WILL HUNTER RETURN AS CAPS COACH

All anyone wanted to talk about today following a solid 4-1 victory over the Nashville predators on Tuesday night, was the contract status of head coach Dale Hunter. The Caps new head coach, who is 5-5 since taking over behind the bench for Bruce Boudreau on November-28, is signed just until the end of the season.

First reported by sports talk 106.7 The Fan in Washington D.C, and the Washington Times, Hunter declined to comment on his contract status following practice on Thursday at the Kettler Ice Complex in Northern Virginia. 

“I don’t comment on that,” Hunter told reporters after practice. “I don’t talk about it.”

Both sources site multiple reasons for the odd contractual agreement between Hunter and the Caps organization. The first, in case Dale Hunter can't turn this around and the Capitals want to go in a different direction next season, also, as one source says, this was done in case Hunter wants to go back to the London Knights of the OHL.

Hunter has said that coaching the Washington Capitals is his dream job, but it's not as if the former 19-year NHL vet doesn't have a pretty solid gig to go back to in case this fails. 

Hunter was a very successful head coach for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. He was the fastest head coach in OHL history to reach 300, and then 400 wins. Not to mention, he is also co-owner of an OHL money making machine with his brother, and also a former NHL vet, Mark Hunter.

Dale spent 11 seasons with the London Knights, and aside from serving as the teams head coach, Hunter served as president. He is still listed as such on the team’s web site. According to the Washington Post, Hunter’s one-year contract allows the team and Hunter the opportunity to reassess the situation at season’s end, much like the first contract Boudreau received when he was hired in November 2007.

Hunter has said on several occasions that coaching the Capitals was his dream job, which explains why he left the success behind for the stress and rigors of the NHL.  While Hunter may not want to comment, his players had plenty to say to various reporters after practice on Thursday.

Speaking to media from the D.C area including CSN Washington Caps writer Chuck Gormley, and Washingtin Post Capitals beat writer Katie Carrera, several players were candid in their thoughts on the one year deal.

“I think things happened really quickly,” Capitals veteran right winger Mike Knuble, who played in his 1000th NHL game on Tuesday said. “It was probably in George’s best interests to do it that way.

Capitals goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who is currently in Hunters doghouse so to speak, and will sit once again Friday night in New Jersey said, “It doesn’t matter for me, I don’t think it matters to Joel Ward if I’m on a one-year deal or not. I’m sure for most of the guys it’s like that with the coaches. It’s somebody else’s decision. It doesn’t really matter."

“I think guys are buying into what he’s preaching now,” Jason Chimera said. “It doesn’t change how we play for him or how we go about things, I think he’s doing a great job. And he’s running the team pretty well; he’s got a good eye on a lot of the guys now so it doesn’t change much — doesn’t change the way I think, anyway.”

WHAT'S IT ALL MEAN:

Hopefully the Capitals will win, and Hunter returns, but the Caps 14th head coach in franchise history was the second of six new head coaches that have taken over in the NHL during the last six weeks. With his one-year deal, it would appear that everyone is protected, except for the players and fans. In what appears to be a no-fault insurance policy for both parties, this also answers the question as to why his contract was not leaked upon his hiring. While it has always been the policy of the Capitals front office not to release details of a contract, details were always leaked, but not this time.

Hunter's system is obviously not catching as on as quickly as many within the organization had hoped, as the Caps are just 5-5 since Hunter took over. Even though the Caps former team captain is not the Lone Ranger in terms of not having success as a new head coach this season, Washington is arguably the most talented team of the six that has a new head bench boss.

If Hunter does not succeed, then its back to London with no harm done, right------wrong! The Caps are currently working in their third major system change during the past 18 months, and at times look every bit as confused as one would imagine they should be.

I'm not saying that the players have no blame in any of this, they do. Starting with team captain Alex Ovechkin, all of them had a chance to do something special with Boudreau. They began the season with a franchise best 7-0 mark, but when the going got tough, and Boudreau held everyone accountable for their poor play, instead of getting better, most quit on him in mid-November. Enter Hunter, and if he fails, the Caps will most assuredly look elsewhere. That could mean the third coach in less than a year, which would also mean another system for the players to learn.

It is also important to ask that if GM George McPhee trades players before, or at the trade deadline, which Hunter deems not a good fit for his system, what happens if old No.32 does leave after one year.

Will trading those players have done more harm to the organization than good?

Only time will tell, as the Caps leading scorer, Nicklas Backstrom said it best on Thursday when he said,  "I don’t think about his contract, but I think he’s made a great impression on all of us so far. Hopefully we can start winning hockey games so that he stays with us.”