Washington Capitals coach Dale Hunter returned home to London and the Ontario Hockey League, to nobody’s surprise. Numerous free agent issues hang over the franchise.Are the Capitals true Stanley Cup contenders? Are they a player or two away.
Or is a major overhaul in order?Consider all the variables:General manager George McPhee sounds like he will make some major personnel decisions before hiring his next coach. Will he look for an offensive minded coach to open up scoring or another defensive-minded leader like Hunter? Devils assistant coach Adam Oates, veteran NHL head coach Ron Wilson and AHL coaches Marc French and John Hynes are some of the possibilities. Offensive-minded winger Alexander Semin seems eager to move on after failing to earn a significant role this season. Neither Hunter nor predecessor Bruce Boudreau liked his work this season. Semin, in turn, bristled at his reduced playing time. Agent Mark Gandler insists his client won’t consider returning to Washington as a free agent unless he was guaranteed a prominent role. “He doesn’t want to be a part-time player, a role player. He wants to be a full-time player,” Gandler told the Washington Post. “Over the course of the year he tried to do what he needed to do to continue to play, play as well as he could under the circumstances . . . So while it was hard, Alex was a team guy, he tried to play whoever he plays with or however few minutes he’s on. They were looking to give everyone ice time except Alex.” Wherever Semin lands, he will be unlikely to make $6.7 million per year.Veteran goaltender Tomas Vokoun plans on fleeing via free agency, leaving playoff hero Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvrith in the nets. Vokoun’s season was cut short by a nagging groin muscle injury. “For me, it was never my intention to be here more than a year,” Vokoun told the Post. “For me, it’s more disappointing about how it went and obviously getting hurt and not having the chance to play in playoffs. That’s what I regret more than worrying about what’s going to be next year. I was looking at it as a one-year thing and I’m sure that’s how it’s gonna be.”Offensive defenseman Dennis Wideman is also hitting the free agent market. He struggled in the playoffs – scoring three points (all assists) with a minus-7 rating – but he stands out in a thin market for puck-moving defensemen. He made $15.75 million on his four-year deal and he could do at least as well after scoring 46 regular season points. He would love to return to Washington, but is there budget space for him.Top forward prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov, 20, opted not to come to the NHL. He will sign with Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL for two years instead. He doesn’t want to come to North America until after he plays for Russia in the 2014 Winter Olympics.Veteran winger Mike Knuble, 39, wants to keep playing, but his reduced role in Washington may preclude a return. He filled a fourth-line role much of the year, then fell out of the lineup altogether and before moving up when injuries hit during the playoffs. It’ll be interesting to see if any teams offer him guaranteed money for next season.Jeff Halpern is ready move along, too, after falling out of favor with Hunter. “It obviously wasn’t the finish of a season that I personally would have liked,” Halpern told the Post. “The team was doing well, but as far as for my own personal career and future, you hope that there’s a lot of other options out there.”