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Expansion Seattle Kraken hire Dave Hakstol as first coach

Seattle — The Seattle Kraken hired Dave Hakstol on Thursday as head coach of the expansion franchise that will begin play this fall. 

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 hiring was a surprise move by Seattle general manager Ron 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.

“On our end we just had the conversations, we talked about things and I think a lot of that credit goes to Dave,” Francis said. “He just didn’t talk about it to anybody and when you don’t do that it doesn’t get out there.”

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 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.

“I am honored to be joining this tremendous group,” Hakstol said. "When I first saw the arena, I was blown away. It is such a unique venue. I am looking forward to being a part of the group that builds a team that plays with pride, passion and selflessness for the city of Seattle.”

The expectations for the Kraken are success from the start and the team will join the Pacific Division with the Arizona Coyotes shifting to the Central.

Hakstol's task will be significant, trying 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 since its inception.

“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 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 the 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.

— Associated Press

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