Seattle Kraken, Dave Hakstol

Kraken’s Dave Hakstol Hits 500; Who Is This Guy Really?

Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol reached his 500th career NHL game on Thursday night as Seattle defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-0.

It ran his overall record to 233-200-and-67. That represents three-plus seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers and two-and-two-thirds more with the Kraken.

His first game as an NHL head man took place on October 8th, 2015 and resulted in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Lightning in Tampa.

“There’s no specific memory that stands out,” Hakstol said when asked Thursday morning about his first NHL game. “It’s a moment in time for sure, one that for myself and my family was obviously a special night, but in terms of one specific moment from that night I don’t have one for you. I know where it was, I know what the result was, and 499 games later, the most important game is tonight.”

In Hakstol’s second ever game his team got trounced two nights later 7-1 by the Florida Panthers, likely bringing about comments in Philly like “who the hell is this guy” or “this is what we get for hiring a college coach”, only to bounce back and win the next two matches by shut-out.

His first ever NHL win came at home against those same Panthers on October 12th, 1-0.

City of Brotherly Love

Hakstol’s performance in Philadelphia is actually underrated. His first season saw a solid win percentage of .585 (41-27-and-14) and a 1st-round 2016 playoff loss in six games to the nearing-Stanley-Cup-calibre Washington Capitals.

Season two saw him miss the playoffs with a club whose D-corps was very young, in the case of 19-year-old Ivan Provorov, or very banged up, as was the case with four of his veterans.

In his third season the Flyers ended up with a slight improvement over season one. Unfortunately for Hakstol his club got bounced in the first round again, again in six games, this time to the cross-Commonwealth rival Pittsburgh Penguins, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions.

Eight months later the coach got burned by what is described as a tradition in the NHL; “the new GM wants his own guy in there.”

Hakstol had worked his three seasons for Ron Hextall. When Hextall was fired and replaced by Chuck Fletcher on December 3rd, the head coach lasted exactly six more games, his tenure ending with a four-game losing streak. That put his record for the 2018-’19 season three games below .500.

That season Hakstol had to deal with the arrival of 20-year-old goalie “phenom” Carter Hart, who some would refer to as a “legend in his own mind”, and with the sophomore slump, one that would practically become permanent due to health issues, of 2017 2nd-overall pick Nolan Patrick.

Philly ended up going through eight goaltenders that season.

“That was my first stop in the National Hockey League, so obviously, there’s a lot of growth and things that I take away from my time there,” Hakstol said Thursday. “Number one, I really enjoyed it. The organization was outstanding and the people that I had the chance to work with both from a staff side, as well as the player side, were tremendous.”

He also enjoyed making $2-million a year, the surest sign you’ve reached the big show.

To The Emerald City

After two seasons as an assistant coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Hak’ signed on to guide the Kraken.

In Seattle, Hakstol will continue to earn more than he did in Philly through the 2025-’26 season as part of a contract extension signed at the end of last spring’s playoffs.

After the inaugural season in Seattle was a bust, par for the course in most expansion situations, season two was just the opposite, with a 14-game trip to the playoffs. The Kraken finished one goal shy of the Western Conference Final.

“Hak’ is an incredible guy, a great person, and a great coach,” Kraken forward Brandon Tanev said on a national podcast this January. “When you’re conversing on a day-to-day basis away from the rink, it’s easy flowing, but when you get to the game, it’s important for us to be in the moment. He does a great job of levelling us out, and getting us ready to play.”

No coach is perfect, and while we could nitpick a few things here and there, the potential failure of Seattle not making the playoffs this season is more on management than it is on the Kraken coaching staff. The bench bosses arguably have the same or less to work with in terms of talent on the ice.

Things that peaked last season, like bottom-six scoring and a ridiculously high team shooting percentage, haven’t been duplicated.

On top of that, many of the Kraken’s best players haven’t been at their best, which often comes with a psychological underpinning; knowing the club you have can only go so far.

Although Hakstol might suffer from a non-playoff setback — again, that’s if the team doesn’t miraculously rally and make it — he’s still in a pretty safe space. He and Kraken general manager Ron Francis operate in a somewhat novice market where there’s almost no pressure from the fan base or the media. There’s very little critical analysis.

That’s not to suggest the Kraken honeymoon is eternal, because the ultimate judge and jury is team ownership and the flow or non-flow of dollars and cents. If this season ends poorly and next season looks the same, the talk will inevitably begin. Not winning doesn’t put fannies in the seats.

In the short term, Hakstol will have his boys ready to play, like he did in Sioux City of the USHL, North Dakota in the NCAA, and in his previous NHL stops.

“From my first stop in Sioux City, through every place that I’ve had an opportunity to work, I’ve learned from great people and learned from working with great people,” Hakstol said. “Whether I’ve been an assistant coach or a head coach, in every scenario, that’s one of the things that really stands out for me. This is a competitive business and we’re judged by wins and losses, but in behind the scenes, I believe we’re judged by things much greater.”

Earlier Kraken:

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Rob Simpson

Rob Simpson has covered the NHL in five different decades. He’s authored 4 books on hockey and is a veteran TV and radio play-by-play man and reporter.
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