[UPDATE, 12/17, 1:26 p.m.: The Flyers have fired Dave Hakstol.]
[UPDATE, 12/16, 10:05 p.m.: An earlier version of this article stated that the Flyers have fired Dave Hakstol. At this point, we do not believe that said firing has occurred yet, but we have been told that Hakstol will not be the coach of the Flyers for Tuesday’s game against Detroit. Additional information on that can be found here. Original post below.]
Chuck Fletcher said that he would take his time to evaluate every aspect of the Flyers’ organization before making any big decisions, but it looks like he’s already taken all the time he needs to make the one that many had figured would be coming.
The Flyers made the decision to fire Dave Hakstol as head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday, one day after a 5-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks that left the Flyers at 12-15-4 and at the bottom of the Eastern Conference in the standings. For a team that was supposed to take a step forward this year by way of progression from young players and the addition of James van Riemsdyk, that was not good enough for Hakstol to keep his job in his fourth season behind an NHL bench.
BSH’s own Stephanie Driver reported on Saturday afternoon that a change was likely to come on Sunday regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s game. At this time, it is unclear if any other coaches will be fired when the news officially breaks.
There are rumblings about Hakstol’s eventual replacement that we’ll get to momentarily. For now, though, we turn our attention one last time to the man that will be walking out the door. Dave Hakstol finishes his Flyers career with a regular-season record of 134-101-42, to go with a playoff record of 4-8 and no series wins in two appearances. He was the fourth-longest tenured coach in the NHL at the time of his firing, behind only Jon Cooper (Tampa Bay), Paul Maurice (Winnipeg), and Peter Laviolette (Nashville).
Hired in the spring of 2015 after spending 11 years with the University of North Dakota, Hakstol was the first coach in over 30 years to be hired as an NHL head coach straight from the NCAA. Then-general manager Ron Hextall — who himself was, of course, dismissed on November 26 — brought him on in hopes that he would be the coach to oversee the youth movement that was being ushered in, and that his work with young players would help him succeed in that.
But the word that best describes Hakstol’s time in Philadelphia may well be “stagnancy”. In his three full seasons with the Flyers, the team won 41, 39, and 42 games, and had won just 12 in 31 this season prior to his firing. The Flyers under Hakstol never really took the step forward that fans of a team that hasn’t won a playoff series since April 2012 was looking for, and the new front office couldn’t afford to wait any longer to give him a chance to get that step out of them.
Fans and observers’ most frequent objections to Hakstol’s work tended to stem from his lineup choices and reliance on certain veterans over young players, the team’s floundering penalty kill under his watch (though blame there could perhaps be placed on assistant coach Ian Laperriere), and overplaying of certain goalies to the point where either their health or their effectiveness was bound to wane as the seasons went on.
Yet, while he was here, Hextall stood by his coach after a lackluster 2016-17 season that most viewed as a clear step back from a successful 2015-16, and he refused to fire him following a 10-game losing streak in the 2017-18 season and again following a series loss in the first round to the Pittsburgh Penguins that was not nearly as close as the six-game length would make it appear.
Still, it seemed clear coming into the season that Hakstol was going to need to do better than another season where the team lost as many games as they won and bowed out in the first round to keep his job. And yet, through this season’s first two-plus months, the Flyers have lost far more games than they’ve won, they’ve posted the worst goal differential in the Eastern Conference at minus-23, and they’ve been outright non-competitive in an alarming number of games.
And on a five-game road trip that looked, from a distance, like one that had the potential to really set the tone for the rest of the season, Hakstol’s team fell flat. A four-game run in which the Flyers were absolutely demolished, blew a two-goal lead in the final minutes of regulation, and fell totally flat after falling behind early on two straight nights felt like a run that was likely to close the book on Hakstol’s tenure in Philadelphia, and we now know that it was.
With Hextall out the door, Fletcher made it clear upon his arrival to Philadelphia that the people currently in place were going to get a chance to prove whether they should stay or go when the inevitable changes took place. And yet, the team’s 2-4-2 performance since Hextall’s firing, in which they were outscored 34-24, seems to have given Fletcher enough reason to drop his first big ax.
Hakstol’s tenure isn’t entirely without its successes. In particular, Sean Couturier’s emergence into a true top-6 center really took place under Hakstol. He’s managed to generally get the most out of his team’s most talented players (look no further than Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek having career years last year), and some of the team’s young talent has had relatively successful starts to their NHL careers under his watch.
But as he leaves the organization today, it’s tough to state with confidence what exactly he truly excelled at from a coaching perspective during his time in Philadelphia. Dave Hakstol ended up being, essentially, a run-of-the-mill coach with the Flyers, and nearly 300 games into his tenure, the team finally decided that it need more than that. Firing Hakstol is certainly not a guarantee to fix what currently ails the Flyers, but it feels rather unlikely that he’s going to be missed.
In the meantime, by all accounts, the Flyers appear to be targeting former Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, who was also fired earlier this season on November 6 after a decade with Chicago that saw him and his team hoist the Stanley Cup three times, as Hakstol’s replacement. There are conflicting reports on where exactly that pursuit stands. Sources close to BSH have indicated that the team is in heavy pursuit of Quenneville, but that a deal has not yet been completed. At the same time, the Courier-Post’s Dave Isaac reported on Sunday that Quenneville has already accepted an offer from the Flyers; at the same time still, TSN’s Darren Dreger said minutes later that the Flyers have had “no communication with Quenneville, yet.”
All of which is to say that, while it’s unclear whether a deal has been reached yet, it certainly appears that the Flyers want and expect that Quenneville will be the team’s next full-time head coach.
With that, we now wait to see what other moves are coming. By all accounts, the Flyers appear to be looking to make some moves sooner rather than later, and you don’t try to bring in a three-time Stanley Cup winner as your new head coach if you’re OK with things playing out the way they currently are. We don’t know what will come next, but it feels like no one other than maybe Quenneville himself (if he is, indeed, the next coach) should feel safe in their job security for the near future.