Dale Hunter likes to say that he considers the Washington Capitals to be his team, no matter where his career takes him. But once again they will be his team from afar, following the announcement Monday that he will not come back to Washington for another season as coach.
Two days after the Capitals were eliminated from the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the New York Rangers, Hunter decided to return to his home, family and the junior hockey team he co-owns with his brother in London, Ontario, rather than extend his first coaching stint in the NHL.
“This was a tough decision,” Hunter said Monday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “It always is, but weighing both sides and going home to be with the family and running the family business outweighed it. I’d love to win the Stanley Cup coaching, but even if they win a Stanley Cup next year, I’ll feel a part of it. I’ll always feel a part of it here.”
While most of the players said they were taken aback by Hunter’s decision, star left wing and captain Alex Ovechkin was unfazed.
“Family is always in the first position. It’s his decision,” Ovechkin said. “It’s his decision, so we have to live with it.”
When Hunter was hired to replace Bruce Boudreau on Nov. 28, he agreed only to finish out the rest of the 2011-12 season and then “revisit” a longer tenure at the end of the year. Hunter made it clear he enjoyed six months behind an NHL bench guiding the Capitals to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals but the draw of going home and resuming his daily duties with the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights and help with the family farm in Petrolia, Ontario, was significant.
Hunter wasn’t afraid to disrupt egos of players as he made decisions throughout his time with Washington, from benching veteran players to limiting the ice time of stars like Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. He demanded that every player fall in line to their roles, block shots and make the effort that he expected from them. It wasn’t always the smoothest ride as players voiced grievances throughout the regular season, but by the playoffs the uniformity within the group was evident in every game.
General Manager George McPhee was disappointed but admitted that the news wasn’t completely unexpected. McPhee added that Hunter will remain connected with the Capitals and plans to work with the scouting staffs at the entry draft in late June.
McPhee also said he will take his time finding Hunter’s replacement.
“I don’t know whether it will be by the draft or sometime in August, like New Jersey did,” he added. “We’re going to take our time and get the right person.”