April 24, 2014

Washington Capitals name Adam Oates head coach: The DSP Roundtable

The Washington Capitals hired Adam Oates as their new head coach and introduced him to the media Wednesday afternoon. Here’s a quick little roundtable from some DSP staff and contributors on their opinion of the coaching hire.

Our panel is Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page; Abram Fox, Caps Page Editor for DSP, Andrew Tomlinson, contributor to DSP; Ted Starkey, SBNDC Caps Writer and author; and Adam Vingan, NBCWashington.com.

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Dave: I like it. Would I liked to have seen someone with NHL head coaching experience? Not necessarily. There’s no reason to think having an experienced coach would make that big of a difference. It is somewhat peculiar that McPhee’s last five hires have all been first-time NHL head coaches, but I just don’t think it’s that big of a deal. Word Thursday that McPhee interviewed veteran NHL coach (and hard-ass) Mike Keenan. That must have satisfied McPhee’s curiosity in a veteran coach. If he still left like Oates was the man after interviewing Keenan, then good for him. This was a big hire for McPhee and he had to trust his instincts and research.

McPhee obviously wanted to feel comfortable with the coach he brought in. During the press conference, he kept saying that throughout the search it always “came back” to Oates. If you look at Oates’ resume and forget the whole “former Capitals” angle, it’s exactly the type of young coach a franchise would be looking for. Tactician. Communicator. Passionate. Intelligent.

Oates’ 19-year Hall of Fame playing career should command immediate respect in the room, but he’s still young enough that he should be able to relate to his players. It will be interesting to see Oates’ transition into management though. As a player, he often butted heads with management and left bad feelings when he moved on to another organization. Hopefully three seasons as an assistant in the NHL has tempered his perspective. It speaks volumes then that New Jersey GM Lou Lamiorello spoke favorably of Oates after his departure.

Abram: Oates is an interesting hire, though not unexpected. After all, George McPhee loves to hire first-time head coaches with NHL playing experience, especially former members of the Caps. On his own merits as an assistant coach Oates deserved to be considered for the job, particularly as his offensive skill set as a player lends us to believe he’ll institute a new system well-suited to Washington’s best players, unlike the previous coach.

Still, it was the safest possible decision by McPhee: well-regarded young coach already possessing oodles of positive karma in his new city. Sometimes the safe hire is the best one, and Oates will only have a few years to prove the organization right on his hiring.

Andrew: Oates comes to the Caps with some serious pedigree and a better resume than most of the coaching candidates out there. Is he the perfect coach? Probably not. It is clear this team needs someone who will kick their butts and often times a new head coach can struggle in that area, but who knows, Oates could prove me wrong.

All of that said though, he is a strong hire off of a Stanley Cup Finals run with the New Jersey Devils. His power play prowess and ability to understand the world of the new NHL should be attractive to his players, as well as adapt and win the room over quickly.

Ted: Adam Oates is an interesting pick for the Capitals as their next head coach, as while there is the ample familiarity between George McPhee, Ted Leonsis and their former captain, he hasn’t been a head coach at any level. Oates certainly got a ton of credit for helping Ilya Kovalchuk broaden his game in New Jersey, and will look to do the same with Alex Ovechkin to help recapture his offensive numbers while also being a better two-way player.

It certainly seems to be the safer pick, but the big question for Oates will be his ability to running an NHL bench with just three years as an assistant.

Adam: When looking at Adam Oates’ arrival on the surface, it would be easy to toss him into the “George McPhee’s Apparent Fascination With First-Time NHL Head Coaches” pile. Yet, while Oates might be just that, he also happens to be a 19-year veteran and arguably one of the greatest playmakers of all-time. That alone should command respect from the locker room and Oates’ offensive game as a player should relate better to most of the Caps than Dale Hunter’s defense-first mantra.

A lot of time and space has been spent on discussing Oates’ style of play, but for as much as he can tell us about his “in-your-face,” all-three-zones philosophy, it hasn’t truly been seen in action (with Oates commanding it). Oates was an assistant coach for three seasons, so, for example, he might have add plenty of input in the way Peter DeBoer ran the New Jersey Devils, but in the end, it was DeBoer’s team. We can talk about it his systems all we want, but I am waiting to see what it actually looks like in practice.

Speaking of talk, one thing that we can definitely analyze (and appreciate) is Oates’ emphasis on communication. Hunter did an amazing job bringing a locker room filled with a myriad of personalities and turned them into a team, but he was inept when it came to actually talking to his players; that showed throughout his short tenure with the likes of Mike Knuble, Roman Hamrlik and Michal Neuvirth among others.

Oates, however, said that communication is key. It really looks like Oates will take the time to get to know each and every one of his players, so that when he does indeed have to coach them, they have an established level of trust that will make decisions easier to swallow and comprehend. In my opinion, that will help the Caps more than anything else.

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Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Capitals coverage on Twitter @CapitalsDSP.

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