Communication Will be Key for Oates

Posted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel

Adam Oates didn’t take the traditional route to the NHL as a player. He went undrafted as a junior-A player in Ontario, then played three seasons at RPI in the early 1980s before finally opening the eyes of NHL scouts. As a coach, Oates’ trajectory has been similarly non-traditional. Introduced as the 16th head coach in Capitals history on Wednesday, Oates has ascended to the top of the coaching profession after three years as an assistant in the NHL and despite having no prior head coaching experience at any level of the game. Ten years ago, Oates told me he’d be interested in an NHL coaching job at some point down the road. But he qualified that statement: “But the one thing is that I wouldn’t want to do something in the minors. I’m very spoiled in the NHL and it would be tough to go ride a bus.” True to his word, he became an NHL assistant coach and now an NHL head coach without apprenticing in the minors as so many of his peers have done. It compares to the school kids who are able to skip a grade or two simply because they’re so far ahead of their class. Oates’ NHL playing career spanned 19 seasons and 1,337 games. He was known as one of the most cerebral players of his time, a guy who loved talking and analyzing the game almost as much as he loved playing it. After his playing career ended in 2003-04, Oates took some time off. “When I retired,” says Oates, “my wife and I moved out to Palm Springs. I worked a lot on trying to become a golfer, basically. Then I got a call to get back into hockey and flipped a switch and went back in. [Then Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet] called me and asked me to come to training camp, lend my eyes and give him some advice on his team and it morphed into an opportunity.” That call from Tocchet came in the late summer of 2009. Had Oates been thinking in the back of his head that he’d like to get back into the game? “I can’t honestly say that,” he says. “But obviously when you’re at home and you’re watching games – especially at playoff time – it does cross your mind. But I didn’t know how to go about it. And then Tocch called.” Oates was brought in as a consultant, to take a look at the team in training camp and offer advice and opinions to Tocchet, his former teammate in Boston and Washington. “I think because I played a long time, I needed a little break,” Oates admits. “But getting back in reminded me of how much I love the game. Coaching has been a fantastic experience for me, it really has.” In his three seasons as an assistant – one with Tampa Bay and two with New Jersey – Oates has worked under four NHL head coaches. Some (Jacques Lemaire, Pete DeBoer) had success and some (Tocchet, John MacLean) didn’t. There are those out there in the fan base and among the media who insist the Caps needed an experienced hand, someone with a lengthy track record of NHL success as a head coach. Caps general manager George McPhee and his hockey operations colleagues spent weeks interviewing candidates and performing other measures of due diligence. And the compass kept pointing to Oates. “The best way to describe what we tried to do here in hiring Adam is simply to go hire a guy with the most upside, the guy that could really be a difference maker,” says McPhee. “It’s not unlike what we’ve tried to accomplish when we go to the draft every summer. Our philosophy has been to go in there and try to find the difference makers, try to find the players with the most upside and really swing for the fences. And that’s what we’ve tried to do here. “We believe Adam Oates is a guy who has lots of upside and can be a real difference-maker for the club. Certainly his background in the game is exceptional. He was really a terrific player and has quickly become a top-notch assistant coach and is now ready to become a head coach. In terms of his hockey IQ, I don’t know if there is a player that I’ve met that’s better in terms of understanding the game, his vision on the ice and his ability to articulate what goes on on the ice. It’s really impressive. “We all know that Adam was an exceptional offensive player. That was a gift he had and he really developed that and was fun to watch. But I don’t know how many people understand really how good he was defensively. When he played here he was our best defensive player. He was our best face-off guy and one of the best in the league. He was our best penalty-killer and he was our best 5-on-3 penalty-killer. That part of the game is learned and he learned it well. To have that experience and playing the right way in his own end as a player and his ability to talk about it and articulate it and express the way he wants to play here with the Capitals was really impressive to us.” Oates excelled in every facet of the game with the exception of speed and skating. And as former teammate Olie Kolzig says, “That might be the only negative he had was his skating. But he made up for it with his head.” The Caps are banking on Oates’ excellence at so many important facets of the game and on his ability to translate and communicate that knowledge to his players. “In terms of philosophy of how to play the game, I really like the way he wants to play the game,” says McPhee. “In terms of methodology, how he’s going to practice and how he’s going to run the bench and everything else, I liked all of those things. His ability to communicate was terrific as a player and terrific as an assistant coach.” Oates knows how he wants his team to play and believes he’ll be able to successfully impart that to them. “You look at the two teams in the [2012 Stanley Cup] final, they were both in-your-face teams, all over the ice, in all three zones,” says Oates. “I consider myself that kind of coach. There is a correct way to play. I don’t believe in sitting back. We have a lot of talented players here. I want our players to go north. I want us to be in the face of the other team. But we’ve also got to protect our goalie and our defense. We’ve got to play good defense. Offense comes from defense, for sure.” Oates is anxious to jump into his new job and responsibilities feet first. The first task will be to hire some assistants, and then the Caps’ annual summer development camp starts in about 10 days. He’ll be hitting the ground running. Players who thought that former Caps coach Dale Hunter didn’t communicate enough should find Oates’ bench and video room presence refreshing. “I consider myself a communicator,” relates Oates. “I will talk to the players for sure. I have my own style. As George said, you have to put the puck in the net but you have to play defense. It’s going to be the ability to do both. I think the players will like playing for me. I’m going to communicate with them and it will be a mutual understanding.” As a player, Oates appreciated the coaches that communicated well, and those types were sometimes few and far between in that era. “I can’t be a hypocrite as a coach,” says Oates, “because as a player that’s what I wanted. I wanted feedback. I wanted communication from the boss. I showed up for work. You can yell at me if you want, but I want input. So that’s the kind of coach I want to be.”

next up:

Caps Land Crabb

January 14, 2013

According to a report from TSN's Darren Dreger, the Caps signed their first unrestricted free agent of the 2012 summer shopping season late Sunday evening when they inked right wing Joey Crabb to a one-year deal worth $950,000, a raise from the $750,000 he earned with Toronto last season. The

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