(photo: Jim Rosvold)
In the midst of last week’s losing streak to noted NHL super powers in Buffalo, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, I shared a thought on twitter about how some of the more questionable coaching decisions might be a sign that Dave Hakstol is in on a tank job. Sons of Penn writer Stephanie Driver offered a very common rebuttal:
And to be honest, I’d bet she’s likely right. Players play for jobs, whether it be to impress another team to trade for them or to earn their next contract. Coaches coach to save their jobs and earn future contracts as well. Front offices have the leeway to tank, because they report directly to ownership and therefore can plan the tank, especially with a coach who isn’t part of the long term plan.
But what if Dave Hakstol is different?
Dave Hakstol was personally brought in by Ron Hextall to take over the Flyers bench because his philosophy was far different than Craig Berube. However, despite these huge philosophical shifts in head coaching systems, Dave Hakstol retained the services of the assistant coaches (except goalie coach Jeff Reese who departed during the 14-15 season) and these assistant coaches have been around a while.
Joe Mullen has been a Flyers assistant coach since 2007.
Gord Murphy joined the Flyers bench in 2014 under Craig Berube.
Ian Laperriere has been an assistant coach since 2013, joining the staff when Peter Laviolette was fired and filling the assistant role vacated by the elevation of Berube.
In other words, these guys are not Hakstol’s guys, but a relic of the old guard.
Dave Hakstol has a ready made reason to tank the season, he can cite the assistant coaches incompatibility with his style causing the team to under perform. Removing Mullen, who has survived John Stevens, as well as Laviolette and Berube would be an easy target to remove for an assistant coach who is more in line with Hakstol’s target.
Murphy and Laperriere who were brought in for the same reasons could also be let go, or reassigned to other parts of the organization. Laperriere especially would be easy to reassign.
In this interview with The Hockey Guys, Lappy stated:
” I’ve always been able to relate well with anybody, from 18-year-old kids to 40-year-old veterans. It’s always been one of my strengths, so I’m going to use that with these young guys. I’ll do the best I can to help all our prospects be successful. It’s a challenge for me, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Before going behind the bench, he was the director of player development, and Laperriere could be reassigned to that position, or he could take over the bench of the AHL Phantoms or ECHL Royals next season.
Hextall has always preached patience with prospects, and it’s safe to assume he would be patient with the coach he hired. In fact, part of the patience plan could even be sacrificing the current assistant coaches with some other names in mind for building the entire coaching staff.
The Flyers, for the most part, have the same roster as the 2014 team that made the playoffs and bounced out in round 1 but also picked 7th overall in 2015.
With Auston Matthews, Alex DeBrincat and Jesse Puljujarvi all potential top 5 picks and potential franchise forwards, the Flyers, who are weaker in terms of forward prospects and once again being tight against the cap thanks Holmgren’s mistakes to Lecavalier and MacDonald, getting a franchise player on an ELC that locks them in cheap until after the bad deals expire and the current prospect group gets their first raise would be a huge boon for a Cup window from 2018-2021. Also, a couple franchise forwards in Konecny and one of the prior mentioned guys would take some of the top line pressure off Giroux and Voracek going forward.
If Hakstol is in on a tank, as a coach, it would be very easy for him to sub-optimize a lineup that maximizes the likelihood of losing. Nick Schultz and Brandon Manning could get 23-26 minutes a game, Vinny Lecavalier can find himself as a 2nd line center with Umberger as a wing. It’s not hard to take a bubble roster and misuse it into lottery territory.
The seeds are there, if Hextall and Hakstol are co-planning a tank. Or, maybe the PDO fueled losing streak is clouding my vision.