With Hakstol still here, one less reason to fail
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 email@example.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...