On Monday morning, Dale Hunter stepped down as the head coach of the Washington Capitals.
He needs to now become the top candidate to replace Mike Haviland on the Chicago Blackhawks bench.
There are a number of factors to consider when thinking about adding Hunter to the Blackhawks bench.
First, Hunter was an exceptional head coach in juniors with the London Knights where he coached Patrick Kane before the Blackhawks made him the top overall picks. Perhaps adding a familiar influence to the bench would help Kane’s maturation process.
Secondly, Hunter was a good coach with the Capitals and showed a willingness to, when they weren’t performing, smack his superstars where it hurts most: their ice time. Alex Ovechkin skated the lowest ice time of his career this season, and Hunter benched him during important stretches in the playoffs.
That’s something Joel Quenneville hasn’t been as willing to try, but noted in the conversation with the media after firing Haviland that he needs to improve. And if Kane is someone that needs to take a seat, having someone around to do it who has a personal history with Kane and also has personal history of telling someone like Ovechkin to take a seat would be an excellent individual to have on staff.
Just as he was as an enforcer on the ice, Hunter showed as a coach that he doesn’t take crap from anyone, and expects the best from the best. That sounds like precisely what the Blackhawks need in their room right now.
Third, in a limited amount of time, Hunter was able to get the Caps to buy in to his defense-first approach to the game.
In October, under Bruce Boudreau, the Caps allowed the sixth-most shots on goal per game (32.3) and were tied for 15th in the NHL in goals against (2.56). The wheels came off in Washington in November, when they allowed 3.64 goals per game and Boudreau was fired.
Since Nov. 27, when Hunter took over, the Caps gradually improved. In 34 games after the All-Star Game, all under Hunter’s guidance, they allowed only 30.2 shots on goal and 2.68 goals per game.
Also impressive, Washington ranked 13th in the NHL in penalty kill (94.0 percent) after the Break, and the Caps had more short-handed goals (two) than the Blackhawks (one) during the home stretch.
If the Hawks’ power play was so much more successful under the guidance of Mike Kitchen, as Quenneville was adamant to point out to the media after firing Haviland, then finding someone to handle the penalty kill would be important.
Some have already speculated that Hunter will return to the junior ranks as a head coach, where he enjoyed incredible success. But it’s worth at least a phone call from the Chicago Blackhawks front office to see if the NHL coaching bug has left any impression on Hunter at all.