For the time being, Dave Hakstol’s job is safe.
Speaking at a press conference to discuss the firing of Ron Hextall on Tuesday, Flyers president Paul Holmgren said that discussions about firing Hakstol “never came up” between he and the recently relieved GM before adding that a decision on the future of Philadelphia’s bench boss wasn’t his to make.
“The way I look at it, we had 98 points last year, we were a playoff team, we got beat in a good series against Pittsburgh in six games,” Holmgren told reporters. “We thought the next step was to get better. We’re a quarter of the way into the season, where we are this quarter as opposed to the last five quarters under Ron’s term were kind of the same. I think right now, that’s a question for the next general manager, to evaluate where we’re at on the coaching end.”
Holmgren went on to add that, given injuries and other circumstances, he felt the coaching staff has done a “decent job.” And while that could be considered a vote of confidence, that Holmgren is leaving the decision up to whoever comes aboard next might not be the best news for Hakstol, who could fall victim to a GM wanting their own guy behind the bench, so to speak.
Few would bristle at the suggestion that Hakstol could soon follow Hextall out the door in Philadelphia, either. Some were shocked, in fact, that it was Hextall, not Hakstol, that wound up out of a gig after the Flyers were trounced 6-0 at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs over the weekend. Since taking over in Philadelphia, Hakstol has had his successes and boasts a 132-97-40 record over three-plus seasons in with the organization, but the Flyers have also failed to advance beyond the first round of the post-season in the two playoff entries to which the coach has guided the team.
Most likely to seal Hakstol’s fate, though, is the team’s current performance. One game below .500 more than a quarter way through the campaign, Philadelphia is five points outside of a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, dead-last in the Metropolitan Division and the only conference opponent with a record worse than the Flyers’ is the lowly Ottawa Senators. Philadelphia also has the conference’s second-worst goal differential, too, with the Senators again being the only team sparing the Flyers from last place.
At what point a decision is made about the coaching staff is to be seen, of course. Holmgren said that the hope is that the process of finding and naming a GM, which has already begun, won’t take more than a few weeks. A list of candidates has already cropped up, including those such as Chuck Fletcher, Ron Francis and former Flyer Chris Pronger. And given the recent firings — Joel Quenneville and Todd McLellan, in particular — one has to wonder if Philadelphia might pursue a proven, veteran bench boss to replace Hakstol in the not-too-distant future in hopes that this won’t become a lost season.
Don’t go thinking Hakstol is the only bench boss on the hot seat, though. Here are four others who could also be at risk of losing their jobs before the campaign closes:
Bob Boughner, Florida Panthers
The Panthers were considered a legitimate playoff contender ahead of the campaign. They have a roster filled with young, offensively gifted talents such as Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and (the now-injured) Vincent Trocheck. Mike Hoffman was added in the summer to bring even more top-tier scoring punch, adding to a prime-aged stable that included Evgenii Dadonov. Florida also has a serviceable blueline, led by Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad, not to mention a 1A and 1B goaltending tandem of Roberto Luongo and James Reimer that should be good enough to get the job done.
And that’s what makes Florida’s 9-9-4 record so vastly underwhelming.
Admittedly, there’s only so much blame that can be put on Boughner’s shoulders. He can’t take all the heat for a team that has been hamstrung by near league-worst goaltending. Eventually, it has to be up to Reimer or backup Michael Hutchinson to step up, particularly with Luongo on the shelf once again. But given the promise this team has and the options available on the free agent coaching market, one has to wonder if Boughner survives the entire season if the Cats aren’t in a post-season position by season’s end.
Randy Carlyle, Anaheim Ducks
Back-to-back 100 point seasons meant Carlyle was off the radar entering this season, and if we were to base this purely on record, chances are Carlyle wouldn’t really be on the hot seat. The Ducks are right at the break-even mark — a perfect .500 — with a record of 10-10-5 through 25 contests this season. Since winning their first three games of the season, though Anaheim is 7-10-5 with losing streaks of seven and three games indicating that there’s some issues the Ducks need to work out.
One concern has to be the run of play under Carlyle. Anaheim entered this season with the league’s 11th-worst possession rate (49.1 percent) at 5-on-5 over the past two campaigns, but the Ducks have seen that rate dip significantly into worrisome territory this season. For instance, Anaheim has a possession rate (44.3) only marginally better than that of last-place candidate Ottawa (43.5), though the Ducks shots percentage (43.1) is the league’s worst, to go along with the worst 5-on-5 scoring and high-danger scoring chances.
Underlying numbers aren’t everything, but they can be indicative of shortcomings in a team’s play. The Ducks shortcoming is that, particularly this season, they’ve been out-played, out-shot and out-chanced with a frightening frequency this season.
Jeff Blashill, Detroit Red Wings
Blashill falls into that rare category of coaches who could end up on the outs not by firing, but by circumstance. That’s to say that Blashill might end up being done in Detroit simply by virtue of his contract running out. Per CapFriendly, who have compiled a handy coaching contract resource to the best of their ability, Blashill is in the final season of his deal with the Red Wings. We’ve seen this happen before, too. Barry Trotz just left the Washington Capitals after winning the Stanley Cup because he couldn’t come to terms on an extension. Lindy Ruff previously saw his time end in Dallas when his contract with the Stars came to a close. So, there’s precedent for Blashill’s time to end in Detroit without him ever being given his walking papers.
Now, is that what’s going to happen? Maybe. Maybe not. But the Red Wings would certainly have a clear-cut case for trying a different voice — that can be taken in a literal, auditory sense, too, given Blashill and predecessor Mike Babcock sound eerily similar — given the franchise’s three-plus seasons spent struggling under Blashill. If the season continues as it has, it will mark a third consecutive season spent outside the playoffs, and though this season has been slightly better than the last from a points perspective, one bad stretch could see Detroit end this campaign with its lowest point total in the 82-game era.
Bruce Boudreau, Minnesota Wild
This will no doubt raise some eyebrows, but hear out the reasoning. Yes, as the Wild prepare for action Tuesday, they sit second in the Central Division with the second-best point total in the Western Conference and the sixth-most points of any team in the league. And yes, Boudreau’s record in Minnesota should be enough to keep him off the hot seat, too, right? After all, he’s 187-108-58 across the past three seasons. The Wild have earned points in 65 percent of their contests since Boudreau took over behind the bench in 2016-17.
But what puts Boudreau closer to the unemployment line than some other successful bench bosses is that the Wild are seemingly growing impatient with their overall lack of post-season success. Under Boudreau, Minnesota has been one-and-done in back-to-back playoffs with consecutive five-game series defeats at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues. The Wild’s lack of success saw longtime GM Chuck Fletcher canned and replaced by Paul Fenton, and the new team architect might have his sights set on changing things up behind the bench if another early playoff exit befalls this veteran Wild squad.
That’s to say that Boudreau’s regular reason record may not matter one iota. If Minnesota gets to the post-season and falls far too short once again, he might be moving on despite having a year remaining on his contract.