Dale Hunter quit as coach of the Washington Capitals on Monday after less than one full season in the job, telling the team he wants to return to his family in Canada.
“It was the right thing to do,” Hunter said.
He is the owner of the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, a junior hockey team currently playing for the Memorial Cup. One of his three children is an assistant coach with the Knights, and Hunter’s brother Mark took over as head coach when Hunter left to join the Capitals in November, replacing the fired Bruce Boudreau.
“I’m going home,” Hunter said, a couple of hours after delivering the news to Capitals general manager George McPhee. “I’ve got a good thing going there with the family, so I’ll stay home.”
Hunter met with McPhee at the team’s practice facility on Monday morning, two days after the Capitals were eliminated from the playoffs in the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 7.
“We could have very easily won that series,” McPhee said.
The GM said he didn’t even attempt to change Hunter’s mind, because “there’s no grey in Dale’s life.”
“I’d rather have him for six months than not at all,” McPhee said.
Hunter went 30-23-7 — a .500 record — in the regular season after agreeing to a one-year deal to take over for Boudreau, helping the Capitals squeeze into the playoffs. Playing a defence-first, possession-oriented system with an emphasis on blocking shots, Washington eliminated reigning Stanley Cup champion Boston in the first round.
“He got everything out of this team that he could,” McPhee said.
Another key move by Hunter was limiting captain Alex Ovechkin’s minutes, saying it was dictated by game situations and the opponent’s line changes. But it was clear that Hunter wanted players to focus on preventing goals more than scoring them.
“You put skill with a hard-working, gritty team, and you’ve got a winner,” Hunter said.
McPhee doesn’t have a specific timetable for finding a replacement, saying it might happen by the NHL draft in June or perhaps not until August.
“I’m not in any rush,” McPhee said.