Should the Flyers fire Hakstol and hire Quenneville?

At this point in time, the answer to this question might seem obvious to most Philadelphia Flyers’ fans. However, in an attempt to give head coach Dave Hakstol an objective examination, we’ll take a look at both his successes and losses during his tenure as Philly’s head coach.

Hakstol has been behind the Flyers’ bench since the start of the 2015-16 season. Over that time, he’s won 129 of 261 regular season games, which is tied for 16th across the league with the Florida Panthers and New York Islanders. The Flyers’ four playoff wins over the last four seasons (three postseasons) is tied with the Minnesota Wild for 17th in the league.

Although those numbers aren’t impressive, Hakstol has made some smart decisions along the way. For one, he did make the decision to move Claude Giroux to the wing last season and paired him with Sean Couturier all year. Not only did Giroux finish second in the league with 102 points, but Couturier also set several career highs as well. Hakstol did also pair Shayne Gostisbehere with Ivan Provorov last season to form one of the better defensive pairings in the league. Although it seemed like a fairly obvious move, it was still a gamble to load up one defensive pairing while the other two pairings had question marks.

Aside from those two successes, Hakstol’s lineup and in-game decisions, as well as his system overall, are questionable to most. As Brad Keffer outlined in a piece about Hakstol earlier this season, the coach has an obsession with forwards that show little to no offensive creativity or upside. From the untouchables to Jori Lehtera, Hakstol is persistent in icing these types of forwards. On the defensive side, Andrew MacDonald was a staple in the lineup until recently and Brandon Manning was consistently chosen to play over Travis Sanheim last season. He can’t control goalie’s save percentages or injuries, but riding a goalie until the point of exhaustion probably doesn’t help either of those issues. On top of the lineup struggles, the system of low to high with defensemen taking a good amount of point shots is going on four years and isn’t exactly a success.

To go along with the lineup issues, it seems as though he is often making the wrong in-game moves. Hakstol never utilizes his timeout, even when everybody else in the building can feel the momentum swinging the way of the other team. This was highlighted in Game 3 of the Flyers’ series against the Pittsburgh Penguins this past Spring. Hakstol also either benches dynamic forwards in the middle of games when his team needs an offensive boost (Nolan Patrick and Travis Konecny at times last season) or limits a younger forward in a game where he has lost another forward to injury (Mikhail Vorobyev when Corban Knight went down early in the 6-1 loss to the New York Islanders).

Some of the issues with Hakstol, like turning to veterans rather than the kids or to turtle in the third period of games while having a lead, are going to be issues with many coaches. In addition to that excuse, the excuse of poor goaltending is something else Hakstol could point to as a reason why the team hasn’t reached expectations. As the old saying goes ‘show me a good goalie and I’ll show you a good coach.’ Since the start of the 2015-16 season, the Flyers have a .905 save percentage overall, which is good enough for 27th in the league. Whether that’s impacted by Hakstol’s system or not, it’s difficult to win with that level of goaltending.

Despite the arguments for and against him, Hakstol became the fourth-longest tenured head coach in the league yesterday thanks to the Chicago Blackhawks firing of Joel Quenneville. Since this was his 11th season as Chicago’s bench boss, Quenneville had 10 possible postseasons with the Blackhawks. In those 10 postseasons, he made nine of them, reached the Western Conference Final in five of them, and won three Stanley Cups. His lone postseason miss and two of his early playoff exits came over the last three seasons, after the Hawks’ front office made some questionable moves.

Some of the Blackhawks’ teams over the last decade have had some of the best high-end talent in the league, but that doesn’t always lead to success. If one wanted another way to try and deflate Quenneville’s success, one could also point to Quenneville’s lack of a title in his eight seasons with the St. Louis Blues and three seasons with the Colorado Avalanche. The counterargument would be he put eight of the nine teams he coached for a full season in the playoffs and lost to the eventual Stanley Cup winner in six of those seasons.

Despite the support of former players, the big issue noted about Quenneville’s departure from the Hawks was his uneasiness with Chicago’s general manager Stan Bowman. It’s never ideal for a head coach and his front office to be at odds, but the Hawks’ were still able to win three Stanley Cups in six seasons despite the background issues. The winning made it easier, but evidently the difference in opinions ran pretty deep and once the winning stopped there was no recovering. Is the risk of a potentially toxic relationship between two of the more important figures in the franchise worth the chance of winning? It’s easy to say yes because of Quenneville’s past success, but the Hawks aren’t exactly in a great spot with him gone.

All things considered, you know what you’re getting with Quenneville: a head coach who has had success to varying extents in his three opportunities and has reached the pinnacle when given the right pieces. With Hakstol, the front office and fans are seemingly at odds as to what he can be with plenty of time to establish himself as a successful coach. No, these last few Flyers’ teams aren’t the Blackhawks of the early 2010’s, but shouldn’t they be more competitive than the Panthers or Islanders? Could a coach like Quenneville get more out of this hockey team than Hakstol? If so, should the Flyers fire Hakstol and hire Quenneville before another team scoops him up?

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