WASHINGTON – Former Capitals captain Dale Hunter joined an elite group Saturday, becoming just the 10th coach in Ontario Hockey League history to reach 450 career wins.
Hunter’s London Knights beat the Erie Otters 7-2 Saturday, improving to a league-best 19-5-1.
Minutes after Hunter’s milestone win, the Capitals left Buffalo’s First Niagara Center following yet another humbling defeat – 5-1 against a depleted Sabres team that was missing nine players from its opening night roster.
It was Washington’s fourth straight loss on the road and their tenth loss in 15 games overall following a 7-0 start to the season.
The Capitals’ prolonged slump has led to growing speculation – on both sides of the border – that a team that began the year with Stanley Cup expectations could be headed towards a coaching change.
Rogers Sportsnet in Canada suggested this week that Hunter is worthy of consideration.
The 51-year-old Hunter is now the OHL’s third longest tenured head coach having worked behind the Knights’ bench since 2001.
Brothers Dale and Mark Hunter purchased the Knights in 2000, and now in his 11th season as the club’s head coach, Dale is widely considered one of the game’s best coaches yet to guide a professional team.
“It would be pretty nice to see somebody like Dale Hunter [return to the NHL],” former Capitals general manager David Poile told WTOP unsolicited in 2009.
“He’s a very successful coach in junior hockey and I think he’s a guy we should be keeping our eyes on for future NHL coaching possibilities. Dale was a tremendous player, a great player for the Caps and also a great student of the game and we can see that now with his successful coaching in the junior ranks.”
Hunter retired in 1999 after a 19-year NHL career – including parts of 12 seasons in Washington – and he is one of four former Capitals to have had their jerseys raised to the Verizon Center rafters.
When WTOP brought Poile’s endorsement of Hunter to his attention, the three-time OHL Coach of the Year didn’t beat around the bush.
“Yeah definitely I think I would look into it,” Hunter said in a phone interview of a possible return to the NHL.
“It takes experience to coach and I’ve been coaching here for [ten] years with the London Knights. Definitely I watch a lot of NHL games – it’s a great game, the NHL is the elite level and my one goal that I never reached as a player – I came close once with the Caps [in 1998] – is to win a Stanley Cup. It would be awesome whether coaching or playing.”
In addition to developing No. 1 picks Rick Nash (2002) and Patrick Kane (2007), Hunter also led the Knights to the 2005 Memorial Cup (Canada’s junior hockey national championship).
It’s also no secret that Hunter remains close with the Capitals organization and has maintained a working relationship with GM George McPhee.
When the Capitals acquired former London Knights defenseman Dennis Wideman at last year’s Trade Deadline, McPhee sought Hunter’s endorsement before pulling the trigger on the deal.
Wideman played for Hunter from 2001-04 while fellow Caps defenseman John Carlson manned in Knights’ blue line during the 2008-09 campaign.
“Everyone knows what type of player Dale was, and how much he means to the franchise,” Wideman told reporters the day he was acquired from the Florida Panthers.
“He always said positive things with the way [the Capitals] treat their players and moving forward how they’re trying to build the team. I had the pleasure of playing for Dale for three years and just playing for him and his brother Mark got me to where I am today.”
The Capitals return to Verizon Center Tuesday against the St. Louis Blues at 7:05. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 6:45 on Federal News Radio – WFED 1500 AM & wfed.com.