Philadelphia Flyers drop to 1-1 thanks to Hakstol roster gaff

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia Flyers fell in game two to the Colorado Avalanche, but it was a move by head coach Dave Hakstol that proved to be most costly.

After storming out of the gate and earning a 5-2 road victory against the defending Western Conference champion Vegas Golden Knights, the Philadelphia Flyers fans had reason to be excited about how their team looked to begin the long season. The hope was that the team could take that strong play into Colorado, earning another road win and coming home 2-0 ready to face San Jose in front of the Philadelphia fans.

Unfortunately, Dave Hakstol had other plans.

When the team took the ice yesterday morning, it was clear there was something different, as second pair defenseman Radko Gudas was not on the ice with the starters. Typically the extra skaters, who stay on the ice after the projected starters have left, usually end up in the press box barring a last minute change. This meant that Hakstol would be swapping in Christian Folin for Gudas.

Inexplicably, Hakstol felt the need to make a defensive change despite the Gudas-Travis Sanhiem pairing grading out as one of the best duos from the first game. This led some to believe that that this was a decision that had been made prior to the road trip, and that perhaps the coach was just looking to play both defensemen in order to see how two bottom six guys performed to start the season.

And while I understand this line of thinking to a certain extent, the move proved to be ill-timed and rather costly.

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Folin had a nightmare of a game, getting scored on in his first shift and icing the puck at several inopportune moments. He’s just not a very good player, and he showed that perfectly last night. There is a reason why Ron Hextall signed him as a seventh defenseman. The problem here is Hakstol, and it’s hardly a new issue.

Hakstol’s player evaluation and roster decisions have come under fire numerous times since his hiring, most notably in his usage of players like Andrew MacDonald, Brandon Manning, and Valtteri Filppula last season, and his treatment of players like Shayne Gostisbhere and Travis Konecny during their first seasons.

Last year, on the team’s opening west coast road trip, Hakstol started  Manning in the first game over Sanheim, a move that was questioned by fans and writers alike. This move would be extrapolated across the entire season, with Manning playing more than two-thirds of the season, despite Sanheim being the more talented and higher upside player.

The former University of North Dakota head coach just continues to get in the way of his team. And while the move to sit Gudas was not the sole reason for the Flyers loss to Colorado, it did not help matters. Sure, the defense was a liability all night and the forwards also struggled to contain the speed of the Avalanche players, namely Nathan Mackinnon, but the fact that Folin struggled so obviously and was responsible for the first goal has to be an indictment on Hakstol. That mistake falls squarely at his feet.

If Hakstol wanted to get a look at Folin, hopefully, he got a good enough look last night that he won’t feel compelled to play him again anytime soon. Folin is not a player that can be trusted for on the ice every night, and it’s even fair to wonder if he can handle the occasional spot start.

Hopefully, Hakstol realizes that his defensive corps with Gudas on the ice is far better than with Folin. If any of the top six defenders for Philadelphia get hurt, it does not bode well that Folin will be the guy forced to step in.

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But in terms of roster decisions moving forward, the Philadelphia Flyers need their head coach to stop taking notes from Gabe Kapler and just roll out his most optimal lineup, something that Hakstol has not shown a penchant for in the past. It remains to be seen what the roster will look like on Tuesday for the home opener, but it’s fair to wonder what kind of head-scratching roster move Hakstol might be cooking up in the few days leading up to the game.