ARLINGTON, Va. (CBSDC) — Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee announced earlier today that Dale Hunter, who was only on a one-year deal, would not return to the Capitals next season citing family reasons.
“It’s a tough decision,” Hunter said. “When you retire as a hockey player, I had to retire because I just wasn’t that good anymore. But this was a tough decision. I enjoyed coaching these guys here and being back with the team that I always figured, while it’s not my team technically, is my team. So it was a tough decision to make but it was the right thing to do for me and my family.”
Hunter admitted that before he took over for the fired Bruce Boudreau on November 28th, that they would re-evaluate the situation at the end of the season and there was no certainty he would remain the head coach. Hunter, who said he’s never coming back to the NHL, will head back to London, Ontario and the OHL London Knights in which he co-owns.
“This morning, Dale and I met about 10 o’clock, and he let me know he will not be able to return as the coach,” McPhee said. “He’s going to head back to London and I guess we’re all fathers and sons and husbands first, before anything else, and if we have our priorities right in this life, family comes first. Dale needs to go home.”
McPhee, though, was very happy with what Hunter, 30-23-7 during the regular season and 7-7 during the playoffs, accomplished in his short time.
“We loved everything about Dale,” McPhee said. “I’ve always talked to him about this job, hoping that he could do it some day. And we were delighted that he could come in and spend six months with us, or whatever it was, because it was great. I’d rather have him for six months than not at all. Because he had quite an impact on this club. He really taught this club the ‘how’ of how to win. They all wanted to win, they just didn’t know how. The ‘how’ is being a team and sacrificing, and he sure got that out of this club.”
Hunter will be at the NHL draft in June to help the Caps out.
Capitals veteran Nicklas Backstrom summed up the players thoughts.
“It kind of sucks.”
Backstrom added, “He brought a system that I think really worked. We played good hockey in the playoff. I think he’s been doing so many good things to this team. I really wanted to see him back here next year, but unfortunately he’s not. So it’s not good.”
Veteran Brooks Laich is also disappointed that Hunter won’t return.
“We understand his reasons for going back. I just had a little short chat with him and shook his hand and said thank you. I asked him if there’s anything I can do to convince him to stay. We found that out earlier today and he was great. I was sort of shocked when I found out but he’ll be missed. I really learned a lot from him and really valued the effort that he put in and I hope we see him around here again.
“He taught us as much about leadership and team aspects and respect amongst players and trusting your teammates as he did about hockey. He was like having another veteran in the locker room. He changed the culture around here a little bit, which the rest of us really enjoyed. He’s leaving the team in a better state then he found it- I think that’s the best way to sum it up.”
Caps defenseman Karl Alzner also weighed in on losing Hunter.
“He morphed this team into a very respectable team. Other teams maybe gave us more credit than they had in the past few years. He was a bit of an architect himself the way he taught the game. It’s upsetting because I was happy with everything and I was very fortunate that he liked me and I got to play a lot. All he taught us was to be honest and work hard.”
General Manager George McPhee said they are going to take there time before they hire a new coach.
“I’m not in any rush to do that, because I haven’t really been thinking in those terms. I don’t know whether it’ll be by the draft or sometime in August, like New Jersey did. We’re going to take our time and get the right person.”
One common theme throughout talking to the players today was how close this team is.
“It was the tightest knit group and the hardest working group that has been here,” Laich said.
“The team that played two nights ago I think was the hardest working team that I’ve ever been a part of and the closest I believe. That’s what I mean when I say that the atmosphere and the culture have really changed and everyone is of equal importance.”
One player who really rose to the challenge during the playoffs and was one of the hardest working players out there for the Caps was Jay Beagle. McPhee admitted today that Beagle broke his foot when he blocked an Anton Stralman shot early in the second period during game five against the Rangers.
“I knew that something was wrong and then got it x-rayed,” Beagle said. “I tried to dress for game six, probably thought I could play again because I played through game five and finished the game. I thought that there was no reason I shouldn’t be able to play game six. I almost got out on the ice for warmup, when Smitty [trainer Greg Smith] and Dale [Hunter] kind of called me back. They could see that I was limping pretty bad. It was better for the team not to play. Halpy [Jeff Halpern] was 100 percent and at that point I was probably 40-50 percent and was just going to hobble around and probably be useless out there. It was better for the team not to play although it was hard obviously to get undressed while your team is about to go out in an elimination game in game six.”
Beagle said in four-to-six weeks he should be able to work out and eight-to-ten weeks he’ll be able to skate. Beagle stayed in game five with the broken foot and it wasn’t easy to do.
“I love to play and obviously in the playoffs it’s do or die, desperation hockey. I wasn’t going to leave my team a man-short in the game. You gut through it and know that the pain will be over soon and just kind of get through it. I was a little bit useless out there, I was taking 15, 20 second shifts because it would get to the point where I couldn’t really skate.”
Beagle impressed his teammates as well.
“It’s encouraging,” forward Troy Brouwer said. “You know the guy wants to win, you know he wants to play his heart our for his teammates. That all you can ask for out of a teammate. He tried to strap it on for Game 6, but we could see that it was killing him not to be out there. We wanted to win so that we could get him back in the lineup, and it wasn’t to be. A guy like that, you don’t find too many of them. He’s a great teammate.”
Brouwer also described the scene in game six when Beagle tried to play but couldn’t.
“He got dressed, put his skate on; I’m not sure what he took to get his foot in the boot. He tried walking and it just wouldn’t support him. I guess he had some work done on it to make sure that it was OK. He’s a guy that this team would really like to see back next year.”
Tomas Vokoun was healthy enough to play if they needed him by the time they were eliminated. Vokoun likely won’t be back next season as he is a free agent and they have depth at the goalie position.
“I wasn’t planning on being back here anyways,” Vokoun said. “It was never my intention to be here more than a year. For me, it’s more disappointing about how it went and obviously getting hurt and not having the chance to play in playoffs. That’s what I regret more than worrying about next year. I was looking at it as a one-year thing and I’m sure that’s how it’s gonna be.”
The Capitals have quite a few unrestricted free-agents. They are Alexander Semin, Mike Knuble, Jeff Halpern, Keith Aucoin, Dennis Wideman & Tomas Vokoun. The Caps restricted free agents are Mathieu Perreault, Jay Beagle, Mike Green & John Carlson.
Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin & Nicklas Backstrom left this afternoon to head to Europe to play in the World Championships.
George McPhee also talked about top prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov likely not coming here next season and staying in the KHL.
“Yeah, we’ve talked to the agent, it doesn’t appear that he’s going to make it over for next season,” McPhee said. “He’s a young guy. He’s only twenty years old so we understand why he may not want to leave yet. But at some point he’ll want to come to this league. It’s the best league in the world and he’s a heck of a player. So when he’s ready to come, we’ll be ready for him.”
Listen here to what George McPhee, Dale Hunter, Alex Ovechkin, Jason Chimera, Nicklas Backstrom, Troy Brouwer, Tomas Vokoun, Matt Hendricks, Michal Neuvirth, Braden Holtby, Jeff Halpern, Mike Green, Brooks Laich, Dennis Wideman, Karl Alzner, Mike Knuble & Jay Beagle had to say today to end the 2011-2012 season.
George McPhee Press Conference Audio
Dale Hunter Press Conference Audio
Alex Ovechkin Press Conference Audio
Jason Chimera Press Conference Audio
Nicklas Backstrom Press Conference Audio
Troy Brouwer Press Conference Audio
Tomas Vokoun Press Conference Audio
Matt Hendricks Press Conference Audio
Michal Neuvirth Press Conference Audio
Braden Holtby Press Conference Audio
Jeff Halpern Press Conference Audio
Mike Green Press Conference Audio
Brooks Laich Press Conference Audio
Dennis Wideman Press Conference Audio
Karl Alzner Press Conference Audio
Mike Knuble Press Conference Audio
Jay Beagle Press Conference Audio