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Flyers counting on Hakstol to get back into playoffs

by Brian Compton continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.

It's a rare occurrence when the Philadelphia Flyers don't qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but that was the case last season. A slow start doomed Philadelphia, which won 33 games and finished 12th in the Eastern Conference.

"I think the whole point of hockey is making playoffs. That's the best time of the year," captain Claude Giroux told the Flyers website. "When you can't be a part of it, obviously [there's] a lot of disappointment and frustration. We're going to learn the hard way, but it's going to help us for the future."

Changes were made after the season, none bigger than at coach. Craig Berube was fired and replaced by Dave Hakstol, who will coach his first NHL game when the Flyers open the season Oct. 8 at the Tampa Bay Lightning. Hakstol, 47, spent the past 11 seasons as coach at the University of North Dakota.

"He has a tireless work ethic," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said of Hakstol. "I think the biggest thing is his knowledge of the game is extremely high-level. I feel very comfortable with where we're at."

Hakstol, the 19th coach in Flyers history, won 289 games with North Dakota and helped develop Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and Washington Capitals forward T.J. Oshie, among others. Under Hakstol's guidance, North Dakota advanced to the NCAA Frozen Four seven times, including last season when it reached the semifinals. Hakstol was named National Collegiate Hockey Conference coach of the year twice and was a finalist for national coach of the year eight times.

Hakstol 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 have experience at this level, so I'm not going to pretend that I do," Hakstol said. "But I do have a great deal of confidence in what we do, in what my philosophies are and that they're going to be successful here. … It's going to take an awful lot of communication. I have to get to know our players and I want them to get to know me.

"I want to have some clear expectations of the way we're going to play the game. We want players that are buying into the philosophy of winning and what that takes. When you break that down, it comes down to doing all the little things day after day, taking care of the details, being disciplined enough to do them day in and day out, and understanding why you're doing them is going to be very important. That's something that I'm confident I can convey to our group."

Hextall said at the time of Hakstol's hiring he could have hired a more glamorous option (Todd McLellan, Dan Bylsma, Peter DeBoer or Mike Babcock, to name a few), but he's confident he won't have to begin another search for quite some time.

"I wasn't going to choose the coach that was the people's choice, the popular choice," Hextall said. "I was going to pick the coach that I felt like for this franchise from today, next year and moving forward was the right coach. And Dave is the right coach for this franchise at this point."

The Flyers were disappointed to miss the playoffs last season, but they were thrilled with the play of right wing Jakub Voracek. He tied for fourth in the NHL in scoring with 81 points (22 goals, 59 assists) in 82 games and signed a multiyear extension on July 30; TSN reported the contract is for eight years and worth $66 million.

Voracek is unquestionably a key component of the Flyers roster, which Hextall tried to improve this offseason with the signing of backup goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who, with starter Steve Mason, gives Philadelphia a formidable one-two punch, and the acquisition of forward Sam Gagner from the Arizona Coyotes.

Considering the Flyers haven't failed to qualify for the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since a five-year hiatus from 1990-94, Voracek is confident Philadelphia will be back in the postseason.

"There's a lot of passion in this organization, from the fans, from the players, from the general manager to coaches," Voracek said. "Every single guy in this organization is not satisfied that we didn't make the playoffs. But I'm not worried about that [this] year because this team and this group is too good of a team not to make it [this] year."


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