Kraken fire head coach Dave Hakstol, also part with assistant MacFarland

Columbus Blue Jackets v Seattle Kraken

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - JANUARY 28: Head coach Dave Hakstol of the Seattle Kraken looks on during the third period against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Climate Pledge Arena on January 28, 2024 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)Photo: Steph Chambers / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

The Seattle Kraken will be searching for a new head coach. 

The team fired Dave Hakstol on Monday, closing the book on a chapter that was touched by the emotional and historic Stanley Cup Playoff run last season, and bookended by a pair of disappointing seasons that left the Kraken at the end of this year on the outside of the postseason for two of their first three seasons. 

“These decisions are never easy, but we feel that this is a necessary step to help ensure our team continues to improve and evolve,” said general manager Ron Francis in a team statement.

“Dave is a good coach and a terrific person. We wish him and his family all the best. We will begin our search for the Kraken’s next head coach immediately.”

Paul MacFarland was also let go after three seasons behind the Kraken bench as assistant coach.

Hakstol’s departure comes on the heels of a 34-35-13 season, an 81-point campaign that finished 17 points behind the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. The Kraken, on the brink of losing grip of their season by Thanksgiving, recovered by the middle of winter to rip nine straight wins, tying a franchise record, and recording a signature franchise win when they stymied Vegas, 3-0 on New Year’s Day before a swelling and boisterous T-Mobile Park in the much anticipated Winter Classic. 

However, the wheels came off shortly after the trade deadline, when the Kraken bottomed out to a combined 7-13-2 record after the start of March, which included a glaring 0-4-1 record on an extremely critical five-game homestand which began on trade deadline day. 

Unable to weather the departure of Alex Wennberg, a pending free agent who was traded to the New York Rangers, the Kraken opened the homestand with a whimper, losing 3-0 to the Winnipeg Jets and then suffered arguably the most crushing defeat to their playoff hopes, a 5-4 overtime loss to Vegas on Mar. 12 on home ice. The Kraken entered the third period with a 4-2 lead, time ticking away to knock Vegas’ lead for the final wild card spot down to six points, and a noisy building on their side. 

Vegas roared back with two goals in 7:20 and tied the game on Jonathan Marchessault’s extra attacker one-timer with 17 seconds left, capitalizing on blown defensive coverage before Jack Eichel put the game away at 3:01 of overtime. Vegas earned a three-point swing in a matter of minutes, and a seven point lead on the Kraken by the end of the game. 

Hakstol tinkered with the Kraken lineup desperately seeking a spark, which included breaking up the glue-like line of Eeli Tolvanen, Yanni Gourde, and Bjorkstrand, but managed only a pair of games in a seven-game stretch where they scored more than two goals – both in wins over the Anaheim Ducks, long out of the playoff picture.  

Their lineup was much more fluid this season with a harder rash of injuries than last year, one that saw its only significant loss in Andre Burakovsky for the last half after suffering a torn groin after the All-Star break. But the Kraken suffered destructive losses at the wrong time, including a Jan. 30 pre-All-Star break clunker, 2-0 in San Jose, fresh off their restorative win streak. The start after the break was just sluggish, managing just 19 shots in a 3-2 loss at Philadelphia on Feb. 10 then a 3-1 loss to New Jersey, who have lingered among the league’s worst goaltending rankings in save percentage this season. 

The Kraken, an offensive juggernaut which led the league in goals scored at full strength last season, plummeted to 28th in the league this year. Matty Beniers, last year’s Calder Trophy winner with 24 goals and a league leading 57 points in 80 games this year, slammed into an offensive wall in his sophomore campaign with 15 goals and only 37 points in 77 games. 

Hakstol’s time was not without extremely euphoric moments. With an upgraded lineup in place last season coming out of expansion, he engineered the largest turnaround for a second year team with a 19-win improvement, the team’s first playoff berth in franchise history, a historic upset of the Colorado Avalanche in the first round, and pushing the Dallas Stars to the brink in a seven-game, second round series. 

That earned Hakstol a nominee for the Jack Adams Award for the top coach annually in the league, and a two-year extension that was set to kick in next season. But contract extensions are anything but a guarantee for job security: just ask Don Granato and Lindy Ruff (another Jack Adams nominee last season), both who lost their jobs this season in Buffalo and New Jersey, respectively. 

A path that was laid out to once again contend for the playoffs steered wildly off course this season, leading to change the Kraken are hoping quickly steers the course back on track, with viable candidates on the open market, or nearing availability. 

Heavy hitters such as Gerard Gallant, Todd McLellan, Bruce Boudreau, and Craig Berube left jobs within the last year in New York, Los Angeles, Vancouver and St. Louis, respectively. Rod Brind’Amour, a former teammate of Ron Francis in Carolina, is nearing the end of a three-year contract with the Hurricanes that reportedly offers no guarantee of an extension

Assistant coaches Jay Leach and Dave Lowry have head coach experience, should the Kraken decide to promote internally. Other viable options include promoting Dan Bylsma, a Stanley Cup and another Jack Adams winner from his time in Pittsburgh, now curating Kraken prospects as head coach in the AHL with Coachella Valley. 

The AHL, a fertile coaching ground for a new generation of NHL coaches, has additional options such as Ryan Mougenel (Providence), Todd Nelson (Hershey), Marco Sturm (Ontario), and Karl Taylor (Milwaukee). 

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