Once again, a Washington Capitals leadership baton is passed from Dale Hunter to Adam Oates.
More than a decade after Oates followed Hunter as captain, a similar transition happened Tuesday when Oates was hired as the Capitals coach.
Except for one major exception: the one happened to fall on the same day Oates was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Even as he was joining Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin and Pavel Bure in the Hall, Oates joined Washington six weeks after Hunter’s abrupt resignation. Hunter led the team to the second round of the playoffs as a midseason replacement before deciding he would rather be at home with his family, his farm and the junior club he owns in Canada.
So next up is Oates, 49, who played 19 seasons as a centre in the NHL, including parts of six seasons with the Capitals from 1996-2002. His 290 assists rank 10th in team history, and he and Hunter were part of the 1997-98 team that made the only Stanley Cup finals appearance to date in franchise history.
When Hunter was traded in March 1999, Oates was selected as captain for the following season.
Oates, who will be formally introduced at a news conference Wednesday, has spent the last three seasons as an NHL assistant, first with the Tampa Bay Lightning before moving to the New Jersey Devils in 2010. He was part of the staff that helped lead the Devils to this year’s Stanley Cup finals, which they lost to the Los Angeles Kings.
His most formidable task will be to develop a playing style that best suits a Capitals roster brimming with talent and that can also succeed in the playoffs. Led by Alex Ovechkin, Washington won four consecutive Southeast Division titles under offensive-minded coach Bruce Boudreau but couldn’t advance beyond the second round of the post-season.
Boudreau was fired in November after an early-season slump and was replaced by the defence-first Hunter. Hunter eventually rallied the players enough to get them back in the playoffs but couldn’t push them to the conference finals.
Oates played in the NHL from 1985-2004, appearing in 1,337 games while scoring 341 goals with 1,079 assists for Detroit, St. Louis, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, Anaheim and Edmonton. Only Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux have averaged more assists-per-game than Oates in the NHL history, and only Gretzky (662) had more assists than Oates (636) during the 1990s.
Oates is the fifth consecutive first-time NHL head coach hired by general manager George McPhee during McPhee’s 15 years with the Capitals, following Bruce Cassidy, Glen Hanlon, Boudreau and Hunter.
“Adam was a highly intelligent player in the NHL for 19 seasons,” McPhee said in a statement released by the club. “He has been an assistant coach in our conference for the past three seasons and is prepared to lead our club as head coach.”