Hunter won't return to coach Caps

Dale Hunter will not return as head coach of the Washington Capitals next season.

Capitals general manager George McPhee said Monday during the team's season- ending media session that Hunter will be heading back home to London, Ontario for family reasons. He was the head coach of the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights before taking over behind the bench of the team with which he spent a majority of his NHL playing career.

"It's a tough decision," said Hunter. "I enjoyed coaching these guys here, and being back with my team. It's the right thing for me and my family."

Hunter took over on November 28 after Bruce Boudreau was fired and led the Capitals to the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. After dethroning the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in seven games of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, the Capitals came up one win short in the next round and lost to the New York Rangers in seven games, falling 2-1 on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

The Capitals were 12-9-1 when Hunter took over and went 30-23-7 over the final 60 games to finish the regular season at 42-32-8.

"I came in with a little different philosophy," Hunter noted. "The work ethic and commitment the players [showed] down the stretch and in the playoffs... We took a very good team to Game 7 and anything could have happened."

Hunter, one of just four players to have his number retired by the Capitals, was in his 11th season with the Knights when he was called upon to replace Boudreau. He owns the highest winning percentage in OHL history with a record of 451-189-23-24.

"It wasn't unexpected," said McPhee on Monday. "I've always talked to Dale over the years about coaching this club. He wasn't able to leave [London] before. When we talked to him this time around, we knew that he may not be able to go beyond this year. He did a great job of coming in and helping us out."

The 51-year-old Ontario native played 19 seasons in the NHL and ranks second in league history with 3,565 penalty minutes. He was also a productive player with 323 goals and 697 assists for 1,020 points in 1,407 games for Quebec, Washington and Colorado.

Hunter spent 11 full seasons and part of another with Washington, and was the team's captain from the 1994-95 campaign until his trade to Colorado late in the 1998-99 season. He appeared in 872 games with the Capitals and his 100 career playoff games are tied for first in team history, while his 82 points and 47 assists both top the club's playoff list.