After a nice, relaxing holiday weekend, I’m getting ready to head out the door this morning, glancing at the local news, hoping to catch the weather for the day. Suddenly, the anchor gets real serious with some breaking news. “The Washington Capitals have confirmed that they are parting ways with Bruce Boudreau,” he says. Then he continues with, “they have named Dale Hunter as their new head coach.” Jaw, dropped.
Everyone is aware of the poor performance of the Caps under Boudreau the last few weeks that likely led to general manager George McPhee deciding to make the change. What has Dale Hunter been up to?
Since retiring from the NHL with 1,020 points and 3,565 PIMs in 1,407 games, Dale Hunter became the co-owner, president, and head coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s, London Knights. Under Hunter’s leadership, the Knights won the 2005 Memorial Cup. Coach Dale Hunter worked with Rick Nash, Corey Perry (a member of that 2005 Memorial Cup team), Patrick Kane, John Carlson, John Tavares, and Nazem Kadri during their OHL careers. All of those guys were first round draft picks. It could be said that Dale Hunter knows how to work with the current generation of young, NHL talent.
Personally, Dale Hunter was one of my hockey heroes growing up. I watched him lead the Capitals through so many battles. I watched Hunter lead the Caps to their only Cup Finals appearance. Despite his reputation as a fierce competitor that sometimes stepped well beyond the line, I primarily remember Dale Hunter as the hardest working Capitals skater when he was on the ice. Coaches tend to guide their team’s in a direction similar to how they played the game. I am expecting Coach Dale Hunter to bring a sense of player accountability. I expect to see increased work ethic every shift, period, and game. Hopefully, the players get the message.
That’s really the big question. Will a new voice from Hunter be heard by a core group of players who have tuned out their coach for so long? Obviously, we won’t know until we see the on-ice product.
The message from George McPhee is quite clear. He believes that the pieces are in place to win and that the problem was coaching. If the Capitals continue to struggle, have another bad month, or suffer another disappointing Stanley Cup Playoffs, then what?