Dave Hakstol is gone from the Philadelphia Flyers after three-and-a-half seasons.
He was fired Monday as the team continued its first-half tailspin, highlighted by woeful goaltending.
Hakstol will now have some time to let the dust settle before figuring out his next move.
There will be no shortage of opportunities.
Hakstol, a former University of North Dakota captain and longtime head coach, will immediately become one of the top targets -- if not the top target -- for any prominent college coach opening. And he will remain that as long as he’s not an NHL head coach.
His track record of recruiting, developing players and consistently building winning teams has gained him significant respect around the college hockey world and beyond.
The question is: Would Hakstol jump at another college opportunity? And what situation would it take for him to do so?
There’s no doubt it would be strange to see Hakstol, who has a deep passion for the UND program dating back to his arrival on campus in 1989, behind the bench of another program.
He spent two-and-a-half years here as a player and was a captain for all but his rookie season. He was an assistant coach for four years and a head coach for 11. That’s 17-and-a-half years in Grand Forks.
But that’s not to rule anything out.
Dean Blais, at one time, seemed destined to be a UND lifer, only to end up in the NHL and eventually on the visiting bench at Ralph Engelstad Arena as the head coach at Omaha. Blais was at UND for 19 years.
Another shot in the NHL?
There also is a strong possibility that Hakstol remains in pro hockey.
By all accounts, he enjoyed his first crack at an NHL head coaching job.
Will he get another one?
Hakstol was considered a risky hire when the Flyers made him the first college coach to go directly to an NHL head coaching job in roughly 30 years.
Days later, the Toronto Maple Leafs made Mike Babcock the highest-paid coach in NHL history, signing him to an eight-year, $50-million deal.
Hakstol finished with a .560 point percentage, two playoff appearances and zero playoff round wins. Babcock, the blockbuster hire, currently has a .561 point percentage with the Leafs, two playoff appearances and zero playoff round wins. Nearly identical.
Of the other five head coaches who were hired that same offseason, four have a discernibly worse record than Hakstol (Todd McLellan, Edmonton, .507, John Hynes, New Jersey, .505, Jeff Blashill, Detroit, .496, and Dan Bylsma, Buffalo, .485). McLellan and Bylsma have been fired.
The only one with a discernibly better record than Hakstol is San Jose Sharks coach Peter DeBoer (.604). It’s worth noting that DeBoer had a worse record than Hakstol in his first two NHL gigs (.492 with the Florida Panthers and a .542 with New Jersey).
The other thing NHL GMs will take into account is the situation.
Hakstol led the Flyers to the playoffs in two of his three full seasons -- and he did it with some of the NHL’s worst goaltending. During the past three seasons, the only team with a worse team save percentage than the Flyers is the Carolina Hurricanes, according to TSN’s Frank Seravalli. The Hurricanes haven’t made the playoffs since 2009.
The Flyers’ current season has turned into a disaster -- in large part because of goaltending and injuries at the position.
This week, the Flyers will use their sixth different goaltender of the first half of the season. It’s virtually impossible for anyone to win in that situation in the NHL -- or any hockey league for that matter.
Don’t be surprised if more NHL opportunities pop up for Hakstol. With the constant shifting and shuffling of NHL coaches -- evidenced by the fact that Hakstol was the fourth-longest tenured coach in the NHL and the third-longest in Flyers history -- it’s impossible to know what will open up and which place might be the right fit.
Seattle is still two years away from hiring a head coach for its expansion team in 2021, but there are connections there already. Seattle has hired former UND player Dave Tippett to help get the organization off the ground.
In the meantime, the opportunities will come for Hakstol. And both Grand Forks and the entire college hockey world will be watching his every move.