Knuble was wrong, though. The Capitals don’t have the kind of group that can be self-policing. They have the kind of group that, at this point, still needs to be reminded that defense is as important as offense — and that effort is most important of all. The Caps, alas, lead the league in refresher courses and “going to back to basics.”
Rest assured, Hunter won’t put up with such lollygagging. As a player, he was all about two-way hockey, all about perspiration. McPhee’s description of Hunter was dead-on: “He played 19 years in this league … and whether the game was home or away, or he was injured or healthy, or whether [his club] was winning or losing, he played the same way every night, and it was very hard” — as his 3,565 penalty minutes, second all time, attest.
Harder than hard, sometimes — “downright mean,” according to McPhee, whose rough-and-tumble career overlapped with Hunter’s. Downright meanness doesn’t play very well in the NHL these days. For one thing, Dale said, “There’s too many referees out there now. There’s an extra one.” But toughness and tenacity are never out of fashion, and the new coach can teach the Capitals a few things about them.
It’s a fairy tale if you want to write it that way. One of the most beloved players in franchise history leaves the Junior A hockey club he owns in London, Ontario — and has coached with record-breaking distinction for 11 seasons — and returns to the Caps, “my team,” to try to bring them their first Stanley Cup.
But there’ll only be a happy ending if Hunter can make the transition from juniors to the pros — and if his players pay closer attention to him than they did, at the end, his predecessor. Otherwise he might as well have stayed in Canada.
To borrow a line from Gordon Gekko, the Dale Hunter of “Wall Street”: This is your wakeup call, Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and the rest. Go to work.