WASHINGTON (AFP) –
Dale Hunter, who took over as coach of the Washington Capitals in November and guided them to within one victory of the National Hockey League playoff semi-finals, resigned on Monday.
Hunter told Capitals general manager George McPhee on Monday morning — two days after Washington was ousted from the NHL playoffs by the New York Rangers — that he would not return for next season.
“It wasn’t unexpected,” McPhee said. “I’ve always talked to Dale over the years about coaching this club. We knew that he may not be able to go beyond this year. He did a great job of coming in and helping us out.”
Hunter, a former star player for the Capitals, took over when Bruce Boudreau was fired last November with the team struggling and Russian superstar Alex Ovechkin arguing over being benched in critical late-game situations.
But Hunter, who left his role as coach for the London Knights of Canadian junior hockey to join the Capitals, motivated Ovechkin to play reduced minutes in the playoffs and throw himself in front of opponents’ shots as well.
The Capitals were 12-9 ith one regulation draw when Hunter took over and went 30-23-7 to claim the seventh of eight Eastern Conference playoff spots. Washington ousted defending Stanley Cup champion Boston in round one.
But the Rangers advanced four games to three in a best-of-seven series over the Capitals and will open the Eastern Conference finals at home against New Jersey on Tuesday.
“I came in with a little different philosophy,” Hunter said. “The work ethic and commitment the players (gave) down the stretch and in the playoffs… We took a very good team to game seven and anything could have happened.”
Hunter went 30-23 with seven regulation draws during the season but crucially revamped the Capitals from a high-scoring team to one that became focused on defense.
Hunter said he wanted to return to the family business, operating the Knights, who won Ontario’s provincial title and will play next week in Canada’s national junior championship, the Memorial Cup.
“It’s a tough decision,” Hunter said. “I enjoyed coaching these guys here and being back with my team. It’s the right thing for me and my family.”
Replacing Hunter, 51, becomes the key off-season priority for the Capitals, whose season ended only on Saturday night with a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers in the second round of the NHL playoffs.
Hunter, among only four Capitals players to have his number retired, left the Knights during his 11th season coaching the team. He owns the highest winning percentage in Ontario league history with a record of 451-189-47.
Hunter scored 323 goals in 1,407 NHL games over 19 seasons for Quebec, Colorado and Washington. His 3,565 penalty minutes rank second on the NHL career list.