Coach Dale Hunter declined to comment on why he agreed to only a one-year deal with the Capitals when he took over in late November, but from the players’ standpoint, the duration of his contract doesn’t really matter.
To a man, every player asked about Hunter’s contract said that the length of the first-time NHL coach’s deal doesn’t factor in to how they perform on a nightly basis.
“I think things happened really quickly. It’s probably in [General Manager George McPhee’s] best interest to do it that way,” Mike Knuble said. “It’s probably just the safest thing for the organization. Maybe they all decided that. Maybe Dale’s not even sure too; obviously they all agreed on it.
“I haven’t picked up any long-term commitment. I feel like both of them would be like, ‘Let’s see how this goes,’” Knuble said when asked if he was surprised by the news, and said without hesitation that he doesn’t believe it alters how the team plays. “It has nothing to do with anything I think. It’s pretty irrelevant for the players.”
None of the players were truly surprised by Hunter’s contract length and several cited that it was a hurried, mid-season coaching change as part of the reason. Ten games into Hunter’s tenure, the players say they’re starting to find their comfort zone with their new coach.
“I think guys are buying into what he’s preaching now,” Jason Chimera said. “It doesn’t change how we play for him or how we go about things, I think he’s doing a great job. And he’s running the team pretty well; he’s got a good eye on a lot of the guys now so it doesn’t change much — doesn’t change the way I think, anyway.”
Nicklas Backstrom echoed that sentiment and offered support of Hunter and said he likes the direction that the team is heading.
“I don’t think about his contract,” Backstrom said. “But I think he’s made a great impression on all of us so far. Hopefully we can start winning hockey games so that he stays with us.”
The one-year contract allows both Hunter and the team flexibility when plotting the next move at the end of the season. According to what a source told colleague Tarik El-Bashir, if this year goes well for Hunter, it’s likely the coach will agree to an extension.
Defenseman Karl Alzner said he believes that Hunter and the team are united in trying to get the Capitals back on a winning track again and that this doesn’t seem like a quick fix.
“I don’t think it changes the message,” Alzner said. “I don’t think that he’s here just to take over for the year and just go do his own thing. He’s here to help us win and he wants to win too and we’re all in the same boat. We all understand his message and he knows what we want and we just go from there.”
More from Post Sports:
— Hunter’s contract with Capitals only for this season
— Profile: Dale Hunter still has work to do
— On Hockey: When will Old Ovi be back?
— Balanced lines help Caps vs. Nashville
— Michal Neuvirth getting into a groove