Of all the questions facing the Capitals this offseason, perhaps the most pressing and one that will weigh heavily on the other moves made this summer is whether Dale Hunter will return as coach.
In his postgame press conference following the Game 7 loss to New York, Hunter did not want to discuss his future plans.
“That’s not the time right now,” Hunter said Saturday night when asked if he had considered to guide the Capitals.
When he was hired to replace Bruce Boudreau on Nov. 28, the grizzled former player signed on only to close out the 2011-12 season. Now that it has come to an end, Hunter must decide whether he wants to extend his stay as an NHL bench boss or return to the daily operations of the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights, which he co-owns with his brother Mark Hunter and serves as president. The Knights, one of the most successful and lucrative teams in the Canadien Hockey League, will participate in the Memorial Cup tournament this week after winning the OHL title.
Hunter, who also served as the Knights’ coach for more than a decade before taking the Capitals job, has not divulged his plans publicly.
General Manager George McPhee has said several times that he wants to see Hunter return and recently several players echoed that sentiment. While the regular season was an arduous process as Hunter arrived, fundamentally altered Washington’s systems, abolished the caste system that existed in the lineup and made every player earn his ice time, in the playoffs the approach paid dividends as the team became a tight-knit, resilient group.
There’s no doubt that Hunter enjoys coaching; he said as much Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. But where would he rather do it?
“Coaching’s the next best thing to playing,” Hunter said. “And to be involved in the Stanley Cup playoffs, it’s a privilege to try to take a run at it again.”