Capitals coach Dale Hunter will not return next season, general manager George McPhee said at a news conference on Monday.
Hunter took over on Nov. 28 for the fired Bruce Boudreau. He led Washington to a 30-23-7 record, helped the team adapt to a new defensive style of hockey and eventually led them to within a game of the Eastern Conference finals. Washington’s season ended on Saturday.
The decision was Hunter’s, according to McPhee. The coach owns a family farm in southern Ontario and co-owns the London Knights’ junior team, a lucrative venture for his family. Hunter’s brother, Mark, took over as coach of the Knights, who play in the prestigious Memorial Cup this week in Quebec. That’s a rough equivalent to the NCAA Final Four in the United States.
“I’m going home,” Hunter said simply.
His family, including his son, his brother Mark, their dad and various siblings are part and parcel of the Knights’ business. Hunter is from nearby Petrolia, Ontario, where he also helps run a family farm. Hunter said he and McPhee agreed to revisit his status in the organization after the season. That was the whole reason for his one year contract in the first place.
"When you retire as a hockey player, I had to retire because I just wasn’t that good anymore," Hunter said. "But this was a tough decision. I enjoyed coaching these guys here and being back with the team that I always figured, while it’s not my team technically, is my team. So it was a tough decision to make but it was the right thing to do for me and my family.”
The longtime Caps player took time to adjust behind an NHL beanch. He was criticised at times for his limited use of his star players in the postseason and a grind-it-out style that ceded possession to the opther team and emphasized blocked shots and defensive playe. But he also convinced his players to buy into that style of play and by the Stanley Cup playoffs they were a force to be reckoned with. Washington upset No. 2 Boston in the first round in seven games and pushed No. 1 New York to seven games before falling Saturday. McPhee said he didn't waste a lot of time trying to convince Hunter to stay.
"No, because there's no gray in Dale's life. He's very decisive," McPhee said. "The only thing I asked Dale was: 'Does this have anything to do with anything that's going on here?' And he said absolutely not. He loved it here. This is his team. This has always been his team. It's the only team he's ever wanted to coach. He worked here after he retired, before he bought [London]. And so it was a very, very difficult decision for him, but family comes first."
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