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Coach Dave Hakstol fired after Kraken miss NHL playoffs

Dave Hakstol, who led the Seattle Kraken to the NHL playoffs in his second season, was fired Monday after the team finished with 12 fewer wins in 2023-24.  (Tribune News Service)
By Geoff Baker Seattle Times

Seattle Kraken coach Dave Hakstol, who guided the franchise to its first playoff appearance a year ago, won’t get another chance at a second such berth.

The Kraken fired Hakstol, 55, on Monday after a disappointing campaign in which the team missed the playoffs and finished with 12 fewer wins and 19 fewer points than last season. His dismissal comes only 10 months after being a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s Coach of the Year.

After a season-ending road victory against Minnesota on April 18, Hakstol had said: “Now, we have to take a step back and make sure that we do everything that we can to make sure that we’re not in this situation a year from now.”

Those above him in the organization apparently felt a change in coaches was one of those things.

Kraken general manager Ron Francis did not immediately announce a replacement but released a statement:

“I thank Dave for his hard work and dedication to the Kraken franchise. Following our end-of-the-season review, we have decided to make a change at our head coach position. These decisions are never easy, but we feel that this is a necessary step to help ensure our team continues to improve and evolve. Dave is a good coach and a terrific person. We wish him and his family all the best. We will begin our search for the Kraken’s next head coach immediately.”

Assistant coach Paul McFarland also will not return, Francis announced.

The team will conduct a coaching search that could extend beyond the NHL playoffs depending on whether prospective candidates are employed by teams still playing.

Among those to watch: Francis’ ex-teammate and current Carolina Hurricanes bench boss Rod Brind’Amour, who the Kraken had hoped to hire in 2021 shortly before he signed a three-year contract extension. That extension expires after this season, and Brind’Amour is on record as saying negotiations won’t be easy.

Another to watch is Boston Bruins assistant Joe Sacco, a onetime Colorado Avalanche coach who was said to have been among the finalist candidates interviewed for the Kraken post three years ago.

There is no shortage of successful former coaches available, including former St. Louis Blues Stanley Cup winner Craig Berube, Minnesota Wild bench boss Dean Evason, ex-Los Angeles Kings coach Todd McLellan, former New York Rangers coach Gerard Gallant and ex-Pittsburgh Penguins Cup-winning coach Dan Bylsma, who coaches the Kraken’s AHL Coachella Valley affiliate.

Also, Kraken assistant coach Jay Leach, who has done strong work with the team’s defensemen, could get consideration. Leach was reported to have been considered for head-coaching jobs with the Bruins and Rangers the past two offseasons.

The firings of Hakstol and an earlier sacking of Lindy Ruff by the New Jersey Devils marks the first time two Jack Adams finalists have been dismissed the following season. Hakstol and Ruff hail from the same small Alberta farming village of Warburg, population 766.

While the rapid turnabout in Hakstol’s fortunes is somewhat stunning, it should not come as a total surprise. NHL teams more successful than the Kraken in recent seasons – including the playoff-bound Rangers, Oilers, Kings and Islanders – have all fired coaches since the end of last season.

Like the Kraken, they went to the playoffs last spring. Indeed, despite helming the Kraken for only three seasons, Hakstol finished the current campaign as the second-most tenured coach in the entire Western Conference behind Avalanche bench boss Jared Bednar – meaning his team had shown more patience than most with the man behind their bench.

The choice of Hakstol to lead the Kraken had been widely debated by fans, given his lesser-known status relative to available bigger name candidates. Among the finalists he beat out was former Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet, hired last season by the Vancouver Canucks, who made the playoffs his first full bench campaign with them.

Longtime University of North Dakota coach Hakstol spent parts of four seasons coaching the Philadelphia Flyers straight out of the college ranks with only minor professional playing experience.

He got the Flyers to two playoff appearances before doing the same in the Kraken’s second year and winning his first postseason round as a coach by defeating Colorado in Game 7 last spring.

Hakstol’s team came within a victory of advancing to the Western Conference Final in May before losing Game 7 against the Dallas Stars, but struggled from the outset this season in winning just three of their first 10 games and five of the opening 17. It’s notable that Hakstol went through training camp highlighting the need for a strong start, only to have the squad score just three goals in losing its first four games.

After overcoming an eight-game losing streak by winning a franchise-record nine in a row, the Kraken knocked themselves from playoff contention with a second streak of eight consecutive losses. They went the final six weeks of the season without beating a playoff-bound team, going 0-8-1 against Winnipeg, Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Washington and Dallas that span.

In fact, the Kraken won only six of their final 20 games – including three against an Anaheim team with the NHL’s third-worst record, a San Jose squad with the league’s worst mark and another vs. an Arizona club with the sixth-worst record. That late swoon caused the Kraken to tumble to the NHL’s eighth-worst spot, three points up on Ottawa and four ahead of Arizona.

At one point, after losing their eighth in a row March 24 to Montreal in a game that saw them fall behind 4-0 in the first period, Hakstol called out his team for not showing up.

“You play this game with passion,” Hakstol said. “You play it with heart, and you play it for the guy next to you. And we’re not doing that right now. And that’s nuts. That’s more than disappointing. That’s hard to be part of, and that’s something that we’re going to change.”

The Kraken did seem to regroup and play with more focus and energy under difficult, lame-duck circumstances down the stretch. But they never regained the winning mojo that had carried them to victories over Stanley Cup contenders Boston and Winnipeg in February and March.

They also beat the playoff-bound Islanders and Washington Capitals on the road in February and January, while taking down Vegas on Jan. 1 in the outdoor Winter Classic.

Whenever the Kraken began to string victories together and start looking like a playoff team again, they would immediately follow it with a string of defeats. Some of the losses, such as a 2-0 road defeat against a San Jose team with the worst goal differential of the salary-cap era, highlighted their seasonlong struggles to score.

Over their last 20 games, the Kraken scored two goals or fewer 12 times and one goal or fewer 10 times. They scored more than three goals only six times – four of those games against the Sharks and Ducks.

The Kraken could not manage more than a single goal in 26 of their 82 games – all losses. They were also shut out seven times, something that happened only three times last season.