The idea that general manager Ron Hextall went off the board and stunned the hockey world Monday by hiring Dave Hakstol to be coach of the Philadelphia Flyers is true only because of how rare it is for teams to go outside of the NHL's insular network of coaches.
Sixteen coaches in the NHL are in at least their second stop in the League, including four who are coaching with their fourth organization. Six of the nine coaches who haven't been coaches elsewhere were at least assistants in the NHL at one point.
The three who weren't are Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche, Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and now Haksol. Roy won the Jack Adams Award last season. Cooper has the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final and was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award last season.
FLYERS HIRE HAKSTOL
Flyers pick veteran college coach
By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
Dave Hakstol, who spent 11 seasons as coach of the University of North Dakota, was hired by the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday. READ MORE ›
Five NHL teams are searching for a coach, but most of the names who come up in rumors and reports are coaches who have been around the proverbial block in the NHL: Todd McLellan, Peter DeBoer, Dan Bylsma and potential free agent Mike Babcock.
Hakstol, who coached the past 11 seasons at the University of North Dakota, is the first coach since Bob Johnson in 1982 to jump directly from college hockey into his first job in the NHL.
"I don't care if your name is Bowman or Keenan or Hitchcock or whatnot, you start at zero," NHL Network and TSN analyst Craig Button said. "Too much gets put into you need an experienced coach. Well, what kind of experience?"
Hakstol's experience is limited to college hockey, but he was one of the best coaches at that level for the past 11 seasons.
North Dakota never missed the NCAA tournament and made the Frozen Four seven times under Hakstol. He was 289-143-43, was named the conference coach of the year twice, and was a finalist for national coach of the year eight times.
Hakstol helped Jonathan Toews, T.J. Oshie, Zach Parise, Brock Nelson, Matt Greene, Drew Stafford, Derek Forbort, Travis Zajac and Flyers forward Chris VandeVelde reach the NHL.
Their success helped put Hakstol in the NHL.
"With how many coaching changes there have been in the last couple of years, and I was actually surprised he hadn't been hired yet," Oshie said. "In my mind I figured it was his decision, and I know how much he loved North Dakota. It's not going to take long for the players to respect what he brings to the table and to want to play for him."
Toews credited his years playing for Hakstol in preparing him to play in the NHL and said Hakstol earned this opportunity.
"I think you'll see him do well," Toews said. "Obviously it was a lot of fun to play for him in North Dakota. It was important years for myself and my career, so it's nice to see him have that success and get recognized and get the opportunity at the highest level."
Hiring Hakstol is the right move and the smart move for the Flyers.
Philadelphia has been fading since it reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2010 and has a history of being one-dimensional in how it wants to play. The Flyers also have been too focused on keeping everything within the family.
Hakstol is the second of six coaches the Flyers have had since 2000 who hadn't previously worked or played for the organization. The other was Peter Laviolette, who is the only coach since 1997 who has taken the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final.
"That really helps to bring in a fresh set of eyes and a way of thinking that isn't married to the Philadelphia Flyers," Button said. "That's incredibly healthy. I think for the Philadelphia Flyers it's really integral for them moving forward. I think this is an important step for them. He'll push in ways that maybe they didn't know."
The fact Hakstol has no NHL experience only matters if you see things in a shortsighted, negative way. What truly matters is his 11 years of coaching experience at a level that requires coaches to develop and play young players while managing roster turnover on a yearly basis.
The NHL, since the salary cap was instituted in 2005-06, has those same challenges.
"When you're looking at the evolution of the game and where it's come, Dave Hakstol has been right on top of it whether it be scouting in the USHL, scouting Midgets, scouting in Canada," Button said. "Just look at the players that Dave has prepared for the NHL. Good players. Impact players. You have to be doing something right when they can come into the NHL and be ready to perform."
Hakstol has done it successfully by utilizing a player-friendly system Oshie said allows players to take risks so they can showcase their skill without losing focus on defending.
North Dakota was eighth in the nation in goals-per game this season (3.29) and 10th in goals-against per game (2.24). Its plus-44 goal differential was fourth in the nation. UND went 29-10-3 and reached the Frozen Four.
"I remember once him telling me I was smart enough to take a couple chances; he thought I was being a little too defensive," Oshie said. "That was a different thing to hear for me for sure, but there is still a very good sound structure underneath that."
NCAA hockey analyst Dave Starman called Hakstol's system pace-based and said the focus is on controlling the center lane of the ice.
"His teams go at the net, shoot for rebounds, make plays, and really emphasize the defense being an active part of the offense," Starman said. "His use of weak side [defensemen] to pinch and extend plays is a huge component to their offensive success, and defensive as well, as they don't retreat and regroup as much as other teams did."
Oshie and Starman might as well have been describing the four teams still playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks, New York Rangers and Lightning all play with pace, control the middle well, activate their defensemen, and let players showcase their skill.
The Flyers want to be like those teams. Hextall said Hakstol can get them there because he's done it for 11 years in college. That he's never done it in the NHL is of little consequence. If Hextall is right, Hakstol will.
"When Jon Cooper got hired by the Tampa Bay Lightning to go coach their farm team people were like, 'Oh, who is this Jon Cooper, why would they hire him?'" Button said. "Well wait a second, do you know anything about Jon Cooper? Do you know what he's done in the USHL? If you're not watching the USHL, you don't know how good of a coach he is.
"Just because you haven't heard of a guy doesn't mean he's a no-name."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl