Around lunchtime Tuesday, the word was already getting out. The typical national media types were reporting that the Washington Capitals were going to hire Adam Oates as their new head coach, replacing Dale Hunter, who decided to go back to London, Ontario to be with his family, farm and resume the mantel of coaching the OHL Knights, which he co-owns with his brother.
It’s funny, but whenever there are leaks on big news coming from the Caps, it always seems to come from the big names in the national scene, like Darren Dreger, Nick Kypreos or Bob McKenzie.
Regardless, at 1:24 pm the Caps sent out a press release confirming the rumors that Oates would indeed take over as bench boss of the Caps. Oates was one of the finest playmakers in the history of the league, ranked sixth all-time in assists. He was known as a heady player during his 19-year career and it seems like Oates has made a natural transition into the coaching ranks upon his retirement.
Before we get into his bona fides, there are two complaints making the rounds about Oates before he’s even been introduced to the D.C. media:
- He’s never been a head coach anywhere, let alone in the NHL
- He’s the second straight ex-Caps player hired without NHL head coaching experience
As for the first point, sure, you’d probably like to have a guy that has been “the guy” before. But then again, if that guy is available, you have to wonder to yourself, why isn’t he still “the guy” with somebody else? As for the second, if you think George McPhee is hiring a head coach at such a critical time in the organization’s history as a public relations stunt, you’re deluded. It may have factored into the decision in a background sort of way, but let’s give McPhee a little credit, shall we?
Look, nobody knows what kind of head coach Oates is going to be because he doesn’t know right now either. But there have been plenty of NHL head coaches that didn’t have that experience and turned out pretty good (see: Bylsma, Dan for one prime example). And Oates’ familiarity with the organization could be seen as a plus in that he’s familiar with McPhee, owner Ted Leonsis and the market.
What we can assume from his playing style, interviews throughout the industry including current players and former teammates, and his admittedly limited coaching resume is that Oates will play a more up-tempo style of offense than his immediate predecessor while still emphasizing an overall balanced game plan.
So let’s then take a look at his resume and imagine we’re talking about someone not named “Adam Oates”.
- One of the league’s premier playmakers throughout his 19-year NHL career
- Widely respected assistant coach on this past season’s Eastern Conference Stanley Cup runner-up
- Credited for turning around moribund power play for said Stanley Cup finalists
- Also credited for bolstering the penalty kill and being a very good communicator in practice and on the bench
- Previous assistant for another conference foe with a good power play
- Oh, by the way, elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame an hour after being announced Caps head coach
What, exactly, is not to like about that?
Adam Oates will get a chance to coach what is still a very talented, though flawed, team. If he has the same success with the Caps on the power play as he did with the Devils, that in and of itself would go a long way in fixing what’s broken on this team. It will be interesting to see who they bring in as assistant coaches. It will be fascinating to see how Oates interacts with his star players, notably Alex Ovechkin.
Most of all, though, it should be enjoyable for fans to get to know the new head coach, either for the first time or all over again, and see what he can do. After a year of turmoil, disappointment, ugly hockey and another second round flameout, we could all use a little optimism.
Sadly, there are plenty of “fans” that would rather be right above all else, even if that means their team not winning. How ’bout we give the new guy a chance before calling for his head?
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.