The Toronto Maple Leafs have rounded out their coaching staff with the hiring of Dave Hakstol as an assistant coach.

With Paul McFarland presumably running the power play as the replacement for Jim Hiller, Hakstol will likely take over the penalty kill and defense pair duties from the departed DJ Smith.

This is a decision that will leave some scratching their heads based on Hakstol’s track record with the Flyers, although there is a substantial difference between running a bench as the HC and complementing Mike Babcock in an assistant’s role. Hakstol was a highly successful college coach in North Dakota who made the jump straight from college into the HC role and at times seemed overwhelmed by the job in Philadelphia. A hiring that raised some eyebrows at the time, it likely had something to do with the fact that then-GM Ron Hextall was a fan from when Hakstol coached Hextall’s son, Brett, at UND.

Hakstol’s Flyers made the playoffs and lost out in the first round twice, missed the playoffs once in between times, and were off to a 12-15-0 start before he got the axe just before Christmas this past season.

Despite having a reasonably talented roster, Hakstol never managed to maximize his group in Philly, was at the heart of some very curious/questionable lineup and tactical decisions (*cough* Andrew MacDonald on the top pair *cough*), and seemed perplexed at times on the bench and in post-game interviews. The special teams were mostly mediocre or worse — their PK was sub-80% in all but his first season there, including a brutal 75.8% in his last full season in 2017-18 followed by a 73.5% start to 2018-19 (30th in the NHL) before he was fired. 

If there is a mitigating factor with the team’s PK and defensive results — and it’s a significant one — it’s that the Flyers lacked NHL-calibre goaltending almost the entire time he was head coach and only really received competent goaltending at the end of the year this past season with the emergence of a young star in Carter Hart. The “show me a good coach and I’ll show you a good goalie” adage might be the case in reverse here, although there wasn’t a ton that screamed that Hakstol was a particularly good coach felled by bad goaltending, as Broad Street Hockey outlines here:

Hakstol seemed to struggle with a few other key components to being a head coach (handling certain younger players, overvaluing replacement-level players, failure with in-game adjustments), which ultimately cost him his job .

It’s worth noting the Flyers’ underlying 5v5 defensive rates were actually pretty solid before Hakstol got fired:

As much as he was criticized at times for his handling of young players, managing of the goaltending, the team’s defensive results, and his communication skills in Philly, for nearly 15 years Hakstol did preside over a successful college program that produced 20 NHL players, including Jonathan Toews, Travis Zajac, Matt Greene, Drew Stafford, and T.J. Oshie. The challenges of managing NHL talent and egos without so much as a professional game of coaching experience under his belt may have been a lot to ask in his first go-around, but he’ll take four years of NHL experience into an assistant’s role that should ask a lot less of him with a shot caller like Mike Babcock in charge.