According to the Washington Post, and Comcast Sports Net Washington D.C, Washington Capitals head coach Dale Hunter will not return behind the bench next season to coach the team. Katie Carrera wrote just moments ago, “The decision was Hunter’s to make, and at 10 a.m., two days after Washington’s Game 7 elimination in the Eastern Conference semifinals, he told McPhee he would not be back.”
This should come as no surprise to Capitals fans that closely follow the team. The decision was not a surprise to team officials. General Manager George McPhee told reporters at the Capitals Kettler Center practice facility this morning, “It wasn't unexpected,” McPhee also told it was a “very, very difficult decision for him.”
Not really that diffficult of a decision when you consider what Hunter has to go back to in London Ontario. Hunter, who led the Capitals to 30-23-7 during the regular season after taking over for Bruce Boudreau in late November, is co-owner — and head coach, before going to Washington — of the OHL’s London Knights for the past 11 seasons.
I wrote in my recap of Game 7 (published yesterday) that Hunter had a big decision to make, and I expected after speaking with numerous members of the Washington media that he would not return. There is also a common sense factor involved in this decision, and Hunter, chose to return to the comforts of home. Money is not an issue, and it became more and more apparent that Hunter, while more than qualified to coach in the NHL, was not thrilled with the media obligations and the big superstar mentality, which the Caps have no shortage of.
I wrote yesterday that the only way Hunter returned behind the bench was is if coaching the Washington Capitals was truly his dream job, as he said it was when he took over on November 28.
Maybe it was the former Caps captain dream job, but it also entirely possible that it quickly became a headache Hunter realized he did not need. While it is hard not to believe that Hunter did not find the drama of this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs intoxicating enough to crave more, the success of his junior team throughout his 11 seasons there is more than enough to fill the void left by the fact the Hunter never won a Stanley Cup playing in the NHL.
One of the major reasons against Hunter's return to the District is his family ties in London. When Dale departed for D.C, his brother Mark took over as head coach, GM, and Vice President. Dale’s son, Dylan, who was an OHL star when London won its only Memorial Cup in 2005, was already an assistant coach with the team.
It appears what Hunter finds more intoxicating than the Stanley Cup Playoffs is helping young men reach their goal of playing in the NHL. Despite losing the series to the New York Rangers, Hunter had to take great pride in the fact that six former Knights players were on the ice from both teams. They were Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman, John Carlson, and John Erskine, and from the Rangers, defenseman Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto. The lone forward is Rangers Left winger Brandon Prust.
On Friday night, the Knights beat the Niagara Ice Dogs 2-1 to win the Ontario Hockey League title.
London won the best of seven final 4-1 and claimed just the second J. Ross Robertson Cup in franchise history. They will open their quest for the Memorial Cup on Friday against the defending CHL champion Saint John Sea Dogs. The Knights won the Memorial Cup in its only other appearance when it hosted the tournament in 2005 with Dale Hunter behind the bench as coach.
Guiding the Capitals into the playoffs on the next to last day of the regular season, and then earning the seventh seed on the last day, Hunters team defeated the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins in seven games before falling to the No.1 seeded NY Rangers in seven games on Saturday night.
It was obvious that Hunter was on to something with the Capitals with the success they had at times during the playoffs. The Capitals played a much more disciplined style of hockey than in post-seasons of the past, and Washington showed more resiliency than have been at any time during the Alex Ovechkin era.
Obviously a replacement has not been named, but stay tuned for all the speculating, and drama that comes with the hiring of a new coach. Stay tuned to Capitals Corner for more breaking details and be sure to listen to the Capitals Corner Season Wrap up show on Blog Talk Radio tomorrow night starting at 7:00.