Anytime a Flyers team is struggling, it is the same boring refrain from the fans. “Fire the coach”. With Ken Hitchcock it was, “he is too hard on the players”. With John Stevens it was, “he doesn’t show enough emotion behind the bench”. With Peter Laviolette it was, “he has lost the team”. With Craig Berube it was he wasn’t a good enough tactician.
Yet all of these coaches other than Berube have gone on to enjoy a tremendous amount of success since having left the Flyers. So the fact that the fans always seem to put the blame on the coach is misguided to say the least. The problem hasn’t been the coach it’s been a lack of talent.
Other than his first year when the Flyers had a torrid second-half of the season to reach the playoffs, Coach Dave Hackstol has come under the same scrutiny from the fans as the others have. And the howling reached a crescendo when the Flyers went through their 10 game stretch without a victory. The complaints have have ranged from not showing enough emotion behind the bench, to not giving the young players enough ice time, to the benching of young players like Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Konecny.
At the time they are made, the moves seem puzzling.. And they can be extremely frustrating because as fans, you want to see the young players on the Flyers get ice time and flourish. You want to see the coach get pissed off when things don’t go right. But in the end, all of these moves and Hackstol’s demeanor have turned out to make sense and have worked out in the Flyers favor . Here are a few examples of the moves Dave Hackstol has made that have the flyers in contention for a playoff spot.
Moving Claude Giroux to the left wing/Sean Courtier to the number one Center Spot.
Other than his first few years in the league when Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were the Flyers top two centers, Claude Giroux has been a center. And even in those first few years when he did play the wing, he played on the right side. So playing the left side was something that was completely foreign to him. Even before Giroux played his first game on the left wing, it seemed to be a logical move. Center is a much more taxing position to play than the wing is. And with Giroux approaching 30 at the time, (he turned 30 during the season) it made sense to move him to a position that wouldn’t be as hard on his body. And with Giroux being a right-handed shot,playing on the left side would allow him to see more of the ice since he is facing the play more of the time.
Like Claude Giroux, Sean Courtier was moving into foreign territory by being put into the number one Center Spot. He had been a number three Center used to shut down the other team’s top line for his whole career. Even though he had shown some offensive potential during certain times in his career, he had never been relied upon to provide offense for the Flyers.
So Hackstol was Taking a Chance by making this move.The move couldn’t have worked out any better. After having only tallied 58 points last year, his lowest point total for a full season since the 2009-10 season, Giroux has 10 goals and 44 assists for 54 points in only a little more than half a season this year.
After never having scored more than 15 goals or 39 points in a season, Couturier has had a breakout year with 26 goals and 20 assists for 46 points. He now has to be considered the leading candidate for the selke trophy, given to the best defensive forward in. hockey. With so many moving parts, and with several players taking on new roles, this move could have been a disaster. But it couldn’t have worked out any better. Hakstol deserves credit for not being afraid to roll the dice and having the foresight to see that these moves would succeed.
In Philadelphia, we all love that fiery coach who screams and yells and who has a lot of fire in his belly. The Mike Keenans, the Dallas Greene’s., the Dick Vermeils, the Billy Cunninghams. All of these coaches had a great deal of success in this city. But fire and brimstone isn’t the only way to coach a team. Freddy Shero, the man who coached the Flyers to their two Stanley Cups in the mid-70s, was not a fiery coach. He showed very little emotion while behind the bench.
Like Shero, Hakstol is not a guy who shows a lot of emotion behind the bench. And this frustrates fans, especially when the team is losing. But yelling and screaming and tearing the paint off the walls can serve as a negative when things aren’t going well if it’s done too much. The team will start to tune you out and not listen to what you have to say. The players can also look at that as a sign of panic and that will translate to their play out on the ice.
During the Flyers 10 game winless streak, Dave Hakstol never lost his composure. He didn’t blow up at the media, he didn’t throw any of his players under the bus. When the fans were screaming for him to be fired during an especially brutal loss, when asked about it, he didn’t lash out at the fans. He actually gave the fans credit for how passionate they are and how much they care about the game of hockey. As a result of his Steady Hand, the Flyers eventually pulled out of their Funk and went on to win six straight games. They had a 15-game stretch where they went 11-3-1 and they have currently won six out of their last seven and sit only one point out of a playoff spot.
That was a crucial part of the Season where if Hakstol had panicked, the whole thing could have come off the rails and the whole season could have been lost. He deserves credit for keeping it all together through the tough times.
Benching Ghost and Konecny
This was another move that led to an outcry by the fans. They complained that benching these young players would not help their development. That the only way for them to get better is to continue to play.
This is true to a certain extent. The only way to get better and to learn from your mistakes is to continue playing. But if a player keeps making the same mistakes over and over again, and he isn’t buying into the system, the best weapon a coach has in his Arsenal to get a player to buy in is to take away his ice time. Also when a player is struggling, sometimes he needs a metal brake from playing games in order to get his head back on straight.
This was the case with both Ghost and Konecny. Ghost was struggling mightily in his own end. He was struggling at the offensive end as well. During his amazing run in the 2015-16 season, even when he wasn’t scoring, his shot was always on the net. Last year he constantly missed the net on his one timers. Some of this might have had to do with the fact that he was coming off hernia surgery and as a result his lower body wasn’t as stable as he would like it to be. But a lot of this also had to do with his loss of confidence.
So on several occasions, Hackstol made Ghost a healthy scratch in order to for him to clear his head and work on certain aspects of his game. The results were not immediate. But after several times of being made a healthy scratch, Ghost finally found his game. You could see him gaining confidence with each passing game. He started to hit the net again with the shot. He regained his confidence in his skating. He started to use that move at the other teams blue line where he would start forward, stop do a head fake and then change directions. Only when a player has confidence will he try to make moves like that.
The result was points in eight out of his last nine games. He has carried that strong finish into this season. After after tallying only 7 goals and 32 assists for 39 points and – 21 for all of last season, he has nine goals and 23 assists for 32 points in only half a season. He has also greatly improved in the plus-minus department going from a -21 to even. He is also playing the best defensive hockey of his career. He made four really nice defensive plays in today’s game against the Devils. Over the past 10 games you could see a steady Improvement in his defensive game. Hakstol needs to be given credit for Ghost not only turning his offensive game around but, also adding a new element to his game which is improved play in his own end.
Konecny like Ghost struggled last year. But his struggles were a little bit different than Gostisbehere’s. With Konecny, it was a matter of him making the same mistakes over and over again. Too many times he tried to make low percentage high risk plays in his own end that led to goals for the opposing team. So since Konecny wasn’t learning from his mistakes, Hakstol benched him.
When Konecny was reinserted back into the lineup, he was put on the 4th Line. This Again drew the ire of the fans. The cry was why would you put a skilled player such as Konecny on the 4th Line? The reason was because Hackstol wanted him to play a more simple game and to work on rounding out his defensive game. If Konecny would start the game off strong, Hackstol would move him up to a scoring line during the course of the game.
The result was that Konecny’s game became more well-rounded. He also stopped making the mistakes he had been making before. If there was no play there to be made, instead of trying to make a play, he would just chip the puck up the boards.
At the start of this year, Konecny started out on the second line and scored in the Flyers very first game against the Sharks. He didn’t score a lot after that first game but continued to get a lot of offensive chances. But then even the scoring chances started to dry up and Konecny became invisible for a long stretch of games.
Konecny wasn’t benched as a result of his struggles but he was demoted to the fourth line. This Again caused him to simplify his game and he started to play some of his best hockey of the year on a line with Scott Laughton and Taylor Leir.
As a result of his strong play, Konecny was moved up to the first line with Sean Courtier and Claude Giroux. The result has been three goals and five assists in his last 10 games. And he is also continuing to play a strong defensive game. After turning the puck over in the Devils zone, Konecny hustled back into the play to break up a 2 on 1. Once again, Dave Hackstol deserves credit for grooming a young player into a more well-rounded player.
Play the Kids!!
Another lament of the fans when it comes to Dave Hakstol is that he doesn’t play the kids enough. I’ve been a Hakstol backer from day one. But the one thing that would frustrate me about him was his seeming reluctance to play the Flyers young players. It started right from the first game of the year when instead of playing rookie defensemen Travis Sanheim and Samuel Morin in the opening game, he opted instead for veterans Andrew McDonald and Brandon Manning.
The move didn’t seem to make much sense. This was supposed to be the year that the Flyers would finally start to break in some of the young players in their system. Why would you have rookies such as Sanheim and Morin make the team only to have them sit? Hackstol’s reasoning was that with that being the opening game of the season and with there being so much Pomp and Circumstance going into that, it would be better to start veterans in that situation.
I didn’t agree with that move at the time. I thought it better to have the rookies get their feet wet right away and get used to playing in big situations. But the Flyers went on to win that game so it seemed to be the right move. And even after having won that game, Hackstol inserted Travis Sanheim in to the lineup and removed Brandon Manning. So Hakstol showed that he wasn’t just going to ride the veterans even after a win. He understood that the young players needed to be given playing time.
Throughout the course of the year though, Hackstol would make what seemed like puzzling lineup moves. And it seemed as though he always favored the veterans over the young kids. This seemed to be especially true during the Flyers 10-game winless streak. He would sit young players such as Taylor Leir Jordan Weal in favor of veterans such as Jori Lehtera and Michael Rafl.
It wasn’t until I heard an explanation by Flyers analyst Keith Jones that I came to understand the method to Hackstol’s madness when it came to how he was handling the young players. He said that when a team is going through a tough stretch like the one Flyers were going through, you need to rely on Veterans who have been there before to pull you out of that funk. You are putting too much pressure on a young player to expect them to do that. He said that once the team had pulled itself out of that funk, you could then start giving the young players more playing time when there wasn’t as much pressure on them.
And that is exactly what happened with the Flyers. When they were in the mist of the 10 game winless streak, the veterans got the bulk of the minutes. But once the Flyers started to win again, the young players got more and more ice time. Jordan Weal was reinserted back in the lineup and is playing his best hockey of the year. Travis Konecny was moved from the 4th to the first line and has eight points in his last 10 games.
Hackstol also found a way to jumpstart Nolan Patrick’s game. Patrick has been struggling for most of this year. In last Sunday’s game in New Jersey against the Devils, he took two extremely careless stick penalties. The result was for Patrick to be benched. Patrick got the message because he has finally come out of his season-long Funk and is playing his best hockey so far this year..
Fans have a perception of Hackstol that he is afraid to play young players. But that isn’t the case. With Hakstol it is a matter of the player has to earn his Trust. And it is also a matter of a young player has to earn his ice time. Hakstol won’t just insert a young player in to a prominent role unless he has shown that he deserves it. He’s also shown that he isn’t afraid to bench young players. The result is that the players realize that they have to earn their ice time and their play improves as a result of it. The improved play of Ghost, Konecny, Weal and Patrick is proof of this..
Hackstol is not perfect by any means. My biggest beef with him is still that he will discipline the young players by benching them but he won’t do the same for a veteran player like a Jake Voracek when he doesn’t play well or when he makes a bad mistake.
But the guy is proving to be a good coach. I know the Philadelphia fans will be extremely reluctant to admit that but, that is becoming more evident with each passing game. It’s time to give him credit for the Flyers continued Improvement and for having them right in the thick of the playoff race when it looked like they were done earlier in the year.