Dale Hunter In, Bruce Boudreau out as Capitals' Head Coach After 4 Seasons

Ryan DavenportContributor INovember 28, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 21:  Head coach Bruce Boudreau of the Washington Capitals watches the game against the Phoenix Coyotes at the Verizon Center on November 21, 2011 in Washington, DC. Washington won the game 4-3. This was Boudreau's 200th career victory.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

After the Washington Capitals were embarrassed for the third time in a week, general manager George McPhee decided it was time for a change.

Bruce Boudreau, the Caps' lovable bench boss, who helped the team become the offensive juggernaut that captured four straight Southeast Division championships, is out two days after his troops were thoroughly dominated by the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night.

Boudreau, the 2008 Jack Adams Award winner, helped the team go from a basement dweller to a perennial contender almost overnight once he took over on Thanksgiving Day in 2007. Unfortunately, he never found the same level of success in the postseason, which is ultimately why McPhee was forced to make a change.

Interestingly, Boudreau's replacement behind the bench, Dale Hunter, is the only man to lead the Capitals to the Stanley Cup finals, as he captained Washington to an Eastern Conference Championship in 1998.

Since then, Hunter has become one of the most successful coaches in Major Junior hockey, leading the London Knights to a Memorial Cup championship while helping more than a dozen prospects earn promotions to the NHL.

Hunter's hiring demonstrates that McPhee and majority owner Ted Leonsis are tired of watching the Capitals play uninspired hockey. Boudreau is a "player's coach" by trait, and it became increasingly clear that he had lost the ears of at least some of the highly-paid players on his roster.

On the other hand, Hunter was a tough-as-nails forward, who racked up over 1,000 points and 3,500 penalty minutes during his 19-year NHL career. More importantly, he was a proven leader who had the respect and undivided attention of his teammates, including the far more talented ones such as Peter Bondra, Sergei Gonchar and Adam Oates.

Dale Hunter returns to Washington, 13 years after captaining the franchise to their first and only Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
Dale Hunter returns to Washington, 13 years after captaining the franchise to their first and only Stanley Cup Finals appearance.Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Another factor in McPhee's decision has to have been the play of Alex Ovechkin, who has gone from being arguably the sport's most dynamic player to simply a high-end power forward in a matter of two seasons.

Since the 2010 Olympics, Ovechkin hasn't played with the fire and passion that his coaches, teammates and fans were accustomed to, and Boudreau couldn't seem to motivate his captain to elevate his play at the right times.

While Ovechkin was benched at one point late in a game against Anaheim earlier this season, Hunter will almost undoubtedly demand more on a nightly basis than Boudreau did. If Hunter's coaching style is anything like the way by which he played the game, he'll stop at nothing to win, no matter who he has to send out onto the ice.

Remember, this is the same Dale Hunter who earned the then-longest suspension in NHL history for running over Pierre Turgeon of the New York Islanders after Turgeon scored a series-winning goal against the Caps in 1993.

That winning attitude is a big reason why Hunter has helped the London Knights become the most successful Ontario Hockey League team over the course of the last 10 seasons. He's helped guys like Corey Perry, Rick Nash, Dave Bolland, Patrick Kane and current Caps Dennis Wideman and John Carlson become NHL standouts, which is a testament to his ability to get the best out of his players.

That's not to say that Boudreau didn't demand a lot out of his Capitals.  He played a large role in the development of many of the Caps' best players, in particular Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich.

The declining performance of the Caps' stars, such as Alex Ovechkin, played a large role in George McPhee's decision to replace Bruce Boudreau
The declining performance of the Caps' stars, such as Alex Ovechkin, played a large role in George McPhee's decision to replace Bruce BoudreauPatrick McDermott/Getty Images

The energetic and quick-witted bench boss put his heart and soul into this team, and he became a celebrity in his own right in the nation's capital.  He was adored by many of the players, especially those who won a Calder Cup with him in Hershey, such as Green, Laich, Jeff Schultz and Matt Hendricks.  

Unfortunately, when teams as talented as the Capitals don't produce, especially in the postseason, coaches often lose their jobs, and Boudreau was simply out of second chances.

Boudreau will catch on somewhere else, because as a former Coach of the Year and Calder Cup winner, he's a proven commodity behind the bench.

However, for a team underachieving as badly as the Capitals, a new voice with a more hard-nosed approach may be the best thing for the entire franchise. The Capitals sealed the fate of their now-former head coach by getting flattened by Toronto, New York and Buffalo in the span of a week.

If the new man behind the bench can get the team to play with anywhere near the same level of heart that he did during his playing days, the Caps will be in good shape going forward.

This could prove to be the turning point for the Capitals, as Dale Hunter is back to finish a mission he started 23 years ago and deliver the franchise's first Stanley Cup.