Can Adam Oates Lead Washington to the Promised Land?

By
Updated: August 20, 2013
Adam Oates

Editor’s Note: We at LWOS are always looking for passionate fans to add to our growing team.  We are pleased to add Dom Simonetta to our team, as he will be covering the Washington Capitals for us.  Welcome to the #LastWordArmy!

Throughout the year-long span between the start of their 2012 and 2013 NHL seasons, the Washington Capitals have gone through a total of three head coaches. Their current coach, Weston, Ontario native Adam Oates, seems to bring the most amount of hope for potential success among Caps fans given some very positive steps during his rookie season behind the bench in Washington.

Let’s take a look at the reasoning behind all of that newfound optimism.

First off, we can start with the credentials. The illustrious résumé that Oates has developed over his entire NHL career, both as a player and a coach, is exceptional.

The 5-time all-star is ranked in the top 50 all-time in games played with 1,337 and top 20 all-time in points with 1,420. His unique style of play could be best described as a swift, undersized player, one of the smallest in the game, that possessed some of the best hands and vision that the National Hockey League has ever seen. With 1,079 career assists, Oates sits firmly in the 6th spot all-time surpassing legendary greats such as Steve Yzerman, Gordie Howe, Joe Sakic, and Mario Lemieux. His sensational ability to see the ice in a way that not many players do allowed him to become one of the greatest playmakers to ever lace up a pair of skates.

Without even mentioning Adam’s success as an assistant coach in 2012 with the Stanley Cup contending New Jersey Devils as well as his recent induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, I, along with thousands of other diehard Capitals fans, welcome him with open arms.

I’ve been asked many times why I’m so accepting of Oates given his inexperience as a head coach in the league, and I always reply with one answer; his coaching style.

If we flashback to the previous two coaches, Bruce Boudreau and Dale Hunter, a closer look at their coaching styles will reveal that they were not a perfect fit for Washington to have long-term success when it counted the most, that being playoff time.

Boudreau was a very aggressive, offensive-minded coach whose mindset was to keep pushing forward at all cost. This produced a very talented Caps team when it came to putting the puck in the back of the net, but not in terms of keeping it out.

There was also talk following Boudreau’s firing that a handful of players on the team had lost respect and faith in him to get them to a Stanley Cup.

In the case of Dale Hunter, it was entirely obvious to all Capitals fans around the world as to what type of style he wanted his team to play; defense first. Being the complete opposite of what Boudreau had previously taught them, it was definitely a challenge for the players.

They were doing things that we as followers of the team had never seen up until that point in time. Willingly selling themselves out for shot blocks at every opportunity and chipping pucks out of their defensive zone without any hesitation was not a familiar scene under Bruce’s control.

Ultimately, while players learned many valuable defensive techniques, in the end, the Caps were yet again defeated by something that was again unfamiliar; not being able to score enough.

All of this brings us to where Adam Oates’ coaching strengths lie. He did what no one else seemed to be capable of doing and that was to create a team that had their focus evenly distributed between offense and defense with absolutely no bias whatsoever towards either side.

He understood that to be a successful team in this league, no one team’s lack of defense could be hidden underneath their superior offensive skills and vice versa. Adam would constantly preach the fact that offense always begins with defense. It has to start there.

While many people, Caps fans included, doubted his methods after seeing the 2-8-1 start to their 2012-13 season, a tremendous turnaround made it clear to see that the system that he put in place was the correct one and one that Washington needed as they once again surged to the top of the Southeast Division after finishing 27-18-3.

Even though productive team results are without a doubt a great sign of a great coach, the individual success of specific players is what caught my eye the most about Oates’ way of coaching.

In his interviews, Oates has made it a point to be known about him; he is a player’s coach. He coaches and treats his players the way that he would have wanted to be coached. He has stated many times that he doesn’t believe in yelling at a player because he himself never responded to that. He even goes as far as helping each and every player on his team choose the exact type of stick that’s right for them because he feels that a player’s stick is one of the most vital components to an individual’s game.

As far as the specific players go, the most prominent change has been evident in the play of Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin. Adam Oates switched the Great 8’s lifelong position of left wing to right wing in hopes that playing on the opposite side would promote more creativity and create different looks at the net for the 230-pound bulldozer. To say there was a slight difference would be a monumental understatement.

The Moscow, Russia native tallied 32 goals and 56 points in 48 games with the Caps last season. These kinds of numbers resembled those of the 20-year old rookie we all saw take over the NHL in 2005 when he scored 52 goals and 106 points to win Calder Memorial Trophy.

After capturing both the Rocket Richard and Hart Trophy for the third time each last season, I am confident to say that the trust that Ovechkin placed within Adam Oates as his head coach has in turn paid off immensely for him. Plus, we all know by now that when Ovi goes, the rest of the team goes as well.

Will this upcoming season give the fans in D.C. their first chance at a Stanley Cup since 1998? Time will only tell, but one thing is for certain, the best chance that Washington has to bring Lord Stanley home to the nation’s capital for the first time in franchise history will be with Adam Oates behind their bench.

Thanks for reading, please feel free to follow me on twitter – @dasimonetta. Give the rest of the hockey department a follow while you’re at it – @LastWordBigMick, @TheHockeyMitch, @ddmatthews@CanuckPuckHead, @lastwordBKerr, @CMS_74_ and @LastWordOnNHL, and follow the site @lastwordonsport.

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Main photo credit: alena rani via photopin cc

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