Mike Halford

Winnipeg Jets vs Philadelphia Flyers

Hextall made a ‘gut decision’ on Hakstol, and so far it’s paid off


This is part of Philadelphia Flyers day on PHT…

There were plenty of questions after Philadelphia named Dave Hakstol head coach last May, but one question was more prevalent than the rest:


OK, maybe Hakstol didn’t come out of nowhere — he’d spent the previous 11 years at NCAA powerhouse North Dakota — but he certainly wasn’t a household name. Far from it.

What’s more, he got the job despite having no previous NHL coaching experience, with the names of regarded veterans like Mike Babcock, Dan Bylsma and Peter DeBoer being bandied about.

No matter, explained GM Ron Hextall.

“In the end,” said Hextall, “when you’re making decisions like this, you take all the information, you process it — and it was a process — and you weed through it, and you make a decision with your gut.

“This was a gut decision, and I feel extremely comfortable with it.”

After Hakstol’s first year on the job, that gut decision seems to have paid off.

One of the biggest perceived strengths, as you’d expect from someone with such experience at the collegiate level, is an ability to work with young players. At his introductory presser, Hakstol said he had “an awful lot of confidence in terms of knowing the game well,” adding that he knew “how to relate and communicate with players.”

On that note, consider:

Shayne Gostisbehere, 23, burst onto the scene, emerging as one of the league’s best young offensive d-men. In an NHL where high-risk plays — especially by blueliners — can be eschewed by coaches in favor of high-percentage ones, Hakstol embraced Gostisbehere’s “attack mentality,” saying he wanted him in “high-risk mode.”

— Since coming to the Flyers in 2011, Brayden Schenn played under Peter Laviolette and Craig Berube. Schenn’s production and role under both were decent, but the 24-year-old really came into his own this season, scoring a career-high 26 goals and 59 points.

In November, something interesting happened.

Hakstol parked Schenn as a healthy scratch for a game against the ‘Canes, but never spoke to Schenn prior to making the decision. The lack of explanation was strange, and so too was Schenn missing a game, given he’d played all 82 in each of the past two seasons.

If the move was intentional, it worked. Schenn admitted it “put a fire” in his belly, and responded with the best year of his career.

— Hakstol also oversaw the integration of two of Philly’s better young forward prospects. Scott Laughton, the 20th overall pick in 2012, posted career highs games played, goals and points. The 22-year-old also made his Stanley Cup playoff debut. Nick Cousins, 23, scored 11 points in 47 games and appeared in all six playoff contests, averaging close to 11 minutes per night.

In terms of big picture, it sure seems like Hakstol was hired to partly replicate what he did at UND, the whole “build a program” philosophy. Schenn, Laughton, Cousins and Sean Couturier are part of an under-24 forward group that will eventually include ’15 first-rounder Travis Konecny.

On defense, Gostisbehere is just part of the tantalizing young group Flyers fans salivate over.

Hakstol will be the guy to oversee this whole thing, which may be why Hextall wasn’t overly concerned about the lack of big-league experience upon hiring him.

“I had a list of things that I wanted from a head coach, and went down this checklist in my mind,” Hextall said at the time. “Every box was checked except for the NHL experience.

“And, quite frankly, for me, that was the one that was the least important.”

Guess it pays to listen to your gut.

It’s Philadelphia Flyers day at PHT

Gostisbehere goal

All things considered, the Flyers had a fairly successful 2015-16.

Led by a rookie head coach and coming off a season in which they missed the playoffs, expectations were tempered heading into the year. There were some onerous contracts on the books,  and the “defense of the future” was still that — something for the future.

Well, mostly for the future.

It’s easy to look at last season and focus on the biggest positive — the breakout of Shayne Gostisbehere. The dynamic blueliner didn’t open the year with the club, but made an immediate impact upon his November recall and quickly put his name in the history books.

He set an NHL record for points in consecutive games by a rookie blueliner, and became the first to score four OT goals in a single campaign. He then capped things off by finishing second to Artemi Panarin for the Calder Trophy.

Ghost was great, no doubt.

But the year wasn’t all about him.

Brayden Schenn also enjoyed a breakout campaign, scoring a career-best 26 goals and 59 points, earning him a four-year, $20.5 million extensionWayne Simmonds cracked the 30-goal plateau for the first time in his career, and the goaltending tandem of Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth proved an effective one-two punch.

Those efforts masked what was a modest year from captain Claude Giroux, and a disappointing 55-point effort from Jake Voracek, he of the $66 million contract.

Speaking of contracts, the guy that signs ’em, GM Ron Hextall, had himself a pretty solid season. He unloaded one of the aforementioned albatrosses — Vincent Lecavalier — on the Kings, in a midseason deal that also saw Luke Schenn head to Hollywood.

And the first-year bench boss did well, too.

Longtime North Dakota man Dave Hakstol was an unconventional choice — few coaches make the leap from NCAA hockey to the NHL — but eventually proved his worth, especially late in the year when the Flyers went 12-4-3 down the stretch, and snuck into the postseason.

Philly was eventually dispatched by Washington in Round 1, but not before rallying from an 0-3 deficit to push the series to six games.

There was a real sense Philly building something last season, and the process wouldn’t be rushed. That philosophy carried over to the offseason, where Hextall was reasonably quiet, the biggest splashes being the R.J. Umberger buyout, and a four-year deal for grinding winger Dale Weise in free agency.

That approach makes sense, too.

Eventually, Gostisbehere’s fellow blueline prospects — Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg — will be ready to make the leap, and there are good young talents up front as well (think Travis Konecny, Nick Cousins and, further down the road, ’16 first-rounder German Rubstov).

All that said, Philly still has work to do.

Some unappealing contracts remain on the books — like Andrew MacDonald‘s, and Matt Read‘s — and 38-year-old Mark Streit has one year left on his deal. Hextall pulled off some magic in unloading Lecavalier last season, but that might prove difficult with those three.

As such, the situation in Philly can be summed up like this:

The future is certainly bright.

The big question is when will it all be on display.

Wild owner Leipold to buy out minority shareholder

Leipold AP

Craig Leipold is upping his investment in the Minnesota Wild.

Already the club’s majority shareholder, Leipold is reportedly in the process of buying out Matthew Hulsizer’s 27 percent share, per the Star-Tribune.

Once completed, the deal will bring Leipold’s stake in the club to 95 percent.


Leipold said he and Hulsizer are departing on friendly terms.

The decision is driven by Leipold’s desire to keep the Wild in his family long-term and Hulsizer’s desire to eventually own a larger chunk of the franchise and be more involved in hockey decisions.

Hulsizer, a Chicago businessman, caught on the Wild in February of last year, joining the board of directors as vice chairman and minority owner, taking over the latter title (and stake) from Philip Falcone.

Previously, Hulsizer tried (and failed) to buy the Coyotes out of bankruptcy.

“[Hulsizer] continued to have a higher interest level in being involved in the hockey side like the draft and trades, but I wasn’t willing to give that up,” Leipold said, per the Tribune. “That’s not my style with [General Manager] Chuck [Fletcher], so I certainly wouldn’t let a minority owner have that kind of input to Chuck.”

The deal could take “months” to finalize, according to the Star-Tribune’s Mike Russo.

King comes full circle, joins Canucks’ AHL staff

VANCOUVER - NOVEMBER 8:  Daniel Sedin #22 and twin brother Henrik #33 of the Vancouver Canucks congratulate teammate Jason King #17 after he scored a goal against the Minnesota Wild during the first period of their NHL game at General Motors Place November 8, 2003 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

Jason King is back with the Canucks.

King, the former Vancouver forward that recently transitioned into coaching, will join Travis Green’s staff in AHL Utica for the upcoming campaign, the Canucks announced on Tuesday.

Back in 2003, King enjoyed a brief spell of fame on the “Mattress Line” with Daniel and Henrik Sedin (two twins and a King, you see.) He scored 12 goals and 21 points that year, in 47 games played.

A serious concussion limited the 34-year-old to just 59 career NHL contests, though he did enjoy some quality campaigns in the German League and, finally, a couple of productive seasons with AHL St. John’s.

After retiring in 2013, King quickly moved into the coaching ranks and helped the IceCaps advance to the Calder Cup Final two years ago.


Vegas names ‘outstanding hockey man’ McCrimmon assistant GM

Brandon Wheat Kings v Kelowna Rockets

As earlier reports suggested, George McPhee has found his right-hand man.

On Tuesday, McPhee and the Vegas expansion team announced they’ve hired WHL Brandon owner/GM/coach Kelly McCrimmon to serve as assistant GM.

“Kelly is an outstanding hockey man and we are delighted to have him join us,” McPhee said in a release. “His extensive experience and consistently high level of performance in the game will help us build a strong and successful organization and team.

“His hockey acumen, character, and work ethic are perfect for us.”

McCrimmon, 55, makes an awful lot of sense for Vegas. He’s literally done everything in Brandon short of selling popcorn — though we can’t verify he hasn’t — and his ability to serve and thrive in a variety of hockey operation roles should be a boon to Vegas, which will need to build an organization entirely from scratch.

It’s also probably worth noting that, last year, McCrimmon coached Nolan Patrick, considered right now to be the No. 1 available talent at the 2017 draft.

That draft, of course, will be Vegas’ first and the club will have relatively decent odds at winning the lottery.

McCrimmon has been on the radar of NHL clubs in the past. Last summer, he reportedly turned down an offer to join Toronto’s front office.