Ron Francis and Dave Hakstol didn’t know they were participating in a four-week audition.
They bonded at the 2019 IIHF world championships in Austria and Slovakia, where Francis was part of Team Canada’s management brain-trust and Hakstol was a member of the men’s team coaching staff.
“I got to know him as a person and watch his work ethic, building that respect for what he can do,” Hakstol said.
Francis was named the first general manager for the expansion Seattle Kraken later that year. After his first NHL head coaching gig with the Philadelphia Flyers from 2015 to ’18 — making the leap from coaching the University of North Dakota — Hakstol was hired as an assistant coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs before the 2019-20 season, working under Mike Babcock and then Sheldon Keefe.
Francis kept him in mind as he cast his net for the first Kraken coach. On June 24, it was announced that Hakstol got the job — a surprise to some, given that his name wasn’t among the ones rumored to be in the running.
But Francis wasn’t surprised in the least that Hakstol ended up being his guy.
“As we went through the process, he was certainly a guy that I had interest in talking to. He’s got the experience. It was maybe a big jump from college the first time, but now he’s been in the league for six years, he’s worked under some different coaches and has a bit more experience, so we’re comfortable in that regard. We were always comfortable with his hockey acumen,” he said.
ESPN spoke with Hakstol recently about getting this coveted job, the upcoming expansion draft, learning from failures, and whether the Vegas Golden Knights have set the bar uncomfortably high for Seattle.