It's no secret that (a) the Washington Capitals look as emotionally conflicted and ineffective now as they ever have under Coach Bruce Boudreau, losing five of seven games; and (b) the next week could be a critical one for both coach and players.
The Capitals play three games at home this week: Against the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators. Chatter that Boudreau could be sacrificed for his team's systemic problems — despite a 201-88-40 regular-season record as an NHL coach — is at a fever pitch. As that chatter increases, so does the speculation on who could move in if he's moved out.
Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet unleashed a beauty of a rumor on Sunday night: That former Capitals captain and current London Knights head coach Dale Hunter could take over if Boudreau is fired.
Via Steve Whyno of the Washington Times, who notes Kypreos and Hunter played three years together in Washington:
"A lot of speculation something could happen in the next 24-48 hours," Kypreos said. "The name being thrown out there is ex-Washington Capital, a centerman of mine, Dale Hunter."
Kypreos went on to say "the question is would he leave his junior team in London" in the middle of the season.
Coincidentally, Hunter spoke with Ben Raby of WTOP.com about a return to the NHL recently, after becoming the 13th coach in OHL history to reach 450 wins:
"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."
(Did Hunter's discussion with local media have anything to do with his name being in the "pipeline" inside hockey gossip circles?)
Hunter didn't exactly dismiss the notion of leaving the Knights mid-season for an NHL gig in an interview with the London Free Press.
It's hard to conceive that a coach without NHL or AHL experience would take over this team if Boudreau is dismissed. Look at these names, these salaries — they're buying what an OHL coach is selling? That's the prime reason I don't expect this to happen; the secondary one being that I have a creeping suspicion Boudreau weathers this.
Of course, it's not just an OHL coach: It's Dale Hunter, and that name carries weight for players and fans of a certain age.
If the Capitals were to fire Boudreau, hiring Hunter would unquestionably soothe some fans who feel like the coach was wrongfully sacrificed. This is Wendel Clark or Doug Gilmour coaching the Leafs; or Joe Sakic coaching the Avs. It's the level of respect and nostalgia at play in D.C. for Dale Hunter — just look in the rafters at Verizon Center for a reminder of that.