By Steve Silverman
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Adam Oates may have set the standard for good days. It’s hard to imagine anyone topping what happened to him Tuesday.
When he woke up in the morning, he was a Devils assistant coach and a retired hockey player. Before he ate dinner Tuesday night, he was the head coach of the Washington Capitals and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
That’s quite a day.
Oates had developed a reputation as one of the best hockey minds among assistant coaches in the NHL. None of that should have been a surprise since he was one of the most clever and creative offensive players in the history of the game. Oates will probably go into the Hall of Fame best remembered as Brett Hull’s primary set-up man with the St. Louis Blues.
Oates had a couple of excellent years setting Hull up for his breathtaking wrist shot and his hard slap shot. But while the perception is that Hull was the superstar, Oates may have been one of the best set-up men in the history of the game.
However, Oates spent just 2 ½ years with Hull in St. Louis. He spent 4 seasons in Detroit, 4 ½ in Boston, 4 ½ in Washington and also spent time with the Ducks, Flyers and Oilers
As far as passers go, Oates was one of the best. We’ll give Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux an edge right off the bat. It’s hard to imagine that anyone was better than Jean Beliveau when he was in his prime with the Montreal Canadiens. But outside of that trio, Oates is right up there.
His best year was the 1992-93 season with the Boston Bruins when his numbers were other-worldly. He scored 45 goals and had 97 assists. Oates was not your prototypical Bruin because he didn’t overwhelm opponents with a nasty edge like Cam Neely or Terry O’Reilly. But he basically put them in a position to score every time he had the puck.
He also did the same on all of his other primary stops. The game slowed down for Oates. He knew how to create space and that would give him an extra split second to make the pass or take the shot. He was simply an assist machine when he was in his prime and he could also put the puck in the net. He finished his career with 1,420 points in 1,337 games.
As an assistant coach, he designed the Devils’ offensive setups and came up with plays when they were on the power play or needed to score at the end of the game. Unlike a lot of Hall of Fame players, he had the same ease of explaining what was needed to his players as he did when he was on the ice.
It’s not hard to imagine why the Devils were able to go so far this season with Oates handling the offensive responsibilities and fellow Hall of Famer Larry Robinson handling the defensive end.
The Devils will surely feel his loss, but it won’t be easy for Oates in Washington. For years, the Capitals were a high-scoring but seemingly undisciplined team that went as far as Alex Ovechkin could take them.
When they consistently came up short, the Caps tried to change their philosophy and emphasize defense. Former head coach Bruce Boudreau never could get his players to fully commit, but they made a lot of progress this spring under Dale Hunter when they eliminated the Bruins in the first round of the playoffs and pushed the Rangers to 7 games.
Oates will almost certainly continue to emphasize the defense. How well he gets everybody to buy in will determine how strong a head coach he becomes. He may have to butt heads with Ovechkin a time or two.
Those days won’t be as sweet as the day he earned a Hall of Fame spot and also became an NHL head coach.
Will Oates be successful as the Capitals new coach? Share your thoughts below…