With Hak­stol still here, one less rea­son to fail

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - Jack McCaf­fery Colum­nist

VOORHEES, N.J. >> A 40-plusyear tra­jec­tory pro­vides a handy and ef­fi­cient way to project the con­ver­sa­tion in the Fly­ers’ dress­ing room just after any sea­son will end. Any more, it’s just as easy to pre­dict the chitchat days be­fore any sea­son be­gins.

It will be­gin, and it will end, with a wish and a plan and a prom­ise. Mark Streit was among the many in the choir Tues­day at the Skate Zone, hit­ting ev­ery note: “We have to get off to a bet­ter start.”

Other than the sooth­ing voice of Lou Nolan wel­com­ing fans back into the Wells Fargo Cen­ter, noth­ing says it’s time again for Fly­ers hockey bet­ter than that an­nual wail. The puz­zling thing is why it is al­ways such a mys­tery why their most re­cent starts have been so choppy...

Such as 6-9-5 last sea­son, and 1-3-2 the year be­fore that and, in the gur­gling start for the ages, that 0-3-0 pip in 2013 that crys­tal­lized the whole ridicu­lous trend.

That was the year Peter Lavi­o­lette made it only through nine pe­ri­ods be­fore be­ing fired. And that’s what the Fly­ers do. They fire coaches. They fired one in 2006, in 2009, in 2013 and in 2015. The ef­fect was that since 2010, three of their training camps would be run by a coach who hadn’t or­ches­trated the pre­vi­ous one. And how can any oper­a­tion suc­ceed when, come August, the guy with the whis­tle is best ad­dressed by, “Psssst, buddy, over here?”

But the Fly­ers Tues­day achieved a mod­ern rar­ity: They al­lowed one Dave Hak­stol to com­plete his sec­ond con­sec­u­tive training camp, his and his alone, with his ideas, lines, power plays and quirks. Two training camps. In a row. Two of them. What? Him again? “What it does is, it gives us more ‘au­to­mat­ics’ out there,” Streit said. “It took a lit­tle bit last year to learn the sys­tem and get on the same page. But this year, we made a few small ad­just­ments and we looked at it and ev­ery­body got a few pre­sea­son games un­der their belt.

“With more au­to­mat­ics out there, you can go out on the ice and you can use your in­stincts. You don’t have to think, ‘Do I need to go left or right?’ Or, ‘Am I too much ahead?’ Or, ‘Am I not close enough?’ Things like that. Things hap­pen re­ally quick out there and this year it makes it eas­ier as a team to just go out and play.”

With the new coach last sea­son, the Fly­ers had their cus­tom­ary scratchy start. But they grew un­der Hak­stol, ben­e­fit­ted from the ad­di­tion of Shayne Gostis­be­here, set­tled and reached the play­offs, win­ning a cou­ple of games to drag a se­ries back to Wash­ing­ton for a Game 6, their sea­son even­tu­ally end­ing with a 1-0 loss. Fol­low­ing that, Ron Hex­tall made some mi­nor changes, adding Boyd Gor­don and Dale Weise for their size and ex­pe­ri­ence, mix­ing in Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny for their youth and bounce. Some play­ers re­cov­ered from in­jury and surgery. Oth­ers ben­e­fit­ted from just hav­ing been in the post­sea­son.

And all, this time, should ben­e­fit from the (rel­a­tive) coach­ing-staff sta­bil­ity.

“But I also think it’s im­por­tant that our group needs to take re­spon­si­bil­ity,” Hex­tall said. “We have to get off to a bet­ter start than we have his­tor­i­cally. But Hak be­ing here and be­ing fa­mil­iar with our play­ers, our lines, our ‘D’ pairs, that’s go­ing to help, for sure.”

Hak­stol joined the Fly­ers last year after a ca­reer as a col­lege coach, at North Dakota. And while that was a mega-time pro­gram, it was not the NHL. So there was some ad­just­ment, for him, for the play­ers. And it showed, at least early. But by the end (play­offs not in­cluded) the power play was siz­zling, the lines made sense, the play was crisp and Gostis­be­here was a league-wide phe­nom­e­non. That sug­gested some­thing new this au­tumn: A scent of mo­men­tum.

“I would say we are bet­ter than last year,” Jake Voracek said. “But if you make the play­offs, you want to make the run. It was good ex­pe­ri­ence. But you can’t be sat­is­fied with that. You have to get on a run and we have to catch that at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son. The last few years, we were just chas­ing. And that was cost­ing us a lot of en­ergy.”

That’s what hap­pened. But it had hap­pened be­fore, and the Fly­ers con­tin­ued to have sloppy starts. But Hex­tall has spread pa­tience through­out the or­ga­ni­za­tion, the head coach’s of­fice in­cluded.

“I think our play­ers un­der­stand Hak’s ex­pec­ta­tions,” the GM said. “That’s go­ing to help. So there is no rea­son we can’t get off to a bet­ter start than we did last year.”

After a year with­out coach­ing up­heaval, there is one fewer rea­son, at least.

To con­tact Jack McCaf­fery, email him at jm­c­caf­fery@21stcen­tu­ry­media.com; fol­low him on Twitter @ Jack­McCaf­fery


That Dave Hak­stol is still over­see­ing the Fly­ers bodes well for them. With Hak­stol given a sec­ond full sea­son, which not ev­ery Fly­ers coach gets, it should trans­late into a sense of calm around the club as it com­mences the sea­son Fri­day. But these guys bet­ter get off to a bet­ter start...

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