It's Time to Give Dave Hakstol Credit - NBC 10 Philadelphia

It's Time to Give Dave Hakstol Credit

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    It's Time to Give Dave Hakstol Credit
    CSNPhilly.com
    It's time to give Dave Hakstol credit

    It wasn't long ago when some fans filled the Wells Fargo Center with chants to fire Dave Hakstol.

    Back on Nov. 28, the displeasure was bubbling amid a confounding 10-game losing streak. The Flyers were wrapping up a 3-1 defeat to the Sharks as the skid apathetically hit nine.

    That's when the boo birds came out in full flock.

    The scene, so ugly, forced Ron Hextall into the Flyers' dressing room postgame to deliver what felt like a state of the union address in front of cameras and recorders. Over the next handful of days, on multiple occasions, the general manager had to defend his head coach's job security, and at times vehemently.

    Oh, how things have changed.

    Since Dec. 4, when the free fall was halted, the Flyers have gone 23-8-3 with 49 points, third most in the NHL behind only the Bruins and Golden Knights. Hakstol's bunch has climbed into playoff position, sitting in third place of the Metropolitan Division and only three games behind the first-place Capitals. 

    When the losing streak was at its worst, the Flyers were in dead last of the eight-team Metro. At the time, things looked troubling.

    But give credit where credit is due. 

    Hakstol deserves plenty of it this season, especially for his constant maneuvering of personnel, which has proved wise time and time again.

    First, it was shifting Claude Giroux from center to left wing during training camp. That was not an easy decision when asking a player as decorated as Giroux, on the verge of turning 30, to make a position change. The result has been a career resurgence for the Flyers' captain. After 58 points (14 goals, 44 assists) and a minus-15 rating in 82 games last season, Giroux has 70 points (20 goals, 50 assists), tied for the NHL's second most, and a plus-15 mark through 60 games this season.

    Not only has the move behooved Giroux, but it has also allowed for Sean Couturier's anticipated breakout. With Hakstol entrusting the 25-year-old to be his first-line center, the do-it-all Couturier is blossoming into the team's most valuable player, already shattering his career highs in goals (29), assists (31) and points (60).

    This was all before the curtain even opened for the 2017-18 season.

    To date, Hakstol's adjustments have only continued throughout the season - and they've worked. 

    Despite topflight production early from his first line of Giroux, Couturier and Jakub Voracek, the Flyers struggled, so the third-year coach broke up the trio in order for more balance within the forwards group.

    The split created room for Travis Konecny to eventually make his way onto the top unit - and so far, so good would be an understatement. The 20-year-old has discovered his first-round potential with 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in as many games since Dec. 28, a stretch in which the Flyers are 16-6-2.

    To squeeze out even more ability, Hakstol has plugged in Konecny on the first 3-on-3 overtime grouping. In their last six games decided in OT, the Flyers are 6-0.

    Meanwhile, Voracek hasn't missed a beat since joining the second line as he leads the league in assists with 55, the defensive pairing of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere has paid dividends, while the team is currently riding a historic stretch of discipline

    And, most recently, the important choice of filling Wayne Simmonds' first-unit power-play role saw immediate results. Hakstol on Tuesday used No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick, who wasted little time rewarding his coach with a man-advantage goal on the team's first chance.

    "Hak, first of all, is a very good coach," Hextall reaffirmed on Nov. 29. "He's as hard a working person as I've ever seen in the game.

    "We're a young team, we have a lot of young kids coming and we're going to get better. We're going to play better than we're currently playing."

    Hextall may be the most prudent general manager in the game.

    He sure wasn't about to overreact 26 games into a season - and you can see why that's not his nature. What Hextall adamantly believed is what has transpired - the Flyers are improving under Hakstol.

    There's no denying that. 

    They were 8-11-7 and scoring 2.69 goals per game with a minus-9 differential (79-70) when the losing streak was at 10. They've been one of hockey's best teams since then with 3.24 goals per game and a plus-20 differential (110-90).

    Look at the broader picture: Through 60 games last season, the Flyers were 28-25-7 with 63 points and a minus-29 goal differential (179-150). This season, at the same juncture, the Flyers are 31-19-10 with 72 points and a plus-11 goal differential (180-169).

    With two new goalies and no Simmonds (upper-body injury) for two to three weeks, Hakstol has bigger decisions ahead, ones he'll have to get right with a postseason berth in the balance.

    But he's already done a lot right - and it's time he gets a little credit for it.