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Kraken GM Ron Francis Noncommittal on Future of Head Coach Dave Hakstol in Exit Interview

Via Kraken PR

Kraken general manager Ron Francis isn’t giving anyone reason to expect head coach Dave Hakstol won’t man the bench next season. But he isn’t putting the rumors to rest, either.

Francis, conducting his end-of-season press conference separately from Hakstol for the first time in the franchise’s three years, did not commit to an answer regarding whether the current coaching staff would be returning in full. Instead, he explained the team is still in the “process” of evaluating Hakstol and company, then pivoted to a dissection of the “unique,” injury-ridden season the team struggled against. 

Pressed on the topic again, Francis doubled down: “You’re gonna read into it one way or another but this is the process we do every year, and that’s what we’re in right now.” 

Notably, he offered no personal evaluation on the matter, a stark comparison to the praise he showered the head coach in last May, going as far as to defend Hakstol from what he believed to be “unfair criticism” in the aftermath of the inaugural season. 

“Dave’s the one that’s [on] a daily basis in the room steering that ship. I get to sit up top and watch and we have conversations but he has to go in there everyday and work that room,” Francis said at the time. “You saw it from our guys from start to finish– they were a gutsy group, a gritty group, and that’s a reflection on him and how he prepares and how he wants his teams to play.” 

Present concern around the head coach is a product of the team’s collapse and premature elimination from postseason contention– having signed a two-year extension last offseason following a nomination for the Jack Adams award, the job was Hakstol’s to lose.

There are external, uncontrollable factors which played into the team’s performance rotting as it did: shooting percentage regression, a surplus of man games lost to illness and injury, and a highly competitive Western Conference spitting out plenty more worthy postseason teams than there were berths. But how the locker room adapted– or failed to adapt– to those challenges is, to borrow from Francis, a reflection of the head coach. 

Of the nine players that took to the podium for exit interviews Saturday, defenseman Vince Dunn provided the only substantial answers as to why the team struggled and the offense dried up. Authority and tenacity, from his perspective, lacked.

“Offensively we control the puck a lot but we weren’t very much of a threat. We were very much a perimeter team this year, possessed the puck well but that doesn’t always create things. We need to create more high-scoring opportunities and those usually lead to second chances and things like that.” 

Everybody else– including two of the Krakens’ alternate captains, Jaden Schwartz and Jordan Eberle– underscored the attack’s influence in the season’s crash-and-burn ending, but couldn’t explain why that was a possibility in the first place. As far as they’re concerned, the case of Seattle’s dead offense had gone cold.

“As a team in general we couldn’t– we weren’t consistent enough with our offense,” Schwartz reflected. “We just couldn’t get a grasp on, couldn’t get that confidence, couldn’t get that momentum . . . I don’t think it’s one thing you can point a finger at. It’s just frustrating when the goals aren’t going in.” 

Even Francis was stumped. 

“The big difference this year is we couldn’t score like we did last season. I think we were 1st in shooting percentage last year, this year we’re 28th. We were 4th in goals for last year, this year we’re 29th. That’s an area we certainly have to look at, try and figure out why it didn’t happen.”

Goaltending took massive strides of improvement with the help of Joey Daccord, who finished top-six in both GAA (2.46) and SV% (.916%), and defense maintained its high quality, with the Kraken ending the year fifth in GA/G (2.22) at five-on-five. But Seattle’s failure to score is directly linked to their 25th-place finish in league standings. Scoring 214 goals in all situations is hardly enough to dominate the regular season, forget the playoffs– Seattle needed 289 to clinch the season prior.

“We’re the only team that didn’t make the playoffs whose defense is in the top ten,” Francis pointed out. “Defensively we were solid, we just have to find a way to score more goals. I think that’s a critical part to what we have to address here in the offseason.”

Francis relented that the organization would “not be afraid to do something if the option’s out there” in free agency this summer. However, he did confirm negotiations are coming with pending restricted free agents Eeli Tolvanen and Matty Beniers; decisions are still being made on whether to qualify Kailer Yamamoto. 

Interestingly, when asked on Saturday if the organization had any discussions on how to handle this offseason’s class of soon-to-be free agents, Hakstol denied taking any part in them.

“I haven’t had any of those discussions at this point in time,” he said. “I’m not at a point, yet, coming out of the season, where I’ve had a whole lot of thought put into that right now.” 

Is Hakstol uninvolved in the process entirely, or is his deflection a genuine need to take a breather from a tumultuous season? Perhaps Francis’ distancing from Hakstol is farther than that separating their seats for exit interviews.

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