It was quite the Tuesday for Adam Oates.
At 9:16 EST this morning, TSN's Darren Drager broke the news that Oates would become the 16th head coach of the Washington Capitals. A few hours later at 12:44, the Capitals made the official announcement regarding the hiring of the former superstar who happens to be 16th in points on the NHL's all-time list.
As if getting his first NHL head coaching gig wasn't enough, the Hockey Hall of Fame representatives called Oates at 1:13 (aided by NHL Network's coverage) to tell him that he would be joining the most prestigious of hockey fraternities. Oates didn't answer the first call from representatives, possibly because he was dealing with the aftermath of being hired. On the third attempt at 1:33 to contact him, Oates picked up to receive the phone call that every hockey player dreams of.
"Not a bad day," Oates told the HHOF group that included Pat Quinn, Bill Hay, and Jim Gregory. "I didn't have too many days like this in my career."
Now that the excitement has (somewhat) settled down, it's time to think about the future of the Capitals. Rest assured, Oates already has ideas racing through his mind; plenty of those thoughts surely involve captain Alex Ovechkin.
To play a broken record, it's no secret that Oates was instrumental in developing Russian Ilya Kovalchuk into a more complete player this season. Not coincidentally, Kovalchuk was third in the NHL with 19 postseason points while helping the New Jersey Devils reach the Stanley Cup.
What some don't realize is that Kovalchuk moved from left wing (where he scored 50 goals twice) to the right wing at the beginning of his first full season in New Jersey (2010). This was specifically designed by Oates, who was in his first year as assistant coach of the Devils.
Kovalchuk's 2010-11 struggle of a season in which he recorded 31 goals and 29 assists (fewest points since his rookie year) was regarded as a disaster. The Star's Damien Cox published an article that blasted Oates' theory of moving Kovalchuk to the right wing. However, there is a vital part of the piece that explains Oatesy's reasoning:
"Oates’ theory, that he backs up with videotape evidence, is that left-handed players need to play on the left side and right-handed players on the right side because it’s more important than ever in the faster, modern NHL that wingers be moving north-south with the puck, rather than cutting into the middle of the ice as many players who skate on their off-wing are prone to do."
The problem was that Kovalchuk failed to buy in completely to the idea in 2010-11. However, the experiment drastically changed for the better this time around.
The 29-year-old scored 37 goals and added 46 assists in 2011-12 to complete a solid 83-point campaign. Those 46 helpers were only eclipsed by his 48-assist campaign with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2008-09. If you include the playoffs, Kovalchuk had over 100 points, including 57 assists.
It's pretty clear that the teachings of Oates, 6th in NHL history with 1,079 assists, had a lot to do with the spike in Kovalchuk's assist numbers. And it's not like this is the first experiment that worked for him, either.
Back in 2009 when he arrived in Tampa Bay to be the assistant coach on the Lightning, Oates convinced Rick Tocchet to move Martin St. Louis from the right wing to the left. St. Louis initially was hesitant of the move, but the veteran eventually bought in to the idea.
The result was a career-high 65 assists in a 94-point campaign after St. Louis had registered 50 assists and 80 points in 2008-09.
Still don't think Oates is going to do the same thing to The Great Eight?
Ovechkin recorded 27 assists in 2011-12, which obliterated his previous career-worst of 46 assists back in the 2006-07 season. It's time for Ovechkin to change his offensive attack, and the perfect man to help make that transition is Oates.
The book is out on Ovechkin on how to stop him from the left side. The focal point of this strategy is to have backside pressure from one of the forwards to force Ovechkin wide. Often, this results in those poke-checks Caps fans see when Ovi drives to the middle. On the right side, Ovechkin is already protecting the puck along the boards.
On the right wing, Ovi would have the ability to use his speed to get around defenders to fire a snap-shot or drive the net on the forehand. He would be able to protect the puck easier, and goalies would have to be aware of a quick wrister at all times.
The best part, which deals with assists, is that Ovechkin would have the ability to fire a pass at any time from his forehand from that position upon entering the zone. This could be one of the main reasons why Kovalchuk and St. Louis saw increases in their assist numbers. No longer would we see Ovechkin having to make a hard cut to the middle of the ice to make a cross-ice pass. (which he is excellent at doing)
If the idea is presented to the star winger, it will be interesting to see how he handles the switch.
But if Ovechkin is to lead the Washington Capitals to its first-ever Stanley Cup, it may be necessary.
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