Seattle Kraken hire Dave Hakstol as first coach
Through all the speculation, rumors, leaks and educated guesses that came with the search for the Seattle Kraken's first coach, the name Dave Hakstol never surfaced.
More prominent names with lofty resumes or connections certainly emerged, some widely seen as likely to land the gig. Hakstol's name didn't come up until he was announced as the Kraken's leader Thursday.
“On our end we just had the conversations, we talked about things and I think a lot of that credit goes to Dave,” general manager Ron Francis said. “He just didn’t talk about it to anybody and when you don’t do that it doesn’t get out there.”
Hakstol is now charged with leading the expansion franchise through its first season this fall.
His hiring was a surprise move by Francis, completing a process that started with an initial interview in the summer of 2020. Francis said there were eight candidates who had formal interviews but Hakstol's name never seemed to be mentioned as a candidate.
“I view it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of something that we have an opportunity to build from the ground up," Hakstol said. “Communication is going to be very, very important, not only over the next few weeks of building the roster but from there its planning on how everything fits together.”
Seattle will be Hakstol’s second head coaching job in the NHL. He coached the Philadelphia Flyers for three-plus seasons from 2015-19 and spent the past two years as a Toronto Maple Leafs assistant.
The 52-year-old Hakstol coached the Flyers to two playoff appearances but both ended with first-round losses and he was fired midway through his fourth season. He also coached at the University of North Dakota for 11 years and was an off-the-board hire six years ago for then-Philadelphia general manager Ron Hextall, just as he is for Francis this time.
Francis is banking on the belief Hakstol learned from his missteps in Philadelphia and, like many NHL coaches, will be more successful given a second chance.
“I wouldn’t have the career I did unless I got that one call for my second job, and that was Lou Lamoriello. I didn’t have four or five calls, I had one. It was from Lou and we went to a Stanley Cup Final,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said prior to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup semifinals Thursday. “I wouldn’t have the NHL path that I’ve been on without that one call. I was significantly better. I was appreciative of the second opportunity. I think I did my part to help that franchise be successful from then on.”
The expectations for the Kraken are high.
Hakstol's task will be to try to equal the success of the league's last expansion franchise, however unrealistic it might be for the Kraken to match the Golden Knights. Vegas reached the Stanley Cup Final in its inaugural season and has made the playoffs in all four years in existence.
“It’s really about building with good quality people to begin with, building it the right way,” Hakstol said. “Making sure that we’re building not only a team that can come out of the gate and play with a lot of pride, passion and have success, but also work towards building the depth of the organization for not only that early success, but to have that sustainable success.”
The hiring fit Francis' original timeline, which had Seattle’s coaching search settled before the end of June, well before the July 21 expansion draft and July 23 NHL draft, where the Kraken will have the No. 2 overall selection.
Hakstol got the job over former Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet and others who interviewed multiple times. Francis, Hakstol and Seattle assistant GM Jason Botterill were together with Canada's team at the 2019 world championship.
“We got to spend four weeks together over in Austria and Slovakia, and I got to know him as a person and kind of watch his work ethic and how he operated and sort of building that respect for what he can do,” Francis said.
While Hakstol ended up with the job, he may not have been the initial favorite.
Gerard Gallant seemed the obvious option for Seattle due to his experience leading Vegas through its record-setting first season, which ended with a loss to Washington in the final. Gallant opted for a chance with the New York Rangers over potentially taking on the challenges of another first-year franchise.
The Kraken are expected to begin training camp in September with the season likely to begin in mid-October. They will play in the Pacific Division, with the Coyotes shifting to the Central.
AP hockey writer John Wawrow in Montreal and AP hockey writer Stephen Whyno in Washington contributed.