Late Monday, Ovechkin left Washington for the world championships, where he will represent Russia. McPhee declined to get specific when asked about Hunter’s impact on Ovechkin, who is owed an average of $9.5 million per season through 2020-21.
“I don’t know if I want to get into talking about how he affected certain individuals,” McPhee said. “The most important thing is he made it a team and got them to play the right way. And Ovi changed some things in his game that made him a more well-rounded player, actually, but I don’t want to get into his impact on individuals, because since he’s been here, it's been all about ‘team,’ which is the way it should be.”
Ovechkin’s teammates gushed over Hunter’s contributions. Nicklas Backstrom and Karl Alzner sounded disappointed about Hunter’s resignation. Brooks Laich joked that he hoped to talk Hunter into changing his mind.
“It’s a stupid saying, but it’s perfect: You have to crack a couple of eggs to make an omelet,” Alzner said. “He kind of broke things down, and he slowly started to build it up. He morphed this team into a very respectable team. Other teams give us a little bit more credit than they had in the last few years. That’s pretty much all that needs to be said.”
Laich said the ending to this season feels different than last season, even though both concluded in the conference semifinals.
“Look at the identity of the teams left,” Laich said. “I mean, L.A., they were 29th in goals-for in the regular season. They don’t give anything up. The Rangers don’t give anything up. Jersey doesn’t give anything up. Phoenix, the same way. That’s the identity of winning hockey teams. Teams that succeed, you have to play that way to win Stanley Cups. We learned a lot about what it takes to win. I believe we took a step in the right direction.”
Early Monday afternoon, Hunter met with the players as a group. A man of few words, he didn’t speak long. But Laich recalled the coach leaving them with a message that will resonate throughout this offseason of uncertainty: “It’s in your hands now.”