Caps Tab Hunter to Replace BoudreauPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
Just over four years ago, the Washington Capitals turned to Bruce Boudreau 21 games into a season that had gotten off to a rocky 6-14-1 start. The Caps hired Boudreau from its AHL Hershey affiliate as the team’s interim head coach on Nov. 22, 2007 to replace Glen Hanlon. Now, 22 games into the 2011-12 season, the Caps are replacing Boudreau behind the bench with former Caps captain Dale Hunter. Hunter, whose No. 32 sweater hangs from the Verizon Center rafters, becomes the 15th head coach in franchise history and the third to have worn the team’s sweater on the ice. Boudreau’s assistant coaches, Dean Evason, Bob Woods and Blaine Forsythe, will remain in their posts under Hunter. Hunter has coached the OHL’s London Knights for more than a decade. He was the fastest OHL coach in league history to reach 300 and 400 career wins, and he notched victory No. 450 this past Saturday night against Erie. Hunter makes his NHL debut behind the bench on Tuesday when Washington opens a three-game homestand with a game against the St. Louis Blues. That game pits the league’s two newest head coaches, Hunter and the Blues’ Ken Hitchcock. Hitchcock was hired to replace Davis Payne in St. Louis on Nov. 6. For more than a decade, Hunter was a key cog in the Capitals lineup. He initially joined the Capitals in a draft day deal with the Quebec Nordiques on June 13, 1987. That swap sent Hunter and goaltender Clint Malarchuk to the Capitals in exchange for forwards Alan Haworth (now a Caps’ amateur scout) and Gaetan Duchesne and the Capitals’ No. 1 choice (15th overall) in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft (Joe Sakic). Hunter spent a dozen seasons in Washington, the last five of them as the team’s captain. Only Rod Langway sported the “C” in the District longer than Hunter did. Hunter’s name is liberally sprinkled among the Capitals’ all-time leaders in many categories in the team’s media guide. He is also the only player in NHL history to record more than 1,000 career points and more than 3,000 career penalty minutes. His lifetime total of 3,563 PIM ranks second all-time in league history. When the Caps made the lone Stanley Cup final appearance in franchise history in 1998, Hunter was 37 and in his final full season with the team. He remained with Washington into the 1998-99 season, and was traded to Colorado at the trade deadline in March of 1998. That deal was designed to give Hunter one last shot at winning a Stanley Cup championship with the Avalanche. Upon retiring, Hunter joined the Capitals as the team’s director of player development for the 1999-00 season. On March 11, 2000, the Caps honored Hunter during a pre-game ceremony and hoisted his No. 32 sweater to the rafters, never to be worn again in Washington. He left after that season to pursue coaching interests, a path that led him to London in 2001-02. Hunter was in his 11th season as the Knights’ bench boss when he was tabbed as Boudreau’s replacement. Among the players Hunter has coached during his days in London are Caps defensemen Dennis Wideman and John Carlson. Boudreau held the team’s reins for the equivalent of four full seasons plus one game, and four playoff runs. His tenure behind the Washington bench was noteworthy for its tremendous regular season success (201-88-40) and their disappointing Stanley Cup playoff performances (17-20, two series wins in four seasons). One week ago, Boudreau became the fastest coach in modern NHL history to reach the 200-win plateau when he piloted the Caps to a 4-3 overtime win over the Phoenix Coyotes at Verizon Center. When Boudreau took over behind the Washington bench four years ago, the Caps were mired in the nether reaches of the Eastern Conference standings. Boudreau helped guide the club to a thrilling second half and stretch run that culminated in the team claiming the Southeast Division title and its first playoff berth in five years on the final weekend of the regular season. Washington’s high-water postseason mark under Boudreau came in 2009 when the club came within a game of reaching the Eastern Conference finals before falling to eventual the Cup champion Penguins. The 2009-10 Capitals won the first Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history and reeled off a franchise record 14-game winning streak, but were shocked in a first-round playoff upset at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens. Even worse, the Caps held a commanding 3-1 lead in the series before bowing out; they scored but a single goal in each of the final three games. With the Caps in the midst of an eight-game slide (0-6-2) last December, Boudreau set about recasting his team’s identity to more of a defensive mindset, a rare and bold coaching undertaking in the middle of a season. The change took hold, and Washington ran off a string of nine games without a regulation loss (6-0-3) immediately after. The Caps finished with a defensive flourish, allowing just over two goals a contest over the season’s final 50 games and running up a 19-5-1 mark in the final 25 games heading into the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. After a first-round series win over the New York Rangers, the Tampa Bay Lightning swept the Caps out of the postseason in four straight in the conference semi-final series. Boudreau started the 2011-12 season with an emphasis on hard work and accountability. The Caps jumped out to a franchise record 7-0 start, but problems crept into their game soon after. Defense was spotty, and the Caps began giving up goals in clusters at the worst possible time in close contests. In six of the team’s 10 losses this season, the team surrendered three or more goals in a span of eight or fewer minutes. In all of those games, the score was either tied or Washington was up a goal when the wheels came off. A 7-1 loss to a decimated Maple Leafs team in Toronto on Nov. 20 led to a scheduled day off becoming a practice day the following day, a Sunday. Wins over Phoenix and Winnipeg last week seemed to indicate that the team was turning the corner, but those victories were followed by ugly losses in consecutive games to the New York Rangers and Buffalo, respectively, on Friday and Saturday. The loss to the injury-depleted Sabres in Buffalo was proved to be the final straw. Although Buffalo was without four of its top five penalty killers and seemed ripe for the picking, Boudreau opted to go for a low key game plan in an effort to eke out a rope-a-dope win in a low-scoring game, a strategy that is out of character for the offense-minded coach, and one that might not have been the best option against a team whose roster was littered with nine rookies. After going 9-2 in their first 11 games this season, Washington was 3-7-1 in its last 11 while surrendering an unsightly total of 45 goals. Boudreau had been the fifth-longest tenured coach with the same team in the NHL behind only Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff, Nashville’s Barry Trotz, Anaheim’s Randy Carlyle and Detroit’s Mike Babcock. There is no doubt that Boudreau is a good NHL coach, and the guess here is that he surfaces again soon behind the bench of another NHL team, possibly even before the calendar turns. In Hunter’s years on the ice in the District, Washington was not always the most skilled team. But the Caps were known as a lunch-bucket bunch that prided itself on playing strong defensive hockey in those days, and they were rarely caught short in the work ethic department. A Dale Hunter-coached team is certain to be a hard-working team.
I’m off the grid tonight because of a family obligation that’s been on the books even before the NHL schedule was released last June, one which turns out to be even more unfortunately timed tonight than it did then. My apologies, but I won’t be sending Twitter updates during the game tonight. I’d