in a paper one day late.

Kevin Christmann: B-

I’d give him a B-minus. Overall, I’ve been very pleased. That stems mostly from the team’s pretty decent play and what are pretty obvious systemic changes, especially in the neutral zone. It’s very refreshing. It also doesn’t hurt that he recognized that Andrew MacDonald isn’t very good despite his contract. The only reason his grade isn’t higher is because I still question some of his personnel decisions, especially with regard to healthy scratches.

Andrew D: B-

A B-minus based on early returns. The Flyers are showing improvement at 5v5, and in the wild card mix in the East. So far, the biggest criticism you can really muster against Hakstol is that he relies too much on mediocre talent with guys like VandeVelde, Nick Schultz playing while far superior players like Read and Medvedev spend games in the press box.


Community GPA: 2.97

Feel free to vote in the poll and/or comment below to give us your thoughts on how Dave Hakstol has done so far.