Let’s get this out of the way: Being a professional head coach is one of the highest-pressure positions in the world.
Every move made is placed under a microscope and every call shall be questioned. That only intensifies when things aren’t going right, and for the Flyers and second-year man Dave Hakstol, that was exactly what happened this season.
It’s tough to gauge exactly what goes on behind closed doors, even for beat writers who follow the team year after year, yet a glimpse of that was put on display during the team’s exit interviews last week. What was said was pretty concerning.
Shayne Gostisbehere jumped onto the scene as a rookie in the 2015-16 campaign, showcasing his offensive prowess as a defenseman and jumpstarting the Flyers’ otherwise lackluster offense from the blue line. His play can be viewed as reckless, but that same recklessness is why he can give the opposition fits with his weaving and contorting through the neutral zone.
Except his head coach took offense to that playing style this past season, opting to tag Gostisbehere with the healthy scratch designation multiple times. At the time, the second-year defenseman said all the right things, but perhaps that wasn’t exactly how he felt.
“I’m going to make plays and I don’t care if I get yelled at but I’m going to play my game and make my plays,” Gostisbehere said at his exit interview. “People can look at is as risky but most of the time it works out for me.”
In other words, Ghost doesn’t care what the punishment may be from Hakstol because that’s who he is, and the risk that some “people” see in it is oftentimes outweighed by its positive impact. It was a not-so-subtle jab at Hakstol, showing that there may truly be small divide between coach and player.
A similar discussion happened when both goalies, Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth, took the podium and essentially dismissed how the team (Hakstol) handled the netminders.
When asked his thoughts on the situation, Neuvirth said, “We’re sitting here and we didn’t make the playoffs. That’s all I have to say.”
Mason, who enters the offseason without a contract, let his displeasure about the two-goalie system be known.
“I think every single team needs to have a defined starter and a backup goalie, and just having that clarity would have simplified a lot of things,” Mason said. “At the end of the season there was that clarity and the result showed for it.”
He’s right. Down the stretch, when the Flyers began to find their rhythm a little too late to make a serious push, Neuvirth appeared in just four of the final 21 games. It’s probably not a coincidence then that Mason went 10-4-2 in his final 16 starts.
There were other players who may not have offered their true feelings towards Hakstol at their exit interviews, like Michael Del Zotto or Travis Konecny — both of whom dealt with their share of scratches — but the ones who did gave us our deepest look at how Hakstol is viewed in the locker room.
Another season like last and Hakstol may find more criticism coming his way.