Tonight, at 7PM EST, the Dale Hunter Era will officially begin in Washington, DC. There will be no major event made of the coaching change that saw longtime bench boss Bruce Boudreau ousted and replaced with major juniors' success story and Capitals' legend, Dale Hunter. Hunter, who's number 32 hangs in the rafters at the Verizon Center, needs no introduction.
It will be business as usual when the puck drops against the St. Louis Blues. The Blues recently dumped do-nothing Davis Payne, who coached an extremely talented but under performing team, in favor of Ken Hitchcock, who has a Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999 and an Olympic Gold Medal as Mike Babcock's assistant coach from the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Capitals' owner Ted Leonsis and General Manager George McPhee are looking for the same energy and new life that Hitchcock has recently injected into the Blues, who have been nothing short of phenomenal on the ice since their coaching change.
While Hunter hasn't coached a single game at the NHL level, he brings in his own unique coaching resume. Hunter's London Knights (OHL) have gone 451-189-23-24 in 11 seasons, including an OHL Championship for the 2004-05 season. While Hunter gets to play around with some amazing talent on the current Caps' roster, he has already coached young superstar in the making John Tavares (last year's MVP winner), Corey Perry and Calder Winner and Stanley Cup Champion Patrick Kane, among others.
The general consensus in Washington, and in the hockey world in general, is this: Hunter is expected to bring a hard-nosed, no nonsense, tough as nails style of hockey to DC. Players that were a bit too relaxed and certainly under performed during the Boudreau regime are expected to be held accountable for their play, or lack thereof.
The casual fans' expectation is that Hunter will re-energize team captain Alexander Ovechkin and motivate top sniper Alex Semin. Veteran defensemen Jeff Schultz and Roman Hamrlik, whose play have been absolutely abysmal, are going to be whipped into shape or sent somewhere less favorable than Washington.
The Capitals, who are a Southeast Division juggernaut, are in danger of losing the division to the previously moribund Florida Panthers. Last year's Eastern Conference Finals runner-ups Tampa Bay Lightning are right around the corner as well. Fortunately for the Capitals, they are not exactly in the same position as the lagging Carolina Hurricanes, who have rid themselves of on again, off again head coach Paul Maurice, who was fired on the same day as Bruce Boudreau.
Throughout these actions, owner Ted Leonsis has sent a clear message: Win now or else. George McPhee has played the last card in his hand, and the rest of the league has called. High priced Alex Semin's future is either to be a winner in Washington or be sent back to the KHL in Russia.
Roster players who are not named Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom are expendable if they are not giving 100 percent. The next 20 or so games, taking us into the All-Star break, will be a good indicator of how the attitudes of the Capitals has or has not changed, and exactly what this team is capable of.
Only time will tell if the losing culture that has plagued Washington for so many years is dead, or if it still lingers within the organization.
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