Recently when surfing through social media I saw someone post a question asking if Washington Capitals Alumni Dale Hunter should be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s actually a very good question that deserves a little bit of digging as he actually had a very lengthy career.
Regular Season Career
Drafted 41st overall by the Quebec Nordiques in 1979, Hunter would make his NHL debut in the 1980-81 season with the Nordiques playing 80 games and would record 19 goals and 44 assists for 63 points along with 226 penalty minutes. Hunter would play a total of seven seasons for the Nordiques before being traded to the Capitals on June 13th, 1987 with goaltender Clint Malarchuk for forwards Gaetan Duchesne and Alan Haworth along with Washington’s 1st round choice (which became Joe Sakic) in 1987 Entry Draft. In his seven seasons with the Nordiques Hunter would play in 523 games recording 140 goals and 318 assists for 458 points along with 1545 penalty minutes.
With Washington Hunter would become a fan favorite like he did in Quebec. Hunter would eventually become the Capitals captain from 1994 to 1999. With the Capitals Hunter would play 872 games recording 181 goals and 375 assists for 556 points. Hunter would also compile 2003 penalty minutes in his 12 seasons with the team.
Nearing the end of his career the Capitals would trade Hunter to the Colorado Avalanche (who were previously the Nordiques) on March 23rd, 1999 so he could have one more opportunity at a Stanley Cup. In 12 regular season games with the Avalanche Hunter would score 2 goals along with 4 assists for 6 points. Hunter would also get 17 penalty minutes in his short time in Colorado.
In the NHL playoffs Hunter was someone his team could rely on. Hunter would play in the playoffs 18 years of the 19 that he played in the NHL. With the Nordiques he would play in the playoffs all 7 seasons he would be with playing in 67 games recording 16 goals and 26 assists for 42 points.
Then in Washington Hunter would play in 100 games recording 25 goals and 47 assists for 72 points. Hunter would also score one of the most historic goals in Capitals franchise history as in 1988 in Game 7 of their opening round series against the Philadelphia Flyers, Hunter would score a breakaway goal against Ron Hextall in overtime to become the first player in NHL history to score two series-clinching overtime goals in the playoffs. The first time Hunter would score an overtime series-clinching goal would be in 1982 with the Nordiques against the Montreal Canadiens.
In Hunter’s last run in the playoffs, he would play in 19 games for the Avalanche where he would score one goal, and record three assists for 4 points.
In Hunter’s career, while a tough guy who could play the game, he would be suspect to some controversy that is still talked about today.
That controversy would be from the deciding Game 6 of the 1993 Patrick Division Semifinals between the Capitals and New York Islanders, where Hunter would cough up the puck to Pierre Turgeon, who would score to put the game out of reach, and after the goal was scored, while trailing Turgeon on the play, Hunter would viciously check Turgeon well after the goal as he started to celebrate. Turgeon sustained a separated shoulder from the hit, causing him to miss all but Game 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round, and most of the series against the Montreal Canadiens in the conference finals. Then new NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who had earlier promised to crack down on violence, suspended Hunter for the first 21 games of the 1993–94 season, which at the time would be the longest suspension in league history for an on-ice incident (in terms of games missed).
Years later, Hunter admitted that he’d gone too far and that is was not acceptable.
Hunter would have a very accomplished career over the 19 seasons he would play. Hunter amassed 3565 penalty minutes, only second most to Dave “Tiger” Williams who played in 962 NHL games. Hunter would also become the only player in NHL history to record over 1000 points and over 3000 penalty minutes, which he would do in 1407 games played in the NHL.
After retiring, the Capitals would retire Hunter’s number 32 to the rafters on March 11th, 2000 where he would be gifted the penalty box from the old Capital Centre (the Capitals former home arena until 1997) as a symbolic remembrance of his exceptional amount of time serving penalties.
Overall when looking at Dale Hunter’s NHL career, one can say that Hunter had himself a Hall of Fame worthy career. While marred with the incident from the 1993 playoffs, one can argue that that moment doesn’t fully define Hunter’s career as a player.
When looking at Dale Hunter you can see that he left it all out on the ice and put his team first. Despite his high penalty numbers, was a contributor on the ice offensively. Hunter also was the captain of the Capitals when they went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998, and is one of four players in Capitals franchise history to have his number retired.
Despite any individual awards or a Stanley Cup, Hunter had a solid career. Whether or not he gets the nod to go into the Hockey Hall of Fame remains to be seen, but if he does go in, it will be well earned and deserved.