The Philadelphia Flyers entered the 2017-18 season with a bunch of unknowns. Some questions that the media and fans alike had involved “How’s the goaltending going to fair?” “How are the youth going to fit into the team?” and “How is third year head coach Dave Hakstol going to adapt to the new blood in the locker room?” All of these questions are valid.
Finally, after six short games into the season we have some answers for now that is. One answer that we should focus on is that Hakstol is coaching his butt off. He has really come into his own this season. Granted it’s only six games into the season, but let’s give him credit when it’s due. Here’s an in-depth look into the mind of the great coaching Hakstol has done thus far this year.
Hakstol was a coveted coach that was lured here by Hextall for one reason, to groom the young prospects like he did at the University of North Dakota. He groomed stars, such as, Tj Oshie and Zach Parise. Hakstol had an impressive record during his ten year tenure at the University of North Dakota, amounting 289 wins-143 losses-43 ties. In addition, he made the NCAA tournament with a top four finish seven times. With this impressive resume, there is no wonder why Hextall would lure him to Philly.
The former North Dakota Head Coach has the tools to make players better. He has made Shayne Gostisbehere into a better stay at home defenseman this season. In November of 2016, Hakstol made a gutsy unpopular decision to bench Gostisbehere for one game. He hoped that he would become a better sound defenseman in the Flyers zone after this benching. Gostisbehere had the tools offensively, but defensively he needed some attention. This decision paid off as Gostisbehere has gotten better defensively and offensively as the season progressed. Ghost is more sound defensively in 2017-18, while registering 0 goals, 10 assists, and is an impressive plus 4.
Even with his coaching accolades, Hakstol entered the new season with his back against the wall. He entered the new season with a record of 80-60-24, and a .561 winning percentage. The one knack on Hakstol was his unpopular line choices and healthy scratches. For instance, benching Gostisbehere and moving young star Travis Konecny up and down the lineup.
The off-season must have aided Hakstol to clear his coaching mind. This year he has taken risk after risk with his young lineup, and the players have responded with nothing short of great results. For instance, one major ballsy change Hakstol made was moving a natural center in Claude Giroux to the left wing. Hakstol formed a top line of Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, and Giroux. Moving a natural centerman in Giroux to the wing, and a third line centerman in Couturier to the top line. One would think this line was doomed to fail. However, this is one the most fiercest lines in the NHL. They have registered a total of 26 points of offense out 70 points total for the team. What’s even more impressive they are a plus 13 for the year. Hakstol had this to say about his team after Tuesday night’s win.
“I think right now the players are getting to the hard areas and they’re making good confident plays. Not everything works out, but when the play doesn’t work out the biggest thing to go along with that is the effort coming back up the middle of the rink to our end of the ice to help defend. I think the two go hand in hand, confidence to make plays and do that in the critical areas. Then in turn if it doesn’t work and there’s a turnover to get back 200 feet and work as hard as you can without the puck as well.”
Another area of his coaching confidence this season is the goalie tandem in Michal Neuvirth and Brian Elliott. The Flyers currently sit at 10th in the NHL in goals against. For the season, Elliott has a record of 3-1, 3.25 GAA, and .884 Save Percentage. Moreover, Neuvirth has a record of 1-1, 1.51 GAA, and a .956 Save Percentage. Hakstol has intermixed them both nicely throughout this young season. The lone bad game was Elliott allowing six goals in a loss to the Nashville Predators.
Grant it, Hakstol cannot always be glorious. He did make a bad offsides coaches challenge against the Predators, and it cost the Flyers the game. However, we all make mistakes at times. The goaltending wasn’t very good that game either in the 2nd and 3rd periods. Another question of Hakstol’s decisions is why young defenseman Travis Sanheim has sat in the press box the past two games in favor of Brandon Manning? Honestly, General Manager Ron Hextall has to be calling the shots on this one. Sanheim is young, and Hextall has previously stated that a young rookie will not sit in the press box. Moreover, the Flyers are actively shopping Manning, so that may play a part in the decision. Whatever the reason maybe the orange and black continue to win hockey games.
Hakstol has pushed the right buttons this young season, and has shown he is right guy for the job. No one expected the Flyers to make the playoffs two years ago. This rebuild season should be no different in terms of being on the playoff bubble. Hakstol has shown his faith in the youth infusion, and he is not afraid to place them in any situation the team needs. Whatever the reason is for the early success of this bunch, the confident Flyers are flying high. One thing is certain Flyers fans, the future is bright in Flyer land.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports