Three years have come and gone since Ron Hextall brought in head coach Dave Hakstol. Three years, two playoff appearances, but not one single trip outside of the first round of the playoffs. Twice, the Flyers have been ousted in the first round of the playoffs under Dave Hakstol. Twice, fans have been left to fathom an offseason with a sour taste in their mouth.
That sour taste has turned a bit sweeter in recent weeks. With the signing of James Van Riemsdyk, paired with the departure of players such as Brandon Manning and Valtteri Filppula, Flyers fans have a glimmer of hope heading into the 2018-2019 season, but Dave Hakstol is feeling the heat.
With the signing of JVR, Hextall seemingly made a declaration that he is ready to start winning. At five years, the Flyers core could very well stay in tact for years to come, setting them up for long term success. JVR is a proven scorer, having worked beside a few of the Flyers already in his first tenure with the club, and alongside guys like Phil Kessel in Toronto.
The Flyers are also, technically, in the running for Erik Karlsson and Artemi Panarin as well. Adding one of these would be a huge shot in the arm to the Flyers, and could spell even more success for the Flyers this coming up year. Karlsson would add some of that veteran presence that Hakstol values over just about any other attribute, and would also add a level of skill that would be the perfect compliment to budding star Ivan Provorov.
Trading for Artemi Panarin would add even more depth to the Flyers top six, making their top three lines one of the most lethal units in all of the NHL. Imagine Couturier centering Giroux and Konecny, Patrick centering Panarin and Voracek, and Laughton centering Simmonds and JVR. Any combination of those nine players could easily be a force to be reckoned with.
With a proven scoring winger being signed for five years, and the potential to land another star player, the pressure is mounting for Dave Hakstol to take this team further than they have been in the last six years. Hakstol now has the weapons to put a competitive team on the ice, and therefore a limited, if any, amount of excuses for failure this season.
Let’s get one thing straight, this isn’t a “Stanley Cup or Bust” situation. These aren’t the St. Louis Blues we’re talking about. This is a team that has fans clamoring, more so pissing and moaning, for a competitive team recently, and Hakstol finally has the tools to do just that. The kids are coming up the pipeline, Hextall is making more moves than he ever has, and the time is now for the Flyers to round turn one of their rebuilding process and start winning a playoff series or two.
For how hot Dave Hakstol’s seat is this year, it’s nothing compared to the temperature of it come next season.
Hextall has already put the wheels in motion, with his actions representing his willingness to try and win “more” now. With free agents like Panarin, Tyler Seguin, Matt Duchene and Jeff Skinner potentially hitting the market next offseason, another batch of high quality free agents could be tempting for Hextall to delve into once again, adding to the prospects coming up to the NHL/AHL level.
Carter Hart begins his professional career next season, as well as German Rubtsov, Pascal Laberge, Carson Twarynski, and the coveted Morgan Frost, amongst a handful of others. The kids are on their way, and with the right mixture of those kids and some NHL veterans, the Flyers could very well find themselves in a favorable position heading into the 2019-2020 season, adding a whole other level of pressure to Dave Hakstol.
It’s quite simple really. The better the team the Flyers have, the more pressure the Dave Hakstol is under. So far, Flyers brass has been focused on stockpiling draft picks like a crazy person preparing for the apocalypse. Those kids are coming up fast, and when they are ready, they should be brought up to a team laden with solid veterans who can lead by example, and be great compliments to them on the ice as well.
In a perfect world, the up and coming prospects that are projected to make the team this year and next will all pan out, which makes Dave Hakstol’s job more difficult. Add on more year to the so-called process, and that puts double the amount of pressure on Hak.
If Ron Hextall’s plan comes to fruition, and plays out the way he imagines, Dave Hakstol has his work cut out for him. He could be gifted two very talented rosters in the next two years, and what he does with those rosters will determine if the Flyers decide to offer him another contract, or let him walk when his current one expires.
To say Hakstol’s seat is getting hotter with every acquisition and player promotion is accurate. To say it’ll be at it’s hottest when Hextall carries out the rest of his plan, well, that’s pretty damn accurate as well. Nobody should envy the position Dave Hakstol is in right now, unless that person is another head coach who knows how to manage their players and optimize lineups.
With Hakstol’s seat getting hotter and hotter, the time is now that he shows he can manage a talented team.
Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports