For all the fretting over the Phillies and angst over the Eagles, the future of Philadelphia’s two other teams will take dramatic turns this week.
The Flyers surprised everyone Monday by hiring University of North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol to turn around this torpid franchise. And the Sixers will see if Sam Hinkie’s Tankathon II pays off Tuesday night during the annual Ping-Pong ball party for the NBA’s wretched refuse.
Things land right, and each sad franchise has a chance for immediate relevancy.
Flyers GM Ron Hextall made the gutsy call of hiring Hakstol (yeah, the names are going to be confusing), over superstar free agent Mike Babcock or another retread. This is not your typical Snider-Clarke-Holmgren move, which would have been to find the best-available ex-Flyer to prop behind the bench. Indeed, while one-third of NHL players now trace their roots back to campuses, Hakstal is just the third coach ever to move straight from college to the big-time without prior NHL experience.
I’ve been exhausted by the Flyers long-time practice of shuffling coaches and signing over-the-hill free agents. The result, in recent seasons, is that they became just another crummy, irrelevant NHL team. It hurts to say that, but it has become the reality.
So put me on record as liking this move, even if it’s just to see Hextall exercise the autonomy to change the culture.
On the ice, the underachieving Flyers need to be prodded and Hakstol is known for his intensity. The line that’s used about him is that his angry stare penetrates the back of a player’s helmet. Apparently, he also brings that fury to the refs.
The other key is Hakstol’s ability to develop young talent. More than 20 players graduated from his program to the NHL in the past 11 years, including Jonathan Toews, Zach Parise and T.J. Oshie. More than anything, Hakstol will be charged with bringing along the core of promising defensemen in the Flyers system. That, more than short-term success in the playoffs, will be the measure of his success.
So, here’s hoping Hextall – and Hakstol – can revive a once-proud franchise.
The Sixers are more at the whims of the gods Tuesday night. Winning the lottery lands Karl-Anthony Towns, to my thinking the only franchise changer in the draft. Getting a top three pick garners D’Angelo Russell, a combo guard whom Brett Brown could mold into a team leader.
If that happens (and if someone ties Hinkie to a chair to prevent him from trading down), all of that kicking the can down the road could finally pay off in 2015-16. If not – and there’s a 53 percent chance the Sixers wind up drafting 4th-6th – what’s to prevent Sam from deciding he needs one more year of “optionality” before actually attempting to, you know, actually compete?
We’ll know a hell of a lot more within days. Here’s hoping that Snider opens the bank vault and that luck rains down on the Sixers. Let’s face it, this fan base could use some good news.