Dale Hunter is suddenly back in the Washington Capitals organization Monday morning, and it's safe to say that the pressure is on for the new head coach of the team. The former Caps legend, one of just four members of the team to have their jersey number retired in the rafters, replaced Bruce Boudreau.
Hunter will make his debut behind the bench on Tuesday night against St. Louis, but he's already off and running Monday morning. He'll lead his first practice on Monday at 12 p.m. local time, one hour after an 11 a.m. press conference by general manager George McPhee.
To most NHL fans, Hunter might not be a name that seemed on the radar as a potential coaching replacement, but his track record in the Ontario Hockey League is really about as impressive as it can get. Hunter, along with brother Mark, purchased the London Knights in 2000, and the move ushered in one of the most impressive eras in OHL history.
With Dale behind the bench and Mark in the GM's chair, the team accomplished just about everything fans in London could ask: Six Midwest Division championships, two Western Conference championships, an OHL championship and a Memorial Cup. For four straight years from 2003-04 to 2006-07, the team finished with the best regular season record in the OHL.
Sounds a lot like the Washington Capitals in recent years, actually. Minus the whole playoff success thing.
That will be the ultimate question of Hunter's tenure in Washington. Can he duplicate the success he's had in the OHL with the Capitals? Boudreau only got so far in achieving those goals, and Hunter is tasked with a very clear one of his own: Postseason success. The chances of making that happen rest primarily on Hunter's ability to corral the egos and personalities that pull on those red and white sweaters every day.
Hunter coached the likes of John Tavares, Patrick Kane and Corey Perry during his time as head coach in London, so it's proven that he can coach star players and get success out of them. But let's not confuse star players in the Major Junior ranks with star players in the NHL. There's definitely the argument to be made that it's much easier to coach a future star in his formative years than it is to coach a guy like Alex Ovechkin or Alexander Semin as an NHL star.
If it's true that Boudreau did indeed "lose the team" and its star players as their coach, Hunter might be the perfect contrast. Boudreau made every attempt to be a tough coach as the team went through struggles recently, but in reality, he had already laid the groundwork as the affable, lovable kind of guy. He tried to employ a style that simply wasn't his own, and that's probably where the problems really started for Boudreau's Caps.
Hunter, on the other hand, coaches much like he played the game. Like him, his teams have been extremely skilled, yet lacking nothing in the hard-work department. Hunter is the only NHL player to ever put up 1,000 points and 3,000 penalty minutes in a career, and that goes a long way toward showing the personality he brings to the bench.
If he can get that out of his new team, maybe he'll be able to put together more consistent postseason success. That's what it's all about, and like Boudreau, that's how he'll ultimately be judged as head coach of the Washington Capitals.