Clock ticking for Hunter

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:24 AM ET

It's time.

If Dale Hunter wants to coach in the NHL, he'd better do it soon. Otherwise, as they say, time will pass him by.

He can't wait another five years. He might not be able to wait another three years.

Hunter recently won his third OHL coach of the year award in nine seasons with the London Knights.

As the season ended for the Knights, so began the annual speculation about whether Hunter would get an offer to coach in the NHL.

There are several openings.Whether Columbus or Tampa or anywhere else is going to work is a mute point.

Hunter has to want to go.

"I haven't heard a thing about anything," said brother Mark, the Knights general manager. "He doesn't say much about that."

That's not just a smokescreen. Dale Hunter isn't prone to saying much until there's something to say.

You certainly won't hear much about anything from Dale. He's the kind of guy who keeps everything in lockdown mode. If there is a whiff of anything cooking, you won't smell it on Hunter's stove.

The most you'll get from the parsimonious quote machine is "the situation has to be right."

So what is the "right situation?"

The most important thing for Hunter is making sure he gets a good deal, one that offers him some sort of protection so that he doesn't fall prey to the two-and-out syndrome. That's where you get a three-year contract, but if your team is really lousy you get the axe after the second year.

Hunter has to land a deal where he gets to pick assistant coaches with whom he is comfortable.

Hunter has to decide if it's time to leave "the right situation" he has in London. It's a tough decision because it doesn't get much better than he has it now.

He is his own boss. He's the majority owner of the Knights. Fans fill the building and the owners' pockets. It's a high-profile team that has no trouble attracting talent.

Hunter can coach as long as he wants. He has his routine down pat. Part of that routine is hiring great assistant coaches who support him and do the things he doesn't like to do or that aren't his strong points.

For instance, Knights assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu is good enough to be a head coach somewhere else. His work two years ago in Saint John with the Sea Dogs is now paying dividends for the QMJHL team. They advanced to the league final on Monday.

Beaulieu will get calls from other teams.

So Hunter has to make a decision. Does he need a new challenge? Is he bored doing the same thing for nine years? He has to be getting itchy to try something else. Even Brian Kilrea left the OHL cocoon to try his hand at something else.

Hunter's competitive juices may need a bigger squeeze to really get moving.

Hunter will turn 50 in July. There are probably teams out there who would be interested in giving him a crack at a job behind the bench.

He understands players, how they think and what motivates them.

Hunter has some changes to make. If he wants to go, he has to let people know he really wants to do it. Self-promotion is not something Hunter does.

As an NHL coach, Hunter will be the face of a hockey club. He'll be surrounded by media, hot-button issues, criticism, public appearances, e-mails, questions, telephone calls and he'll be under the microscope.

It can't be avoided and it can't be handled by an assistant.

That's something he has to deal with if he really wants to go to the NHL.

The only boss Hunter has to worry about if word gets out he's interested in another job is looking back at him from the mirror.

"Yeah, I'd love to coach in the NHL and I think I'm ready for the challenge," would be a good start.

Stop messing about. You do or you don't want to coach in the NHL and there's no better time to decide than right now.

Dale Hunter can coach as long as he wants. He has his routine down pat. Part of that routine is hiring great assistant coaches who support him and do the things he doesn't like to do or that aren't his strong points.


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