Dave Hakstol was announced as the Seattle Kraken’s first head coach in franchise history on Thursday morning. Hakstol was most recently an assistant coach in Toronto, but he also spent 3+ years as the head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers from 2015 to 2018. While that’s a relatively short time frame as a head coach in the NHL, it does still present us with some data about what style of play we can expect from the Kraken and perhaps even an inkling of how successful we can expect the team to be in its first years of existence.
Note: all stats in here, unless otherwise stated, are during 5-on-5 play
In Hakstol’s three full seasons as head coach in Philadelphia, the Flyers were almost perfectly average in generating shot attempts per 60 minutes, ranking 15th out of 31 teams per Evolving Hockey. However, those shots did not translate to an average offense. Philadelphia ranked 26th in goals per 60 minutes and 22nd in expected goals per 60 minutes, meaning they were not taking very dangerous shots and they were not converting them to goals at a very high rate. The offense was largely defined by shots from the blue line.
Dave Hakstol's three full seasons with Philadelphia had a very marked 5v5 offensive style built around point shots. This can be extremely effective if those point shots lead to repeat chances, which was not the case for Hakstol's Flyers. pic.twitter.com/9qPHZqbZey
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) June 24, 2021
That’s not necessarily a bad choice for an offensive gameplan. Micah McCurdy points out in a follow-up tweet to the one above that the 2021 Tampa Bay Lightning generate offense in a similar manner, to greater success.
Seattle should expect to see plenty of shots from the blue line with traffic in front of the net, looking for deflections and rebounds. According to McCurdy’s hockeyviz.com, the Flyers were quite successful at generating goals on deflected shots. Over Hakstol’s three seasons there, the team scored 16.5 more goals than expected on deflections (108 goals vs 91.5xG), so the offense does show some signs of success.
One more small section of his team’s offense that we can evaluate is what happens when the team is trailing late in a game. One of the most common data-driven findings in hockey gameplay is that coaches have long been too hesitant to pull their goalie near the end of a game when trailing. Goal differential sits at 4th on the list of tie-breaking procedures for a playoff spot and rarely comes up, so the difference in losing by one and losing by two is negligible.
While many coaches are starting to pull their netminders earlier in games, especially when down multiple goals, Hakstol never seemed to join them in his time as head coach.
— Dan (@danmorse_) June 24, 2021
Only the LA Kings waited longer to pull their goalie over Hakstol’s time as head coach of the Flyers. Whether he is willing to change that particularly strategy as he joins one of the most analytically inclined teams in the NHL remains to be seen, but he does at least appear to be open to these ideas.
“There’s two pieces to it. Analytics is a phenomenal tool for us as coaches to evaluate, to discover and to find different avenues to improve our team. The second piece of that is this is still a very human game. On the ice it’s played with emotion and passion, there’s all kinds of pace to it. I think it’s a very important tool and one that will be a part of how we grow and evaluate our hockey team. And again, I’m going to end with just never forget this is a game that’s played on emotion and it’s a human game.”
-Dave Hakstol on analytics in hockey
On defense, the Flyers under Hakstol were consistently above-average. They ranked 9th in goals against per 60 minutes and 13th in expected goals against per 60 minutes over his three-year tenure, ranking as high as 7th in xG/60 by his final full season.
In the plot above, red areas are where the team allowed more shots than average, and blue represent areas where they allowed fewer shots than average. The Flyers all but eliminated shots from the slot area between the circles for their opponents in 2017-18.
Hakstol didn’t get much in the way of a sure-thing starting goaltender until his final year, when Brian Elliott joined the team. There’s a chance the Kraken get a goalie on par with Elliott or better in the expansion draft, which means this team might be very hard to score against in their first few seasons.
Hakstol’s Flyers played a defensively-sound, low-event style of hockey. Perhaps the Pete Carroll comparisons aren’t all that crazy.
One commonality that seems to be found in every mock expansion draft is that there will be plenty of good defensemen available to Seattle. With that in mind, getting a solid defensive coach who likes to drive his offense through his blue line makes a lot of sense. Goal scoring was always going to be hard to come by for this expansion franchise, but that doesn’t mean winning is out the window.