Boudreau Out, Dale Hunter In As Coach for Capitals

Dale Hunter with the London Knights. (Norm F/Flickr)

It happened swiftly yet with little surprise: the Washington Capitals fired Bruce Boudreau Monday morning and brought in former Capital and OHL London Knight’s coach Dale Hunter.

The Capitals have lost 10 out of their last 15 games and have sunk to a -3 goal differential, including losing 5-1 to the battered Buffalo Sabres Saturday night. With all due respect, if this were the Columbus Blue Jackets, the immediate concern of being outplayed by certain players wouldn’t be so high. But with the talent core Washington has, the lack of response from the team after demoralizing losses shows a deeper problem.

“Accountability” was the word of the day coming into this season. Boudreau had tried to push that on his team through benchings, healthy scratches, unusual line shifting and expecting the Caps to adhere to a more defensive system. The consensus agreed with these moves by Boudreau — expect many believed this mindset came too late to be effective. The results in the last month and a half have shown that to be the case.

“This wasn’t a slump.  You can ride out slumps.  This was simply a case of the players were no longer responding to Bruce.” general manager George McPhee said in a morning presser.”When you see that as much as you don’t want to make a change you have to make a change. We have too many players that could be playing better.”

With Boudreau gone, the Caps bring in Hunter to try to repair the damage. McPhee stated this was a move long in the works, as he said he has talked with Hunter for 12 years.

“Hopefully the same things he brought as a player,” McPhee said about what he expects from Hunter as a coach. “Obviously Dale was an intelligent player, he had talent… and he was tough. And he was downright mean sometimes.”

“Downright mean” is right, as Hunter is the only player to have at least 1,000 points and 3,000 penalty minutes (a fun fact I can memorize). Regardless of what is thought of Hunter as a player, though — dirty or talented — Hunter did whatever it took to win, and that’s the mentality the Caps hope to have spread during his time as Washington’s head coach.

Hunter has coached for 11 years in the OHL. Much like Boudreau when he came in 2007, Hunter has not had any NHL coaching experience. However, McPhee is confident in Hunter’s abilities to work with the Capitals and get them to win in the NHL, responding to concerns as “coaching’s coaching.”

Hunter in 1989 with the Capitals. (hockeymedia/Flickr)

“No one’s been better at that level, in that Ontario Hockey League that’s been around forever,” said of Hunter’s coaching experience. “He has the best winning percentage of all time. The man’s [Dale Hunter] played in this league for 19 years, he’s played for a lot of coaches. Dale really understands this game.”

Hunter played in the NHL for 19 seasons, 12 of them with the Washington Capitals. Once the team captain, and on the 1998 Capitals team that made the Stanley Cup finals, Hunter brings a bit of tradition to the team, and a winning tradition. Hunter’s hockey immortality in D.C. should motivate the players to play with the same intensity he did. One of the main players he could get through to is Alex Ovechkin.

McPhee said they will not remove the “C” from Ovechkin, despite outside suggestions saying to do so. Having been the captain at one point for the same team, Hunter will be able to relate to Ovechkin, and flesh out the best for the Russian superstar as a captain, having known what it will take

Tuesday the Capitals will play a team who also changed coaches this year and responded, the St. Louis Blues, who are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games and will be entering Washington riding a three-game winning streak.

2 thoughts on “Boudreau Out, Dale Hunter In As Coach for Capitals”

  1. Thanks for your comment, Ondrej:

    I very much agree with you about the criticism of superstars as if all superstars are coach-killers. They are a special breed of player and a coach does need to learn to adjust to that talent. To be fair, Bruce was learning himself how to coach in the NHL and coach a team like the Caps. He still has a solid resume and shall find another job soon. But overall, very good points there.


  2. Great stuff. I think Ovi’s response to this will be a very important catalyst for things to come. If Dale can share his growing pains of wearing the “C” with him, and if Ovi responds in kind, things will change. This is a very radical move and one that I’m beyond psyched about. I’m sick of the media crucifying the superstars for their coaches’ demises. It’s like a rechargeable battery. Sure, you can have them for 4-5 years, and they’ll work, but each time they’ll get a bit less effective, and hold their charge less and less. I feel like that happened here. Gabby infused this team to its full capacity, and that work ethic stopped clicking over-time. It’s only natural.

    December will be one interesting and exciting month. I cannot wait to see this.

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