(UPDATE: It has. The Flyers announced Hakstol’s firing on Monday.)
To put things mildly, there are a lot of reports and rumors revolving around the Philadelphia Flyers possibly firing Dave Hakstol to make Joel Quenneville their new head coach.
With a lot of conflicting information in the air (things do seem dire for Hakstol in most scenarios), let’s consider how the Flyers got to this point.
Terrible road trip
Look, the Flyers weren’t exactly setting the world on fire before the disastrous five-game road trip, which concluded on Saturday with a 5-1 thumping by the Vancouver Canucks.
Optics obviously matter, though, and things really devolved as this went along.
After beating the Sabres 6-2 on Dec. 8, the Flyers suffered a four-game losing streak, only managing a single standings point in a 6-5 OT loss to Calgary on Dec. 12.
Three of those four losses were absolute blowouts; Philly fell 7-1 to the Jets on Dec. 9, then really stunk up the joint during the last two losses, falling 4-1 to the Oilers on Friday and 5-1 to the Canucks on Saturday. There was little denying the negative feelings about that team, and Hakstol drew a lot of the blame for seemingly tepid efforts.
After scrapping their way to a somewhat surprising berth in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Flyers currently sit last in the Eastern Conference with 28 points in 31 games (12-15-4).
Good and the bad
If there’s one obvious tweak Hakstol made that produced huge dividends for the Flyers, it was moving Claude Giroux from center to the wing.
Heading into 2017-18, there were serious concerns about Giroux. It seemed like his offense was slowing down, possibly pointing to him hitting the dreaded low end of the aging curve. Instead, Giroux appeared to be liberated by the freedom of playing the wing, often ceding the center duties to Sean Couturier this season. Giroux enjoyed an MVP-like season, powering his way to career-highs of 34 goals and 102 points.
One can debate how Hakstol used younger players versus veterans. You could do that with many teams, not to mention other Flyers staffers, whether you’re pondering Carter Hart or, say, Travis Sanheim.
There have been some structural issues. Much like Todd McLellan in Edmonton, much of Hakstol’s tenure has been marked by a questionable strategy to lean heavily on shots from the point.
Sure, it’s nice to get the puck on the sticks of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere when it makes sense, yet you’re far more likely to hit paydirt if you generate high-danger chances from the slot. Easier said than done? Yes, but some teams emphasize shots from defensemen to the detriment of creativity, making things too easy for the opposition.
The fall of a great power-play unit and a generally terrible PK might explain some of Hakstol’s struggles.
Since Hakstol came into the league in 2015-16, the Flyers’ PK unit has killed 77.1-percent of penalties, the worst mark in the NHL. If Quenneville or another coach could find answers where Hakstol and his crew failed, that could be a nice area of growth.
On the bright side, the Flyers have often had a deadly power play, although their overall mark (19 percent) under Hakstol is actually just tied at 17th.
Some of that might be tied up in Philly’s steps toward adding more talent over the years, but either way, that unit hit a big wall in 2018-19. They’ve connected on just 12.9-percent of their PP opportunities, the third-worst percentage in the NHL.
Hakstol didn’t sign the Flyers’ goalies, and it wasn’t his final call to opt against getting someone more established to compliment Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth. A new coach’s system could absolutely make life easier for whoever ends up in Philly’s net going forward, but that could still be an area of serious concern.
A new coach – if the Flyers were to make such a rumored change – might be able to install systemic changes that could help optimize this team. Some might come from finding more innovative special teams strategies, or maybe tweaking personnel decisions. Leaning on different players in different situations may also move the needle.
It’s not necessarily a matter of Hakstol being a terrible head coach, but rather that there could be areas of improvement.
Granted, the Flyers have dug themselves a big hole, so if they’re making changes, they might want to keep their expectations in check.
Big decision coming Monday, and more later this week?
Working past the understanding that people have been wondering about Hakstol for a long time, and beckoning for Coach Q to take over in Philly basically the second he was fired, things seemed to escalate on Sunday. Business picked up as the Courier-Post’s Dave Isaac reported that the Flyers would make that decision. Things got blurry from there, with TSN’s Darren Dreger describing the situation as “status quo” and that “no decision has been made.” Crossing Broad’s Anthony SanFilippo reports that Hakstol’s firing could be announced “within 24 hours,” but an interim coach may be named, possibly because there might be some wrinkles to iron out with Quenneville. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi backs that up, noting no change officially happening Sunday night, yet to expect a “busy” Monday.
Maybe some of this comes down to semantics (official versus looming?), it all seems a touch odd, and a bit confusing.
A lot to take in, right? PHT will keep you updated, whether Monday ends up being busy or just … awkward for Hakstol and the team, if nothing is actually happening. Buckle up.
MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.