Is Dale Hunter the Answer?

Posted December 14, 2011

After a stunning 5-1 loss at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers, most fans and some members of the press are starting to question the hiring of Dale Hunter as being the most logical choice to take over as head coach after the firing of Bruce Boudreau. Since Hunter has taken over the squad the Capitals are 3-4-0 and are currently sitting in 8th place in the Eastern Conference standings. This is a far cry from what most people have predicted the Capitals to be in at this point of the season, as most predicted that the team would run away with the division and vie for another Eastern Conference regular season crown.

First, I was one of those people who were calling for Boudreau’s firing. I have no qualms about it, and I still feel that the move was the best move that the organization could’ve made. The team stopped listening to Boudreau and something needed to be done in order to salvage the season. Was Dale Hunter the best choice as coach? In the same article, I wrote that even though he was on the top-three list of coaches that the Capitals should hire, his lack of experience coaching at the AHL/NHL level may be what would get the best of him, despite his stellar record as a coach in the OHL.

The move that the Capitals made was a very risky one. Bringing in a new coach, a new assistant coach, and teaching a professional sports team (let’s take the minds off of hockey for a split second) a brand new system to play in mid-season is a challenge to itself, for any team in any sport. Hockey is no different. Hunter is doing his best to teach this team what he knows to work in hockey. And let’s face it, if there’s someone out there that this team who should listen to, it should be Hunter. He has big game experience, knows what it takes to play in front of the F Street Faithful, and possesses the skill to know how to score and to play physical, which is something that this team has been lacking most of the season.

Words are just words. Stats should be some sort of indicator of the progress that the Caps have made so far. Since finding somewhere that has stats in which someone can search for a certain split of games is next to impossible, I’ve taken it upon myself to find some sort of proof in numbers. The statistics are limited, but it can give you a glimpse as to what kind of turnaround the Capitals have had so far.

I also want to make a disclaimer. Since using only 7 games isn’t a huge sample size to go off of, in referring to the statistics for the Capitals I used the last 7 games that Boudreau coached, to give an equal representation of the stats.

In the 7 games that Dale Hunter has coached for the team, the Capitals are being outshot 29-32 while under Boudreau the Caps were outshooting their opponents 33-32. Now you’re asking yourself “where’s the turnaround?” Here it is: In the last 7 games under Bruce Boudreau, the GAA for the Capitals was at a whopping 4.43. For the Dale Hunter regime? It’s sitting at 3.00. It’s crazy to think that the Capitals have dropped their GAA almost a full goal and half under Hunter. I was also able to come up with a GFA (or a goals faced average). Under Boudreau, it was a measly 2.29 while under Hunter it has been at 2.71 (so almost a half a goal difference).

As far as penalties go, the team is being called for just about the same amount of penalties per game (4.43 penalties per game under Hunter while 4.14 under Boudreau). However, the PIM/60 has gone up with Hunter behind the bench. The Capitals have racked up 11.71 PIM/60 under Hunter while under Boudreau they only managed 9.14 PIM/60.

So while the turnaround has been slow, there is some hope. And the more that this team learns and practices, the better the team will be. It has shown glimpses of it so far, and will continue to do so as the season goes on.

S/T to Neil Greenberg for pointing me in the right direction for these stats.