More Change in Washington; Dale Hunter replaces Bruce Boudreau

According to a study done of thousands of Facebook statuses, the weeks just prior to Christmas are peak times for couples to break-up. Apparently hockey teams aren’t immune to this social phenomenon. The Washington Capitals brought Bruce Boudreau aboard in 2007 on Thanksgiving Day. Four years later, nearly to the day, they gave him his walking papers. I wonder if General Manager George McPhee gave him the old “It’s not you, it’s me.”

Despite winning their first seven games of the season, the Capitals only managed to win five of their next 15 games. Fans have been buzzing with speculation about who would be traded (or fired), so Boudreau’s dismissal does not come as a huge shock to most. After 22 games, just over a quarter of the way through the season, the Caps sit at 18th overall in the standings. For one of the most talented teams in the league, who started the season with Stanley Cup aspirations, this is unacceptable, and there was no doubt that something had to be changed. Only time will tell if they’ve chosen the right aspect to change.

I do not believe that the Capitals’ recent nose-dive into mediocrity was directly Boudreau’s fault. Washington has some of the most talented players in the world, but for some reason, they were choosing to not perform. Rather, the problem seems to have been a difference of opinions between the head coach and his players, resulting in a lack of morale among the team.

Now, I don’t have a source inside the Capitals’ organization, so this assertion of a schism within the organization is merely a regurgitation of what’s being speculated in articles. Whether it’s true or not, something had the Washington players in a funk. Alexander Ovechkin, so renowned for his dynamic and jaw-dropping plays, seemed unfocused and even bored at times. The games were lost by the guys wearing the jerseys, but it’s much easier to replace one guy than 25.

If the past is a reliable predictor of the future, the Capitals’ immediate future is looking bright. After hiring Boudreau in 2007, the Caps won 14 of their next 25, and ended the season with a seven game winning streak to clinch the Southeast division title. After the Pittsburgh Penguins hired current head coach Dan Bylsma in January of 2009, they won 18 of their next 25, and ended up hoisting the Stanley Cup in June. On November 6 of this year, the St. Louis Blues hired Ken Hitchcock, and have since won 7 of Hitchcock’s first 10 behind the bench.

While there is certainly a precedent for immediate success under new coaches, I’m still wary about whether or not Boudreau was the issue. Regardless, what’s done is done, and hopefully ex-Capital tough-guy Dale Hunter can inject some life into a recently lackluster squad. And with a showdown looming with the Penguins, the Lex Luthor to our Superman, Hunter and the Caps had better get acquainted very quickly. Hunter has one quality I immediately like more than Boudreau; he smiles.

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