Originally posted on Fox Sports Tennessee  |  Last updated 11/29/11
Nashville Predators general manager David Poile was the first man to bring Dale Hunter to Washington. George McPhee is the second. On Monday, McPhee, the Washington Capitals general manager, fired popular coach Bruce Boudreau and replaced him with Hunter, one of the most popular players in franchise history, to try and turn around the underachieving squad one that possesses the talent to compete for a Stanley Cup but that entered Tuesday clinging to a tie for the Eastern Conferences eighth and final playoff spot. Hunter, who ranks second all-time in NHL history with 3,563 penalty minutes, is sure to bring some fire to a Capitals bench, as their players have slipped further and further into a malaise, going 5-9-1 after a 7-0 start. That has to be a very popular move in Washington, Poile said by phone from Edmonton. Nothing against Bruce Boudreau, hes done a terrific job for the Caps. Again, its not for me to say whether its right or wrong, but, I mean, Dale Hunter is one of the most popular Capitals who has ever played and Im sure that will be met with a lot of enthusiasm by the fans, for sure. On June 13, 1987, Poile, then general manager of the Washington Capitals, acquired Hunter in a blockbuster deal with Quebec. Hunter had suffered a broken leg and played only 46 games during the 1986-87 season. He was only 26 and already a four-time 20-goal scorer, but the Nordiques, concerned by the severity of the injury, were ready to give up on him. Quebec traded Hunter with goalie Clint Malarchuk for forwards Alan Haworth and Gaetan Duchesne and the Capitals first-round pick, which eventually became Joe Sakic. (In the season after Poile was fired, the Capitals went to the Stanley Cup final in 1997-1998.) That was at the draft in Detroit, Poile said. We traded our first pick. There were a lot of players involved in the deal. The only reason that Dale was available was that he had a broken leg. So there was some big risk in that trade. I think there was at least some doubt in the Quebec camp that he may not be the same with the broken leg. But history shows it turned out really good for the Caps and hes everything that you want in a professional player in terms of a hard player, dedication, compete level, played hard in the big games, intimidating. He was the real deal. If Hunter can somehow coax the Capitals to play big in the big games they infamously were ousted by Montreal in the first-round of the playoffs in 2010 after capturing the Presidents Trophy for the most points during the regular season and to be intimidating on the ice, Hunter will have accomplished his mission. Over the last few seasons, McPhee has attempted to transform the roster from one dripping with skill to one with more grit. To that end, he has added former Predator Joel Ward (who only had 10 goals during the 2010-11 regular season but was the teams leader in playoff scoring), Jason Chimera, Matt Hendricks, Troy Brouwer and Jeff Halpern. If some of the Capitals key players indeed had stopped playing for Boudreau, hoping for a softer touch, they may have gotten more than they bargained for in Hunter. The new coach carries with him the stain of one of the more notorious plays in the NHL playoff history, which came in Game 6 of the 1993 Patrick Division semifinals. When the New York Islanders Pierre Turgeon stole the puck from Hunter and scored a late-game goal to cement a 5-3 series-clinching victory, Hunter hit the celebrating Turgeon from behind after the play was dead, separating Turgeons shoulder and knocking him out of the playoffs, earning Hunter a 21-game suspension to start the following season. As a coach, Hunter has shown he can meld what Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke would call truculence with skill. In 2004-05, his London Knights set a Canadian junior league record by going 31 games without a loss and won the Memorial Cup, Canadas top junior hockey prize. That team was chock full of future NHL players, including the embodiment of Hunters style, current Anaheim Duck Corey Perry, who won last years Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. In Hunters role as co-owner and coach of the Knights over the past 11 years, his path and Poiles have crossed at times. Yeah, Ive seen Dale at drafts, Poile said. And Ive seen him a couple times at junior games when hes been coaching. Ive always had a nice relationship with Dale. I mean, even as a player, we talked a fair bit. He loved to talk hockey. He was more interested in the game and everything that was happening around the game even when he was a player, so the fact that hes involved in hockey, coaching hockey is not a surprise to me at all. Hunter played 12 seasons in Washington, surpassing the 20-goal mark five times. The Capitals made the playoffs 11 of those seasons and went to the conference finals twice and that one Cup final which is where the bar is set for this Washington team. It will be Hunters job to get them there.
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