Photo credit: Patrick McDermott
When Dale Hunter’s made his decision to resign as the coach of the Washington Capitals, the disappointment of his players was manifest as they conducted their exit interviews at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. For all the talk of Hunter’s defense-first game plan, the coach’s strategy was barely mentioned by the players. Instead, they praised something else: the accountability he brought to the team. Gone were the days of stars — or captains — getting a free pass. Every player was forced to work together, no matter what line or how much ice team they got.
“He taught us as much about leadership and the team aspect and respect amongst players and trust in your teammates as he did about hockey,” Brooks Laich said at the time. “There were some things culture-wise that had to be adjusted in order for our team to succeed and I thought he did a great job of doing that, put it a step in the right direction.”
Now, as Washington’s General Manager George McPhee continues his search for the next bench boss, he isn’t looking for a coach just to mirror Hunter’s system, but one who can pair his temperament and ability to motivate players with a higher-powered offense more reminiscent of the Presidents’ Trophy winning Caps of yesteryear.
“It’s not necessarily the style of play that’s most important, if you’re the coach you’ve got to sell this to the players and have them buy in to it and that’s what works,” McPhee told reporters in the Capitals locker room Thursday morning. “We really like the way the team competed. That was something we’ve been trying to get to, to have them complete like that and they were terrific. They played their guts out. It was great. We want to maintain that kind of commitment and play a little more uptempo.”
“This team has sort of grown up together, they’re getting to that point where they get it,” he added.
McPhee, expectedly, was mum on which names are in the running for the job. We already know that Flyers assistant Craig Berube will not be tapped. McPhee did say the decision would likely not come until after the NHL Draft next weekend, and that current assistant coaches Jim Johnson and Dean Evason would “probably not” be back with the team. But it does seem as if McPhee realizes it’s not the smartest decision to go with another players’ coach like Bruce Boudreau. And Caps fan should be happy about that.
“When you do it in the summer it becomes a real thoughtful process, real comprehensive, you can talk to a lot of people, come up with a plan on how you’re going work,” said McPhee. “We’ve enjoyed it. There are some terrific people out there, some real good candidates. We like where we are in the process, we like where we are so far, and we’ll just keep working our way until we’re making that final decision.”