The Seattle Kraken announced Wednesday they had given coach Dave Hakstol a two-year contract extension that will last through the 2025-26 season. The new deal is a vote of confidence from general manager Ron Francis—also contractually extended earlier this offseason—and Kraken ownership, who watched Hakstol lead a dramatic turnaround for the franchise from its first season to its second.
“It’s the next step for us,” Hakstol said. “Obviously, we’re going to try to work to build the foundation, and we did that a little bit year one and made progress in year two. So for myself and for our staff, we take pride in the opportunity to continue working towards continuing in the right direction. For that, I’m really grateful for that opportunity.”
The Kraken finished their inaugural season in last place in the Pacific Division with a measly 60 points in the standings. Yet, the team never quit on Hakstol during that campaign, even after the NHL Trade Deadline when several veteran players had been jettisoned for draft picks.
Seattle kept that never-say-die attitude in its second season, and the result was a shocking 40-point improvement, a playoff series win over the defending champion Colorado Avalanche, and a seven-game series loss to the Dallas Stars in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the end, the Kraken came up just one goal short of the Western Conference Finals.
“We believe we are heading in the right direction with Dave as our head coach and it was important to show that confidence with this contract extension,” Francis said via a press release Thursday. “Dave and his staff have done a great job of creating a close-knit, team-first mindset in our locker room and their work ethic helps set the tone for our team.”
For his efforts behind the bench, Hakstol was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award but finished third behind Boston’s Jim Montgomery and New Jersey’s Lindy Ruff. The contract extension is a nice consolation prize, though, and a deserved one at that, as Hakstol proved this season that the Kraken got it right by hiring him as their first head coach.
Quieting the naysayers
The naysayers were plentiful as the Kraken sunk to the bottom of the standings in 2021-22, and those same social media pundits calling for Hakstol’s job were again very vocal when Seattle didn’t get out to the hottest start to 2022-23.
Kraken Twitter got downright painful at times early in the team’s second season, when seemingly every Sound Of Hockey tweet after a loss was met with some varietal of “Fire Hakstol.”
But the players persevered under Hakstol, showed they had fully bought into his systems and philosophy, and eventually got onto a couple massive hot streaks that propelled them into the postseason.
What struck us as most impressive about the job Hakstol did last season was the way the Kraken addressed problems on the fly. A great example was the penalty kill, which struggled mightily in the early going, then changed tactics and personnel and became one of the more consistent PK’s in the league for the second half of the season. We detailed those in-season changes here.
As improvements were made, little by little, and as the team started to solidify its position in the playoffs, Hakstol’s naysayers gradually went quiet.
A steady style and comfortability with the players
Whether he heard the critics or not, Hakstol never let it show, even in the worst moments of the inaugural season, when the coach himself had to be wondering about his job security. He took responsibility for losses when he could, rarely called out individual players directly, and was sure to give credit to everyone but himself if the team won.
That’s the thing with Hakstol, though; at least publicly, you almost always know exactly what you’re going to get. There’s no change in his demeanor from one game to the next, even after the biggest wins and the worst losses, and the team is much bigger than its coach.
Meanwhile, behind closed doors, Hakstol and his staff have fostered an environment of open and honest communication and formed close bonds with the players, something Hakstol said “didn’t happen overnight.”
“If you look at the members of our staff, we’ve got great communicators, you’ve got different personalities, different backgrounds,” Hakstol said. “And my true belief is inside of our coaches room, we care about our players and how we can connect with them.”
In true unselfish Hakstol fashion, he also made sure to directly credit associate coach Dave Lowry, assistant coaches Jay Leach and Paul McFarland, and goalie coach Steve Briere for their efforts.
Coming back with a clean slate
Whether the organization can replicate what it did in 2022-23 or even improve upon it remains to be seen. Either way, Hakstol will be the man at the helm of the Kraken ship for the foreseeable future.
In communicating with his returning players this summer, Hakstol says he likes what he’s hearing.
“I really want our guys to have a sense of pride in what they were able to accomplish last year and what we were able to build,” Hakstol said. “And I sense that. I feel that in the conversations with our players. But the other piece that I feel, the part that is really important is our guys are very disappointed in losing game seven in round two.”
Hakstol said he hopes the taste of success and the disappointment that followed will bring the players into training camp with extra motivation to reach the next level in 2023-24. Now, with his two-year extension, the coach can rest assured that Seattle’s ownership and front office believe in him as the right man to guide them there.