Hextall on hiring Hakstol: ‘This was a gut decision, and I feel extremely comfortable with it’

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Ron Hextall had a list of all the things he wanted from his next head coach. And of all the things on that list, Dave Hakstol only lacked one of them — NHL experience.

Not surprisingly, it was that lack of experience that became the main topic of inquiry today in Philadelphia, where the Flyers introduced the longtime University of North Dakota coach as their new bench boss.

How did the general manager come to hire such a relative unknown when candidates like Mike Babcock and Dan Bylsma were out there?

Well, Hextall’s son, Brett, spent three seasons under Hakstol at North Dakota, so there was already “some familiarity” there.

But that was only for starters.

“He’s got a lot of pro qualities. He’s got a lot of experience as a head coach,” Hextall said of Hakstol.

“We met parts of four days. We were on the phone a lot. And everything checked out the way we hoped it would check out.

“I had a list of things that I wanted from a head coach, and went down this checklist in my mind. Every box was checked except for the NHL experience. And, quite frankly, for me, that was the one that was the least important.”

Not that Hextall completely discounted the experience factor: “Does Dave have things to learn? Absolutely. He’ll be the first to admit it. … It’s a big jump (from college to the NHL). I think that’s fair to say.”

But, “the biggest thing is his knowledge of the game is extremely high-level.”

Hakstol expressed similar confidence, while also not dismissing his lack of NHL experience. He conceded there were “going to be several adjustments along the way,” including how his “message” would be delivered to professionals.

“Certainly, the fact that I do not have experience at this level, I’m not going to pretend that I do,” he said. “But I do have an awful lot of confidence in terms of knowing the game well, knowing how to relate and communicate with players.”

As for who else the Flyers were considering for the job, Hextall wasn’t sharing names. He wouldn’t comment on whether Babcock was in the mix.

All he’d say was, “We did a lot of homework on a lot of people.”

With Hakstol hired, the next step for the Flyers will be to finalize the rest of the coaching staff. For now, assistants Gord Murphy, Joe Mullen and Ian Laperriere remain employed. But that could change.

In the meantime, some will criticize Hextall’s choice, others will laud it. And he’s just fine with that.

“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.”