Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis: 'Really sad day' in making decision to fire head coach Dave Hakstol

Seattle Kraken general manager Ron Francis speaks with reporters on April 29, 2024 at the Kraken Community Iceplex in Seattle, Wash. about his decision to relieve head coach Dave Hakstol of his duties after three season on the bench. (Bill Bushmaker / FOX 13 Seattle)

Seattle Kraken general manager Ron Francis appeared gutted by his decision to fire head coach Dave Hakstol after three seasons as the team's first ever head coach.

Francis was in a somber mood Monday afternoon as he answered questions regarding his decision to change coaches after the Kraken finished the year with the eighth-worst record in the NHL after a 34-35-13 campaign. Francis clearly has great respect for Hakstol and the job he did as Seattle's head coach, but ultimately he made the decision that a change was necessary.

"It's really difficult," Francis said. "I mean, I think he was a good coach when we hired him. I still think he's a good coach. He's a terrific person. There's a lot of sacrifice that goes in, not only by him, but by his wife and his family. And, you know, it's never easy to make a decision like this and tell somebody that you're relieving them of their duty. So it's a extremely sad day in that regard."

Francis said last Monday that the future of Hakstol and the coaching was under evaluation as they looked back on the reasons why the season had veered so heavily off-course. Ultimately, Francis decided that Hakstol and assistant Paul McFarland – who was responsible for the team's power play units – would not return to the coaching staff.

"It's never an easy day. It's never an easy decision," Francis said. "You know, we let a guy who's a good coach and a really good person go and it's not easy. But you know, we're looking at our organization and just looking at the season, I thought we were a little more inconsistent than we had been. A few too many losing streaks and losing streaks of significant numbers and so we just felt it was time to try new voice here."

The Kraken struggled offensively for most of the year and completely fell apart after a crushing loss in overtime to the Vegas Golden Knights on March 12 that effectively ended the team’s playoff chances. Seattle managed to go just 6-12-2 over their final 20 games of the season to finish with 81 points in the standings. They were also shutout seven times this year and lost 13 games in overtime or shootouts.

It was a sizable step back for a team that made it to Game 7 of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs a season ago. That success led to Hakstol and Francis getting contract extensions after last season with Hakstol's extension set to begin next year.

"I mean, we had a real good season last year, went probably better than we expected and our staff did a good job and they got rewarded for it," Francis said. This season didn't go as well as we had hoped, and then you got to look at things and try and make decisions at the end of the season. And that's where we ended up at this point today."

Francis remained highly complimentary of Hakstol and his coaching ability. A week ago, Francis noted that the Kraken were the only team to finish in the top 10 of the league defensively that didn't make the playoffs. Additionally, the team had far worse lucky on the injury front with Vince Dunn, André Burakovsky, Pierre-Édouard Bellemare, Brandon Tanev, and Jaden Schwartz all missing significant time. Jordan Eberle also played through a broken hand for six weeks as well, Francis revealed.

"He's the kind of guy that's going to roll up the sleeves and work and not complain, and I think he did that. You know, just we felt there was a time to go in a different direction," Francis said.

Since the end of the 2022-23 season, there have been 17 different coaching changes by 16 different teams. The Columbus Blue Jackets have made two separate coaching changes over that span. Throw in the Vancouver Canucks last January and it's 18 changes by 17 teams since New Year's Day 2023.

Hakstol was the sixth-longest tenured head coach in the NHL when relieved of his duties on Monday. Only Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper (2013), Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan (2015), Colorado’s Jared Bednar (2016), Carolina’s Rod Brind'Amour (2018), and Toronto’s Sheldon Keefe (2019) have held their positions longer. Hakstol moved into sixth following the firing of Don Granato by the Buffalo Sabres earlier this month.

"Well, I think there's so much at stake, right?" Francis said of the volatility of the job at the NHL level. "The parity in the league is so close, on any given that you can win or lose and the expectations are probably more intense now than they've ever been. When you look at teams can just get into a playoffs and have a chance to win the cup. So there's a lot of pressure to get in. There's no easy route to getting in. It's a long season. There's a lot of things that can happen over the course of the season. I think they all factor into some of those decisions that are made."

Francis wouldn't answer a question about the attributes he's looking for in a new coach because he felt it would be taken as an indictment of things Hakstol wasn't doing. He also said he didn't believe the players had quit on Hakstol despite the struggles of the season.

"I don't think that the players you know quit on Dave," Francis said. "I thought even the first season, as tough as that was with COVID and stuff, they continued to work hard for him. Last year was the same thing and I think this year, you know, same thing. They worked hard for him. We just didn't get the results we wanted to get."

Nevertheless, Francis said he hoped the players would feel some of the responsibility for the decision the team had to make with Hakstol and that it would increase the urgency the team could feel heading into next year.

"I would hope so," he said. "The plan is -- in exit meetings -- wasn't good enough this year and we've got to be better starting day one in camp next year. So that's not why we did it. But I think if I'm a player, there's some responsibility on my shoulder for sure."

The search for a new head coach will now get underway. There are several possible candidates that are already on the market having been let go from their previous jobs. Dean Evason (Minnesota), Craig Berube (St. Louis), Jay Woodcroft (Edmonton) and Gerard Gallant (NY Rangers) are all currently available. Dan Byslma at AHL Coachella Valley would be an obvious candidate given his success with the Firebirds as well.

Other candidates still currently holding jobs would have to wait until their seasons in their respective leagues come to an end. Rod Brind'Amour of the Carolina Hurricanes is not under contract currently for next year with the Carolina Hurricanes and has close ties with Francis. Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning was hired by Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke when Leiweke was with the Lightning should he somehow become available, too.


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