The two kept in touch regularly during the past dozen years as Hunter built the London Knights into an Ontario Hockey League power while McPhee was busy building the Caps into a Stanley Cup contender.
On Monday, Hunter returned to the Capitals -- hired as the 15th head coach in team history -- with the mandate of righting the ship of a Caps team that has lost 10 of 15 games since opening the season with seven straight wins.
"Definitely, this has been my team," Hunter said after his first practice with the Caps on Monday afternoon. "I shouldn't say ‘my team' -- it's really [owner] Ted [Leonsis'] team, but it feels like my team because I played here for so long and have many good memories here."
Hunter played in 872 games for the Capitals from 1987-99, recording 181 goals and 556 points. He ranks fourth all-time in team history in games played and is tied for ninth in goals. His 2,003 penalty minutes as a Cap are a franchise-high.
"What I've learned is that playing is a lot more fun than coaching," Hunter said when asked what he's learned from his 11 years of coaching in the OHL. "When you're growing up you don't say that you want to be a coach; you say you want to be a player. Coaching is a tough job. Basically you've got 23 guys with different personalities and you have to figure out how to make them work."
Hunter made it work at the junior level, winning three Matt Leyden Trophies as the OHL's Coach of the Year and leading the Knights to the 2005 Memorial Cup, which is junior hockey's version of the Stanley Cup.
On Saturday, Hunter became the 10th coach in OHL history to reach 450 career wins, and he leaves junior hockey with a record of 451-189-23-24. His .691 points percentage is also tops all-time among OHL coaches with at least 200 wins.
Whether that success translates to the NHL for a guy who has never coached a team made up of professionals remains the question.
"Coaching is coaching," McPhee said, "and he's been coaching at a good level and at a high level. The same questions were asked of [Boudreau] when he came here [without NHL coaching experience], and he had an outstanding record.
"The man played in the League for 19 years. He's played for a lot of coaches. Dale really understands this game. He knows two things -- farming and hockey. He's really got them both."
One area that had been questioned with the Caps during the Boudreau era was the team's lack of discipline and, until this year, a lack of accountability.
Hunter says that on his teams -- no matter the name on the back of the jersey -- players will be dealt with in an equal manner.
"I'm a players' coach," he said, "but also the players will know when I'm mad at them. I'm stern on them because that's the way you have to be to win games. Everybody makes mistakes out there, but if they keep making the same mistakes there will be repercussions."
Added veteran Mike Knuble: "He brings a lot of clout, and everybody knows his name in this city. Players know what he's accomplished here and in our League. I think that's a lot of immediate respect that you want to play hard for him."
Hunter is also one of four Capitals to have had his jersey raised to the Verizon Center rafters and a 25-by-15 foot mural with his likeness looks over the Capitals practice rink in Northern Virginia.
"Sure, [Hunter's history] is a nice piece of this, but I had to make a decision about who would be best to coach this team, and we think Dale has been a heck of a coach at the junior level and he played at this level for 19 years," McPhee said. "So we think he's the right guy for this team right now. To have his history is a nice touch, but being the right guy for the team has to come first."