Dale Hunter Hired, Bruce Boudreau Fired
At approximately 8:17 AM, a press release from Sergey Kocharov hit our inbox, announcing the Washington Capitals hired Dale Hunter as their head coach. The former legend and icon in the Nation’s capitol, Hunter left the London Knights for a prestigious job on his former club. As my colleague David Strehle of NHLhotstove, via Twitter, was quick to point out, Hunter held an excellent 451-189-23-24 record over 11 seasons with the Knights. He should be a fine choice to replace Bruce Boudreau, who simply emptied the tank with the team as currently configured.
In Hunter, the team has a fiery coach, one who will make sure every player plays hard and battles in his image. A physical player who was known for toeing the line physically, we can almost expect this Capitals team to play with more drive immediately. Under Boudreau, talented players were told to just go out there and play their game. They were told to have fun. Even though Hunter insists there will be fun, he should change the culture in Washington.
When he tried to alter his coaching style, the kids did not want to come back from the playground. Instead, current captain Alex Ovechkin ran the show with everyone else falling in line. Despite acquiring heart-and-soul players like Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward and Roman Hamrlik, the results this season were the same as last: underachieving. A new starting goalie in Tomas Vokoun could not help out the cause, neither could the shut down pairing of Karl Alzner and John Carlsson. (For the time being, it looks like Hunter will keep the lines as they are).
Last season, the team tried a similar approach in adding stable veterans like Scott Hannan, Dennis Wideman and Jason Arnott to the mix before once again making an early exit in the playoffs. Larry Brooks of NY Post, via Twitter, recalls Arnott in bewilderment over how the team actually played on the ice. There was no real organization with the star players running the show. And now with Ovechkin not scoring off of his patented wrister from the top of the circle, frustration continued to mount with the team looking fully exposed.
A new coach should wake up some slumping scorers. Instead of using last year’s early exit as a warning, most of the star players have spiraled even deeper into fantasy hockey limbo. Ovechkin is under a point-per-game pace for the first time in his career. Alexander Semin is on pace for 20 goals — his lowest totals since his rookie year. Only Nicklas Backstrom is on pace for above-average totals with Brooks Laich, Brouwer, Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera set to top out at 50 points. Under Boudreau, these totals likely would have only continued to decrease. GM George McPhee had no choice but to change it up and change the bench boss. Thanks for making the move we thought you would make for two-three seasons now.
Paul Maurice Fired and Replaced by Kirk Muller
What else can be said about the Paul Maurice firing? Much like Boudreau, Maurice was rumored to be on the outs for most of the season as his team disappointed with a 8-13-4 record. However, unlike Boudreau, I don’t necessarily feel like the team’s struggles were his fault. GM Jim Rutherford failed to re-sign a vital UFA in Erik Cole, then sent Joe Corvo to the Boston Bruins for a pick. He essentially said, “you didn’t make the playoffs so I’m taking away some of your guys.” These two moves not only hurt the team’s core but they also allowed for Rutherford to bring in struggling players like Alexei Ponikarovsky, Anthony Stewart and Tomas Kaberle — none of which has been the answer to any question.
All of the aforementioned additions were unable to play Maurice’s system to it’s fullest. However, last season’s crew was able to do just that, missing the playoffs by just one point. In addition, none of his lauded prospects like Zac Dalpe and Zach Boychuk were able to make any sort of impact offensively — combining for two assists through 22 games. Maurice was forced to alter his system and play a tighter game defensively which took away a lot of the team’s scoring chances. The team responded with back-to-back wins last weekend before getting only one point over their next three games.
Similar to Boudreau, the Canes were tapped. Maurice couldn’t win with them scoring and certainly couldn’t win with them not scoring. His good friend Rutherford was forced to remove him from the job once again and go back to the drawing board. Still, there were some positives that replacement coach Kirk Muller may not be able to replicate. For one, Maurice got the most out of his grinders so expect Chad LaRose, Patrick Dwyer and Jiri Tlusty to take a hit in their playing time. More impressively, he turned Jay Harrison from a journeyman enforcer into a full-time NHL defender.
With Muller, the Canes now have an excellent coach. They witnessed his Milwaukee Admirals defeat the Charlotte Checkers this weekend mainly due to being ‘out coached’. His AHL team held a solid mix of veterans and young players with Muller getting the most out of his players. A former assistant coach of the Montreal Canadiens, no team Muller has coached has been an offensive powerhouse and the Canes are not expected to do anything of the sort.
Expect the captain Eric Staal to get back on his feet. He ended Maurice’s reign suiting up next to Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu — arguably the best two wingers on the team. From there, the rest remains a mystery. While Muller probably doesn’t shake things up right away, he probably wants to get Tomas Kaberle more active offensively as well as give youngster Brandon Sutter more offensive minutes. Maybe Jussi Jokinen moves back to the wing as well to accomodate more of a scoring line. Considering Skinner, Jokinen, Ruutu and Staal have been the only worthwhile fantasy hockey options so far, we might see other, less-heralded players get a chance in a new environment. Still, these Canes are not to be trusted regardless of the change in guard.