The Washington Capitals said Monday that Dale Hunter is not returning as coach, two days after the club was eliminated from the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Hunter replaced Bruce Boudreau as coach in November, leaving his longtime post as bench boss with the London Knights. He is also an owner of the Ontario Hockey League franchise, which is off to the Memorial Cup with Hunter's younger brother, Mark, coaching.
"I'm going home," Hunter said, a couple of hours after delivering the news to Capitals general manager George McPhee. "I've got a good thing going there with the family, so I'll stay home."
There was much speculation it wasn't a long-term arrangement, as Hunter did not ask for a multi-year contract. The 51-year-old spent 12 seasons as a Capitals player and still holds many team records.
McPhee said he knew when making the decision in late November that Hunter's home ties meant the arrangement might not be permanent.
Hunter went 30-23-7 during the regular season, with the Capitals splitting a pair of seven-game series in the playoffs. Washington was eliminated on Saturday against the New York Rangers.
"We could have very easily won that series," McPhee said.
The GM said he didn't even attempt to change Hunter's mind, because "there's no grey in Dale's life."
"I'd rather have him for six months than not at all," McPhee said.
The Petrolia, Ont., native received praise for getting the offensive-minded Caps to play a grittier brand of hockey, but raised eyebrows by reducing star Alexander Ovechkin's ice time on several occasions.
While the club hasn't made it past the second round in any of Ovechkin's seven seasons, McPhee said Hunter left the team in better shape going forward.
"He really taught this club the 'how" to win … the 'how' is being a team and sacrificing and he sure got that out of this club," the GM said.
Hunter said he enjoyed his time back in Washington and was proud of how the Capitals players bought in to the system.
"It wasn't like it was an easy choice to make," Hunter replied when asked if it was tempting to see if Washington could progress further next season.
McPhee said he won't rush to name the club's next coach.
As for the Knights, Hunter said he would just be a fan for the Memorial Cup. London plays its first game Saturday against host Shawinigan.
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