When the first part of Capitals 101's offseason plan was published, veterans Bob Hartley and Paul Maurice were listed as the top two candidates to replace Dale Hunter. The problem with those choices is that it was based on who I thought was the best coach available, not the right coach. (Hartley is now with the Calgary Flames, and Maurice will be coaching in the KHL.)
After all, George McPhee has always chosen a coach that he believes is the right fit, not the best possible option. All four of the bench bosses that McPhee has hired previously had zero head coaching experience coming into the job (Cassidy, Hanlon, Boudreau, Hunter). If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
Following one year as an assistant for the Tampa Bay Lightning, the New Jersey Devils assistant coach has been occupying his current position since the beginning of the 2010-11 season. In that time, Oates has received rave reviews for his work and hockey knowledge. (WaTimes) Here are some of the reasons why "Oatesy" would be a great fit as the Caps next coach.
Keeping the Cap tradition
Sure, Dale left us just when it appeared he was on the verge of building something special in Washington. However, nobody could question the passion Hunter brought into the locker room. As a former Capital, there was some added fire to help achieve the franchise's first Stanley Cup.
It's almost like a second chance when a former player gets to coach the team he played for. Hunter understood how important a championship is to this city. His teammate on the 1998 Stanley Cup runner-up Washington team, Oates (also a former Cap captain), has the same type of passion in capturing his first Cup.
Oates trip to the Cup with the Devils this season was actually his third try at the ultimate prize; he was also a part of the Cup runner-up Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 2003. Can you imagine how badly Oates wants to win one now?
The transition in the nation's capital would certainly be smooth. Oates was a hometown favorite in his five-plus seasons in a Capitals uniform, and was widely regarded as one of the most creative passers of the 90's.
Success with Kovalchuk=Success with Ovechkin?
That 15 year, $100 million contract he signed with New Jersey wasn't going exactly how management envisioned after the 2010-11 season. Kovy produced 60 points, the lowest total since a 51-point rookie season with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2001-02. His 29 assists was the lowest mark since his second year in the league. He also finished with a plus/minus rating of -26, the worst mark of his career.
It was clear that Kovalchuk needed a change in his style of play as he was aging, especially on the defensive side. For more, WaTimes Stephen Whyno went in-depth about all the changes that Kovy made throughout this season.
Suffice to say, the adjustments that DeBoer, Oates, and Larry Robinson helped Kovalchuk make paid huge dividends.
Kovalchuk excelled on the penalty kill and turned into a truly complete player, obviously something that could be said for Oates. Something that could directly be attributed to Oates' tutelage is the 46 assists the Russian produced this season. The 46 helpers were good enough to tie for the second-highest mark of his career. (48 in 2008-09 with the Thrashers)
The success continued in the playoffs; Kovalchuk registered the third-most postseason points in the NHL with 19.
Given the evidence, how would Oates not be beneficial to Alex Ovechkin?
No matter how you look at it, the captain needs to make changes to his game if he is to lead the Caps to a Stanley Cup. Putting Ovi on the penalty kill would be intriguing, as it would certainly help Ovechkin in learning defensive angles and how to block shots better.
Perhaps even more important on the offensive side, Ovechkin recorded just 27 assists this season. While this stat could have certainly been aided by the absence of Nicklas Backstrom, it was 20 assists less than his previous career-worst. Having the 16th best player in NHL history in terms of points by his side would be a huge plus. (Sidenote: All 15 players ahead of Oates are in the HOF)
Unlike Hunter, Oates was known for his finesse style of play in the offensive zone. It would be especially interesting to see what tips Oatesy has for The Great Eight offensively. Oates was a superstar in his prime; this would be a chance to help develop one of the premier stars of a younger generation.
Special Teams Guru
The Washington power play got so hopeless this season that many fans referred to the unit as the "Power Play of Doom" whenever the opposing team was whistled for an infraction. A 16.7% success rate on the power play was good for 18th in the NHL, and it was the worst mark by a Washington team since the 2006-07 season (16.4%).
The penalty kill wasn't much better. Although the group was phenomenal in the postseason, the unit registered an 81.4% success rate during the regular season and was 21st in the league. With a bevy of talented players, there is no reason why the Caps shouldn't be in the top-echelon of NHL teams regarding special teams every year.
This is where Oates comes in. Assistant coaches in the NHL are usually responsible for handling special teams, and Oates is a natural in this area as he was successful on the PP and the PK during his career.
In his first year overseeing special teams with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the power play and penalty kill improved from the previous season. The penalty kill went from 78.0% to 80.1%, and the power play went from 17.8% to 19.3%. Even though the Lightning didn't make the playoffs, Tampa Bay owned the eighth-best power play in the NHL.
In 2011-12, the Devils had better marks in both areas of special teams than the Caps. While the Devils power play was moderately successful (17.2%), New Jersey owned the NHL's best penalty killing unit at 89.6%. As an added bonus, the Devils scored an NHL-high 15 shorthanded goals.
For an example of Oates' creativity, here is a power play goal that Kovalchuk scored in Game 6 of the East Finals. Have you ever seen the Caps score a power play goal with puck movement like that? The easy answer is rarely, if at all.
Finding the "happy medium"
Mike Knuble hit the nail right on the head.
“Finding someone who can go between Bruce’s style and Dale’s style, I think, is key," Knuble told reporters following news that he wouldn't be returning.
Oates fits this "happy medium" perfectly. He has just as much passion on the defensive side of the puck as the offensive side. No longer would we see the defense forming a shell around the netminder with a one goal lead. (Dale) No longer would we see careless defensive play when focused on cutting into a deficit. (Bruce)
While Boudreau was extremely passionate during games, it seemed that he lived-and-died with every win or loss. Hunter had an even-keel attitude to keep the Caps from getting too high or too low, but he rarely expressed emotion on the ice.
Oates knows how to cope with the grueling 82 game season, but he also isn't afraid to show his emotions behind the bench. Most notably, Oatesy went ballistic on the referees in Game 6 of the Cup Finals after a linesman got in the way of a Devils defenseman. (It lead to a Kings goal.)
If he's hired.
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