Kraken’s Struggles Can Be Attributed to Dave Hakstol

On June 24, 2021, the Seattle Kraken finished their coaching search when they hired Dave Hakstol. Several names were rumored to be frontrunners for the job, including Rick Tocchet, Gerard Gallant (now with the New York Rangers), and Bruce Boudreau (now with the Vancouver Canucks). Hakstol was a surprising choice; his name didn’t come up often before he was hired and given his mediocre results with the Philadelphia Flyers from 2015 to 2018 (two first-round exits and a playoff miss in three seasons).

Close to the season’s halfway point, the Kraken have played poorly, and they rank 29th in the league. Although goaltending has (rightfully) been identified as a major reason for their struggles, the coaching staff might also be part of the problem.

Background on Hakstol

Hakstol was hired away from the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he had been an assistant coach for two years. Toronto hired him to be part of Mike Babcock’s staff, but Babcock was fired just months later, leaving Hakstol to spend almost two full seasons under new head coach Sheldon Keefe. In those two seasons, the Maple Leafs suffered two first-round exits.

Before Toronto, Hakstol coached the Flyers from 2015 to 2018, becoming the first coach since 1982 to jump from the NCAA to the NHL. He spent 11 seasons with the University of North Dakota, where he was very successful, reaching the Frozen Four seven times. He was also a finalist for national coach of the year eight times.

Dave Hakstol, Seattle Kraken
Dave Hakstol, head coach of the Seattle Kraken (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

During Hakstol’s time in Philadelphia, the Flyers posted a 134-101-42 record, and notably, during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, the Flyers became the first team in NHL history to miss the playoffs despite a 10-game winning streak and then make the playoffs the following season despite a 10-game losing streak. Streaky performances were common under Hakstol and eventually led him to be fired after a 12-15-4 start to the 2018-19 season.

Kraken Coaching Blunders

The Kraken have had several issues in their inaugural season, many because of coaching decisions. Going into the season, offense was expected to be the roster’s main concern, but it’s been worse than expected. Seattle is third-to-last in the league in expected goals-for per 60 (xGF/60) per Evolving Hockey, meaning they struggle to generate scoring chances. Much of the Kraken’s offense revolves around point shots, a strategy that leads to very few net-front scoring chances, and point shots are simply not conducive to a successful offense in the NHL.

The second issue is relying too heavily on one goaltender. Philipp Grubauer’s struggles are no secret, as the high-paid starting netminder has been the worst goalie in the league by almost every measure. Last season, he finished third in Vezina Trophy voting with 40 starts, a career-high. This season, he has already started 24 games and is on pace to start almost 60. While Grubauer’s poor play largely falls on himself, Hakstol should not be pushing him so hard, especially with a solid backup in Chris Driedger. 

Related: Kraken Have 3 Good Options for a Right-Shot Defenseman

Finally, Hakstol’s deployment has been curious. The Kraken’s forward lines have been jumbled all season, with players sliding up and down the lineup and versatile skaters like Jared McCann and Morgan Geekie being shuffled between center and wing. Some of the team’s younger, less experienced players, like Kole Lind and Alexander True, have been relegated to fourth-line duty or the press box without a fair shot, a curious choice for a losing team. As an expansion team, the priority should be to develop chemistry. Even now, months into the season, the players have shown little chemistry, and Hakstol has done little to solve this.

To be clear, I am not calling for a coaching change. Even if I thought it was the correct course of action, it’s unrealistic for an expansion team to fire a coach this early. However, serious changes need to be made to improve the team’s play and place in the standings, and that starts with adjustments from their head coach.

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