One week ago, the Kraken hired Dave Hakstol as their first ever head coach. The decision to bring Hakstol aboard was the culmination of a long and thorough coaching search, which Kraken general manager Ron Francis confirmed dated back over a year.
The hire came not a moment too soon, as the Kraken’s expansion draft is now only three weeks away. Francis said many times that he wanted to have a head coach in place before the expansion draft. Of course, that raises the question of just how much of a role Hakstol will play in determining Seattle’s selections. Hakstol indirectly answered that question when he was asked what type of roster he would prefer to coach in the Kraken’s inaugural season. “I’m gonna be a part of all of the conversations,” said Hakstol, confirming that he will have some level of involvement in the expansion draft. What exactly that involvement will look like probably won’t ever be known by those outside the Kraken’s front office.
That said, we can look to recent history for an example of coach involvement in an expansion draft. in 2017, the Vegas Golden Knights made a side deal with the Florida Panthers, acquiring wingers Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith. There were questions surrounding both players at the time. Marchessault was coming off of a breakout season but there was uncertainty about whether the undrafted winger could continue that level of production. Smith, on the other hand, had a disappointing year and no longer looked worth his $5 million cap hit. The Panthers judged that it would be best to move on from both players. The Golden Knights’ newly-hired coach, Gerard Gallant, had coached Marchessault and Smith with the Panthers and had a good read on what they brought to the table. Led by a coach confident in his ability to get the best out of them, both players went on to have career years for Vegas and become fixtures in their top-6.
As with Gallant, any advice Hakstol would provide would likely come from his experience as a coach. In his time as head coach at the University of North Dakota, Hakstol coached numerous future NHLers in their formative hockey years. With the Philadelphia Flyers, he coached players at the NHL level, many of whom are still in the league. Hakstol would be able to provide an in-depth report on those players’ on-ice abilities and character to the Kraken front office.
There are 43 current NHL players who played for Hakstol during his tenure as a head coach with the University of North Dakota (14) or the Philadelphia Flyers (29). Those players fall into a few different categories, which we’ll dive further into to help determine where Hakstol’s input might have the most leverage.
Of the 43 aforementioned players, we’re projecting 14 to be protected by their respective teams in the expansion draft. While Hakstol would be able to provide some input on these players, it’s unlikely they’d be available in the expansion draft, barring a trade.
Moving on to the players Hakstol coached who are under contract for next season and projected to be exposed in the expansion draft. These are the players the Kraken will need to fully evaluate and decide whether they’re worth selecting. There are 10 total players in this category, nine of whom Hakstol coached in Philadelphia. Let’s examine the likelihood of some of these players being selected by the Kraken.
Wayne Simmonds, Toronto Maple Leafs: Hakstol coached Simmonds for four years in Philadelphia and last year in Toronto, so he should have a high degree of familiarity with him. That said, Simmonds just signed a two-year extension in Toronto and appears unlikely to be the Kraken’s pick from the Leafs.
Radko Gudas, Florida Panthers: Gudas is the current pick from the Panthers in our Projected Seattle Kraken Roster, so it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that he ends up in Seattle. Like Simmonds, Gudas was on the Flyers for the entirety of Hakstol’s tenure with the team. Gudas is known for bringing a lot of intangibles to the game that coaches tend to love. Hakstol will have as good of a read on that as anyone.
Rocco Grimaldi & Nick Cousins, Nashville Predators: The Kraken will have plenty of forwards to choose from with their pick from the Predators. Options could even include Ryan Johansen or Matt Duchene. But if the Kraken want to steer away from the big salaries, Grimaldi or Cousins could make sense. Grimaldi might have extra appeal, being the only player in this category Hakstol coached at UND. Grimaldi posted his second consecutive 10-goal season this year and led Hakstol’s 2013-14 UND team in goals, assists, and points. Hakstol likely knows how to get the most out of the 5’6″ winger.
Anthony Stolarz, Anaheim Ducks: Stolarz only played 16 games for Hakstol’s Flyers, posting a 4-4-3 record. Despite having only 34 NHL games played, Stolarz appears to be in line for the Ducks’ backup job next season – unless the Kraken take a chance on him in the expansion draft.
Flyers Expansion Draft Pick
The area where I would expect Hakstol to have the most input in the expansion draft is the Kraken’s pick from Philadelphia. The Flyers look to have many attractive options available, making their pick one of the most important the Kraken will make. Since Hakstol coached the Flyers as recently as 2018, many of the players he coached are still on the team. Here’s our projected Flyers protection list. Players highlighted in green were coached by Hakstol.
The most likely expansion draft options from the Flyers include Nicolas Aubé-Kubel, James van Riemsdyk, Jakub Voracek, and Shayne Gostisbehere. Hakstol coached all of them in Philadelphia and should be able to give Ron Francis and the rest of the front office valuable insight that could make the difference in the Kraken’s final decision.
Seattle will have to choose which route it wants to take with its pick from the Flyers: an upward-trending player or a reclamation project. Van Riemsdyk and Aubé-Kubel are both coming off impressive seasons and would seem like the most intuitive picks. However, Hakstol’s experience with Voracek and Gostisbehere might steer the Kraken toward a higher-risk, higher-reward selection. Hakstol got an 85-point season out of Voracek and coached Gostisbehere in two seasons where he received votes for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman. Both players have experienced heavy declines in production since Hakstol left the Flyers and figure to be exposed due to their expensive contacts. But if Hakstol can help them return to their former selves, drafting them could be a bargain for the Kraken. Of course, that’s easier said than done.
The remaining 19 active players Hakstol coached are pending unrestricted free agents, or UFAs. That means they’ll be free to sign with any team once the free agent signing period begins on July 28th. While it wouldn’t make sense for the Kraken to select any of these players in the expansion draft, they could add someone from this list as a free agent. Looking through these players, a few names stand out as possibilities.
Carter Rowney: Rowney is a depth winger who played only 19 games for the Ducks this season. But he stands out because of connections within the Kraken front office. In addition to playing for Hakstol for four years with UND, Rowney was a successful free agent signing for the Anaheim Ducks when the Kraken’s current Director of Pro Scouting, Dave Baseggio, was working there.
Travis Zajac: Of all 43 active players Hakstol coached, Zajac was the first. Zajac’s first season at UND was also Hakstol’s first as head coach. The 36-year-old Zajac went on to have a productive NHL career with the Devils and was a part of the Islanders’ run to the Stanley Cup Semifinal this season. He could be brought in as veteran leadership for a young Kraken roster.
Petr Mrazek: Mrazek played one disappointing season for Hakstol’s Flyers, but it turned out to be a blip on an otherwise solid NHL résumé. Although injury history is a concern, Mrazek could be a smart acquisition as half of a goalie tandem.
Maple Leafs Expansion Draft Pick
One final area of intel Hakstol could provide is his two years of experience as an assistant coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs. In his time with Toronto, Hakstol was in charge of the Leafs’ defense and penalty kill. Two of the most probable expansion draft picks from the Maple Leafs are Travis Dermott and Alexander Kerfoot. Since Dermott is a defenseman and Kerfoot was a penalty killer for Toronto last season, Hakstol should have a good read on both players.
After examining the type of advice Hakstol could give the Kraken’s front office, it’s clear that his input will be targeted at specific players. Hakstol having that type of role makes sense given the timing of the hire. When hiring a coach so late in the process, it would be unwise to leave so much planning of overall strategy until the final month before the expansion draft. Chances are Ron Francis already has a general template for the team and would like to stick to it. That said, Hakstol does figure to be involved in conversations around players and could have one of the most powerful voices in certain areas, like the pick from the Flyers. As the offseason gets underway, keep an eye on all the players listed here. If the Kraken acquire one of them in the coming months, Hakstol’s fingerprints could be all over the move.