Dale Hunter has informed George McPhee and the rest of the Washington Capitals organization that he won’t return to coach the team. He wants to head back to Ontario to spend more time with his family and help run the London Knights, or as it was phrased today, “the family business.”
I find this incredibly interesting for some reason. Probably because I suspect it wasn’t his call.
First, credit where credit is due: podcast co-host Rob Pizzo called this. He said right when the contract was signed that a one-year deal seemed off, that Hunter was just “dipping his toe in the water” to test the gig out, and that if he didn’t love the situation in Washington he’d run back to his head coaching position with the Knights, being that it’s a cushy gig with zero percent chance of getting canned. That’s a luxury of owning a team, of course.
Rob may have been right. (…That hurt to type.)
The thing is, I just didn’t see it then, and I don’t see it now. Moving to a new city and taking up a position coaching an NHL hockey team is no small committment in my mind. I figured the one year deal would allow Hunter and the Caps the chance to see how things go before deciding how long to really commit to each other, and for how much. It made no sense to me that they’d hire a guy to be a lame duck coach without some long-term handshake deal agreed upon in the backroom. Or as Barry Petchesky of Deadspin put it:
“It is unfathomable to me that the Caps braintrust would selct someone who would overhaul the entire system as a caretaker coach.”
Great point. Completely bizarre.
All of this has led me to a theory: I think that “handshake deal” had to exist, but after seeing the results, the Caps just didn’t want him back. While Pizzo’s theory seems bang on at face value, I have trouble getting my head around a coach “sampling the big league.” There are thousands of people who covet those well-paying NHL head coaching gigs – is it possible a team would want a guy so bad they’d let him simply dip his toe in? It’s not like he’s Scotty Bowman. Not to mention that this is a competitive former-athlete who you’d assume would aspire to succeed on the sport’s grandest scale. And he wants to leave for comfort’s sake?
While the players said all the right things this season, there’s no way the big guns didn’t want to strangle Hunter. The Capitals paid Alexander Semin 6.7 million dollars this season, and Hunter used him for 12-13 minutes a night. Who did that piss off more, McPhee or Semin? Team captain Alexander Ovechkin was used less than Jay Beagle in playoffs. And though the Caps completed a first-round upset, they ended up achieving roughly what we expected them to before the season: they made playoffs, didn’t make the Finals.
Dale Hunter didn’t do anything more with the Capitals than Bruce Boudreau did, aside from further neuter an offensive juggernaut and void their status as a team that’s fun to watch. So if you’re the Vice President and GM George McPhee, why have him back? Why not let him keep his dignity, allow him to say “I’m stepping down to spend more time with my family and work on the family business,” and go about replacing him with a coach that can help this team win more than 50% of their games in the Southeast division?
The fun part about being a blogger is getting to completely speculate on stuff like this, which I’ve taken the liberty to do here in a major way.
I think the Caps told Hunter they’d seen enough. I’ve been wrong before, but I don’t want it to be the first time this season that Pizzo’s been right.