Could Dale Hunter’s Unprecedented Shot on Pierre Turgeon Possibly Have Cost Him A Spot in the Hall of Fame?
Dale Hunter is one of the greatest players in Washington Capitals’ history, no fan could argue that. The former captain finished his NHL career second all-time in penalty minutes with 3,565. But the one-time head coach of the Capitals may be remembered by New York Islanders fans for delivering one of the most-controversial cheap shots in NHL history.
It occurred on April 28, 1993. It was Game 6 of the Patrick Division semifinals; and ultimately, the final game. With the Islanders up 3-1, the Capitals had time to shorten the lead. However, a misplaced pass by Hunter landed on the blade of Pierre Turgeon’s stick; and he made the Capitals’ forward pay. Turgeon put the game, and ultimately the series, out of the Caps’ reach. As he began to celebrate, Hunter blindsided Turgeon, sending him into the boards. What ensued afterwards was pure chaos: Turgeon’s teammates pounced on Hunter, causing a pile-up of Capitals, Islanders, and officials. Hunter was escorted to the visitors’ dressing room by an official.
Gary Bettman, the NHL’s commissioner since 1992, was new to his position when the incident occurred. Then-Caps General Manager, David Poile (and currently the Nashville Predators’ GM) and Hunter were called to Bettman’s office in New York; where Bettman then proceeded to suspend Hunter for a then-record 21 games. While Hunter would later admit he went too far; his decision that night had lasting effects on Turgeon. Turgeon suffered a separated shoulder and a concussion from the check and was never the same player he had been before the hit.
Hunter was also guilty of another questionable hit on December 8, 1987 vs. the Calgary Flames. Hunter ran the Flames’ Joe Nieuwendyk into a corner of glass near the Capitals bench.
Hunter’s offensive numbers are certainly enough to get him consideration for the Hockey Hall of Fame; but induction may never come to fruition. While he played 1,407 games in his career, posting 323 goals and 697 assists for 1,020 points, Hunter’s image as a “controversial” player leaves his chances a bit murky. Hunter clearly went too far; even Washington fans could admit that. But should one hit damage a player’s chances of being considered one of the all-time best? Absolutely not. But just watching the hit, one has to wonder exactly what No. 32 was thinking that night? Hunter clearly made a mistake, albeit a costly one. But his numbers speak for themselves: his HOF chances shouldn’t be damaged by one hit that happened over 20 years ago.
The Capitals-Islanders rivalry has become reignited since the realignment; and this year’s playoffs were a testimony to that. A good example of the reignition was demonstrated by Tom Wilson’s hit on Lubomir Visnovsky.
In today’s NHL, a hit like that could possibly cost a player an entire season. But the hit occurred in 1993, and although controversial, should not be the reason Hunter isn’t inducted into the Hall of Fame; no matter how severe it may be.