As one of the most popular players in Washington Capitals history, Dale Hunter forged a reputation of getting under the collective skins of his opponents.
As the new coach of the underachieving Caps, letís see if he can light a fire under the underachieving butts of underachieving stars like Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.
Hunter, who produced one of the top coaching records in the Ontario Hockey League while serving behind the bench of the London Knights, was named coach of the Caps on Monday morning, replacing the beleaguered Bruce Boudreau.
Boudreauís firing came less than a week after he reached 200 career victories faster than any coach in NHL history.
Donít be fooled by that record, however. Mired in an ugly losing skid, the Caps appear to have tuned out Boudreau, with Ovechkin stuck in a scoring slump and Seminís moribund play resulting in a night of banishment in the press box.
The Boudreau-Ovechkin relationship appeared to hit rock bottom several weeks ago when the star forward, upset that he was not being put out on the ice in the gameís final minute and the Caps trailing by a goal, could be seen muttering what appeared to be an obscenity about his coach. It appeared that Ovechkin made a comment about the weight of his pudgy bench boss, although only a lip reader would know for sure.
The Caps have lost six of their past eight to fall into eighth place in the Eastern Conference. One of those defeats was a 7-1 drubbing at the hands of the Maple Leafs in front of a coast-to-coast television audience on Hockey Night in Canada.
Boudreau, who was hired four years ago on U.S. Thanksgiving Day, went 201-88-40 in the regular season but just 17-20 in the playoffs. In the end, the Caps consistent failures in the postseason led to Boudreauís demise.
Hunter, 51, played 19 seasons for the Caps and is one of just four players to have his number retired by the franchise. He is scheduled to run Caps practice today and will make his debut behind their bench on Tuesday against St. Louis.
In 11 seasons with the Knights, Hunter posted a record of 451-189-23-24; was the fastest coach in OHL history to win 300 and 400 games; and his .691 winning percentage is the best in league history. In the process, he helped turn the Knights into one of the top powerhouses in the Canadian Hockey League.