x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Risky business for NHL sides of changing coaches

The Washington Capitals' move for an inexperienced coach highlights the risks clubs are willing to make.

Bruce Boudreau was replaced as coach of the Washington Capitals by the unproven Dale Hunter.
Bruce Boudreau was replaced as coach of the Washington Capitals by the unproven Dale Hunter.

It is a tough time to be a coach in the National Hockey League. Just ask the former bench bosses in Washington, Carolina and Anaheim, all of whom were replaced recently.

Paul Maurice, in his second stint as the Carolina coach, was dismissed and replaced by Kirk Muller, the former All-Star.

In Washington, Bruce Boudreau was replaced Dale Hunter, a legendary Capitals player.

In Anaheim, Randy Carlyle was replaced by Boudreau, who was out of work for all of two days before being chosen to coach the Ducks.

It is notable any time a team changes coaches, but the decision in Washington is especially significant.

The Capitals were in a very different situation than Carolina and Anaheim, who were grossly underachieving and falling fast in the standings. In contrast, Washington are a Stanley Cup contender.

The Capitals started the season undefeated in their first seven games, but since then the bottom has fallen out.

George McPhee, the Capitals general manager, decided to bring in Hunter in the hopes it will kick-start the sputtering club. It is a risky move, both for the team and for Hunter.

Certainly, Hunter has credibility in Washington, where he led the Caps in the 1980s and 1990s with his hard-nosed play and leadership.

He was not the most skilled player, but he was a force and few dared to cross him.

He is a no-nonsense type who will demand a full effort from his team, from the star players such as Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom all the way down to the depth guys.

However, Hunter has never coached professionally. After retiring from the NHL in the late 1990s, he bought the junior London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League with his brother, Mark, and ran the team with great success.

But it is one thing to lead a team of impressionable teenagers trying to make it to the NHL, and quite another to take over a star-laden club like the Caps, with a diverse roster of multimillionaire athletes and the egos that come with that.

Not to mention, taking over a team in the middle of the season is difficult at the best of times; you have got to hit the ground running and that will be a challenge for Hunter as the entire NHL coaching experience is new to him.

It could work out, of course. Ovechkin could rediscover his superstar form, and the Caps could rumble over the rest of the league.

But just as Wayne Gretzky found he could not pass his sublime skills to the Phoenix Coyotes, Hunter's best playing traits - heart and desire - cannot really be taught, either.