Former head coach Adam Oates was on Hockey Night in Canada radio a couple weeks ago to talk about his new role as an HNIC analyst. At the top of interview, Oates dropped this wisdom: “You wouldn’t like it if someone said something about you.”
So true. Please keep in mind as we move along.
Oates went on to discuss what it was like to coach known coach-killer Alex Ovechkin (“Just to set the record straight, I loved it… For me he was very coachable.”), how every detail of the game is not scrutinized (“It’s blogged. It’s twitted.”), and what team he likes in the playoffs (the Kings). Then, at the end of the interview, Oates told a story, ostensibly about how much he misses playing.
When we played Toronto this year, we went to the shootout. I had Grabovski on my team. And he grabbed me right away and he said he didn’t wanna shoot. And I’m like, “Why not?” I didn’t tell him if I had him in my list or not. Obviously, he was a little nervous against [his former team] Toronto. So I didn’t put him in, and after the game I went up to him and I went, “Hey, if you skated down the ice and you fell down and they laughed at you… They all wanna be on the ice, man, and I miss it. I miss that feeling of nerves every day.”
Rob Pizzo responded, “That’s a great story.”
No, it’s not.
Photo: Chris Gordon
Alex Ovechkin is the most important person under contract with the Washington Capitals, more pivotal than either the general manager or the head coach. Signed to a 13-year, $124 million dollar deal in 2008, Ovechkin has become the Caps. His jersey sales sustain the team off the ice while his goal scoring provides the plurality of their offense. The preeminent task for his coach, then, is to manage him effectively. Barry Trotz, hired Monday by Washington, will now have to do that.
“It starts with a relationship,” Trotz told reporters from the Verizon Center club level yesterday. “I know I’m going to work at that but it can’t happen until I have a relationship with him because there’s no trust. For me Alex has to trust that I’m giving him the best advice for the team, for him, to grow his game. I don’t know Alex as well. Going against him, I know what he does well, but I need to know Alex the person. Coaching’s not just about Xs and Os, it’s about people.”
Willie Desjardins of AHL’s Texas Stars is one of the best coaches not currently in the NHL (Photo: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
The common thought among Capitals fans is that the team’s new coach must have NHL experience. The Caps last five hires — Adam Oates, Dale Hunter, Bruce Boudreau, Glen Hanlon, and Bruce Cassidy — were all rookie head coaches. This time around, names like Barry Trotz and John Stevens are getting a lot of buzz, whereas Willie Desjardins and Phil Housley are getting little.
Experience matters. All other things being equal, you should hire the guy with more experience, but that does not mean the Caps should discount what a rookie coach might bring. Because if a coach’s best quality is his experience, that’s not a great sign.
If you ask the NHL, the Washington Capitals penalty kill was the 16th best in the land this season. They allowed 51 goals and escaped 82% of their shorthanded sessions unscathed, which doesn’t sound so bad. But actually the Caps PK was really, really, really, really bad. They were one of the worst ever, as far as I can tell.
Photo: Chris Gordon
After this season, with the futures of Adam Oates and George McPhee in doubt, many wondered what the relationship was like between the two men. There was good reason to. During Oates’s administration, McPhee made two major offensive acquisitions: Dustin Penner and Martin Erat. While McPhee talked up both players as top-six powerhouses, Oates never gave them significant minutes on the top two lines. During his final press conference as the Capitals general manager, McPhee declined to talk about whether there was a row with Oates.
“I don’t want to talk about individuals because when you do that you either miss somebody that you should be praising and people get upset, and I just would rather have a happy day and duck individual talk,” McPhee said, adding later that Oates’s firing “was unfortunate for Adam because it was a short tenure.”
However, McPhee heaped praise on Bruce Boudreau, a coach he personally fired, and Dale Hunter, whose departure led to Oates’s hiring.
Boy, it did not take long for this to happen.
Photo via an email from reader Eric W.
Gone. (Photo: Chris Gordon)
Adam Oates is a smart man. After going undrafted out of college, he turned into a Hall of Fame player. It wasn’t his skill that made him an NHL success, but his elite ability to notice things other people didn’t. Oates had a coaching mind in a player’s body.
“If Adam notices something in a game, he adjusts right away,” Ron Wilson, then the Caps coach, told SI in 2001. “Even if it’s only how somebody is holding his stick. He takes the information, processes it, and puts it to use. The thing about Adam is that he assimilates a lot of stuff at once. Most guys might see one or two things, and the rest is a blur.”
However, years later, when Oates became head coach of the Capitals, that obsession with improving individual players would undermine the team as a whole.
News straight out of Arlington: Adam Oates and George McPhee will not return next season.
Oates’ final record with the team: 65 wins, 48 losses, and 17 overtime losses. George McPhee’s Caps advanced past the second round of the playoffs just once, in his first year.
No word on replacements yet. We’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, we’ve recorded a video to say goodbye to Oates. It’s worth your time.
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