Remember way back in like... oh, October? ... when the Washington Capitals were a Stanley Cup contender and a model NHL franchise? Yeah, uh... things have changed.
We've seen about a month of curious comments from head coach Dale Hunter, the Caps' legend hired as bench boss following the firing of Bruce Bourdreau in late November. From benching Mike Knuble for his bad plus-minus rating to publicly ripping his goaltender -- doesn't matter which one, he's done it with all of them at this point -- to now calling out defenseman Roman Hamrlik, Hunter's really done a swell job of pissing off players.
Knuble responded publicly and went just short of asking for a trade, Tomas Vokoun's agent defended the goalie on Twitter, and yes, now Hamrlik has spoken out against the coach as well.
Hamrlik was scratched in Wednesday's game against Ottawa. Why? Hunter told the media prior to the game that the defenseman was giving up too many scoring chances and that he "took a bad penalty" against Carolina over the weekend. (Hunter, of course, finished his career second all-time in penalty minutes with 3,565.)
Hamrlik responded Thursday morning following practice, via CSN Washington:
"You should ask him about the penalties because when he played I think he make lots of penalties himself," Hamrlik said. "He should know better. This is a game and guys (play with) emotion. I know I took a bad penalty, but if that's the reason I didn't play that's his decision."
"It's not a fun time, especially when you're older," Hamrlik, 37, said. "You want to enjoy and have fun. It's a difficult time to play hockey when you know you make a mistake you're not going to play. It's not easy. It's really difficult on your body and your mind."
You know what's also not a fun time right now? Playing for the Washington Capitals under Dale Hunter. The team has lost three straight -- 3-6-1 in their last 10, including awful losses to Carolina and Ottawa in their last two -- and even in te pathetic Southeast Division, it's starting to look like the Caps don't know which way is up.
Injuries have taken a toll, to be fair, but I'd venture to say the attitude and morale in that locker room isn't being helped by the head coach. At least he's on a one-year contract...