OATES: "My mindset is I want to be a head coach."

Jason Gregor
June 02 2014 11:21AM

Adam_Oates

Adam Oates was fired after only two seasons in Washington. His Capitals had the 8th most points in the shortened 2013 season, but missed the playoffs by three points this year. The Capitals cleaned house firing Oates and longtime GM, George McPhee.

Oates is currently working on the CBC panel during the playoffs, and I spoke with him last week to get his thoughts on coaching, the playoffs and one of his former teammates, Brian Sutherby.

Oates spoke to Sutherby and I last week. My thoughts are in italics.

Gregor: Would you be willing to go back to being an assistant or an associate if the offer was there or do you feel that you are more of a head coach?

Oates: You know what, that’s a good question. Quite honestly right now my mindset is I want to be a head coach. I had a couple of years at it and obviously when you get fired, you have mixed emotions and you want another opportunity, you want to keep improving at every position, at every level. I want to improve as a head coach and I’d like another opportunity at it. But I think that I can do the job.

***A few listeners wondered why I didn't ask him specifically about being as assistant in Edmonton. Currently, the Oilers don't have any openings, and while I feel they should make some changes amongst their assistants, it would have been unfair to ask Oates about a job that isn't currently vacant.***

Gregor: What was the biggest difference being the head coach from an assistant coach?

Oates: The biggest difference is when you are the assistant you are trying to be in your bosses mind. You want to finish his sentences every night. So every decision he makes, you’re thinking the same thing. And as the head, you just have more responsibilities; you have a few more sleepless nights because at the end of the night it is your call on every single decision.

Sutherby: As a head coach, how would you describe your sort of coaching philosophy and approach to players?  A Lot of guys talk about being a hard guy or a player’s coach, where would you fit in?

Oates: I like to think that I’m in the middle. I would say that if you look at the Rangers coach right now, I would like to put myself in that category.  AV [Alain Vigneault] is very calm. He’s obviously in control, he teaches, he talks. I think you don’t have to raise your voice to get your point across, I don’t. And I think that the athletes nowadays are different than when I played and coaches were harder and they had more power. Now you’re talking about guys with long term contracts right now. The power struggles are a hair different.

You talk about even parenting, parents can’t spank their kids anymore, it’s different. The rules have changed so I think you can look at a guy and if they know what you’re thinking and you can communicate well then they know when you’re upset, they do. You’ve got to be able to teach; you’ve got to be able to communicate what you want on the ice because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s about. The players, when they all talk amongst themselves, will say, 'he knows what he’s talking about or he doesn’t.'

Gregor: Adam, portraying that teacher aspect across to players must be a learning  experience. When you look back on your time as a head coach, what do you feel you learned about yourself and what areas do you need to improve on as a coach?

Oates: You know what, I think the one thing that I learned is that you‘ve got to try to learn and make changes faster. If you want to establish the culture, if you want to establish changes, you’ve got to do it as soon as possible. Don’t try to wait. I would say for myself I had thoughts in mind and I thought that it would kind of go gradual. This year because we didn’t make the playoffs, obviously the situation changed, so in my mind I think that some of the decision that I have to make, or rules, have to be quicker, to try to establish that culture a little quicker.

***I wonder if Dallas Eakins feels the same way. Prior to the season Eakins talked about being hard to play against, being aggressive and being solid at both ends of the ice. That didn't happen, and I wonder if he wishes he had cracked the whip harder early in the season. Like Oates said, it is hard to feel your way into things as a head coach. You are better off implementing the changes right away.***

Gregor: I remember when you got let go in Washington, you were kind of surprised. Did you ever have a conversation with George McPhee saying, ‘OK we have a three year plan’ and that’s why you felt you would be given more time?

Oates: Ah no, not so much that, you just… the first year I coached was coming off of the lockout. We had a good ending. This year, I think we had some circumstances that kind of hurt us a little bit. We had a couple of key injuries that hurt, the Olympics kind of affected us a little bit afterwards, so I thought that we had some good moments, but we were inconsistent and at the end of the day, they didn’t like it. And I understand that, its part of the job.

Sutherby: A lot of the really gifted offensive guys never become NHL head coaches, and many suggest it is because most players can’t see the game the way you did. Why do you think you’ve been able to translate what you see and then teach it to other players?

Oates: You know what, because as a player my game did not come easy. Even as a little guy growing up, I was always that kid that had to struggle to make the teams. I was never the guy that was captain of every team, was the star of every team that kept buzzing up the ranks. I had to learn a lot along the way. I’m a very analytical person; my father was, so he taught me to think outside of the box.

As a player, I played in the fighting era;I played during the clutch and grab era. I got benched, I got hurt, I got old, I got sat out, I had some success so I felt like I wore every hat, and when you do, you kind of interact with every guy along the way. And you know what, I think that I can communicate with the star players as well as the guys who don’t get as much ice time and are looking to move up the ladder.

COACHING OVECHKIN

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Gregor: What was the best part of coaching Alex Ovechkin and what was the biggest challenge?

Oates: The biggest challenge is to [sighs]I guess the biggest challenge is you're fighting a lot of years of habit. But I can honestly say to you, it was a lot of fun to coach the guy. We have a great relationship; he’s very receptive to everything we talked about. We never fought about what I said, and it’s funny because one of the things was that he wanted was to be double shifted. I said, ‘well you’ve got to play harder because Nick Backstrom is tired, and if he’s tired, I can’t double shift him, so you’ve got to play better.’ And you know, he would always agree with that. We never fought. He’s got some skills that I’ve never seen before and I think he’s a great guy, he’s just got to learn some habits obviously and you’re fighting some uphill battles, that’s it.

***An interesting tidbit from Oates regarding Backstrom and Ovechkin. Ovechkin needs to work as hard without the puck it sounds like from Oates. Backstrom is tired from having to work extra hard to cover up for him. Many of the skilled Oilers have to do the same if they hope to win soon.**

Gregor: I remember a few decades ago Steve Yzerman was considered a one-dimensional player and only offensive. The Wings almost traded him to Ottawa,but they didn’t and then he ended up winning multiple Stanley Cup and was considered one of the greatest leaders of all time because he supposedly changed how he played.

Ultimately, I know it’s on the player, but how do you feel as a coach, whether it’s Ovechkin or a young guy in Edmonton or young skilled guys coming up in the draft to get them to really understand the benefits of two-way play? Do players really have to change their game that much?

Oates: You know what; I think that Steve is a great example. Awesome. I played with him for four years. I always used to laugh at that because I don’t think that he ever really changed his game that much. I think that the team got better around him, so all of the sudden things fell into place. He was a great player when I played with him and all of a sudden you have a Federov, you have a Lidstrom, all of those players, and all of a sudden the team got that much better. And it’s funny that he got a little bit better right?

At the end of the day, you look at Alex, for me you know, guys get older, they mature a little bit. You’ve got to factor that in. Everybody’s game matures a little, but I would also say that if you look at the four teams that are still playing right now, there is a common denominator right now in all four teams; they have a good goalies and good defence. You’ve got [Henrik] Lundqvist and [Ryan] McDonagh and [Dan] Girardi.You’ve got [Carey] Price, and [P.K.] Subban, and [Andrei] Markov. You’ve got[Jonathan] Quick with [Drew] Doughty and [Willie] Mitchell. And you’ve got[Corey] Crawford with [Duncan]Keith and [Brent] Seabrook. I mean everybody has a common denominator and everybody plays uptempo hockey, controlled hockey, two-way hockey. Everybody. Those four teams have their strengths and weaknesses, but you’ve got to be a complete player, you’ve got to play both ends of the rink, and at times it is a track meet.

I think in Edmonton for example, you have a lot of great forwards that if they can learn to play under control in their own end a little bit, they’ll get more points offensively if they do.

***Oates didn't add what we are all thinking. There is no great common denominator in Edmonton yet, goaltending and defence. It might be coming in the future with Klefbom, Nurse, Marincin, Schultz or others, but it isn't here yet.**

SUTHERBY...

suds

Gregor: Adam I want to take you back to 2001, 2002 when you were with the Washington Capitals and you had a young Brian Sutherby, my co-host coming in as a rookie. What were your impressions of Suds coming into Washington?

Sutherby: [Laughs] This will be good.

Oates: [Laughs] I just remember thinking ‘man is he skinny!’

Sutherby:Can’t say that anymore.

Oates: (laughs) Yeah we all get older, that’s for sure.

***Suds has joked often that he was a rail when he was a rookie. He was 6' 2", but only 185 pounds. He eventually played at 210, but he always said it was a struggle to keep on weight, at least when he was playing, unlike now...haha***

WRAP UP

  • Carolina, Florida and Vancouver still have head coaching vacancies, and I'm certain Oates' agent has contacted them. Carolina might be the best fit. How much of an impact did Oates have on Jason Chimera, Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer all having career years offensively? Could he help Jordan Staal become more offensive or Eric Staal, who is coming off his lowest point total (full season) in eight years.

  • The Hawks/Kings series was awesome. No lead was safe, and the Kings weren't afraid to open it up against the Hawks. That was a devastating loss for the Hawks, and I believe the winner of that series will win the Cup. I'll take the Kings in 5 over the Rangers. The Kings will pressure the Rangers way more than the Habs or Penguins did.

  • A few weeks ago everyone was suggesting Toews is the best player in the world. I don't agree, but a great comparison might be Toews and Kopitar. When the Kings win the Cup he'll have two rings like Toews, and he's a Selke trophy nominee as well. Both are outstanding players, and Kopitar is on pace to become the first Slovenian to make the Hockey Hall of Fame. He is that good.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

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One of Canada's most versatile sports personalities. Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on TSN 1260, and he writes a column every Monday in the Edmonton Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor
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#1 hallsyoilerforever5
June 02 2014, 11:31AM
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I would love to bring Oates here as an assisant. I bet the oilers PP would be so much better and guys like Hall and Yakupov would be utilized properly on it. While he could give much needed influence and guide for our centres, especially Nuge in their two way game. I'll take Oates over Bucky right now.

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#2 Sketchy
June 02 2014, 11:34AM
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" The Capitals cleaned house firing Oates and longtime GM, George McPhee."

Can't wait til the oilers do the same. Miss the playoffs by 3 points and they clean house. We're the worst team in the league for a decade, and don't even change the assistants. WTF?

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#3 HardBoiledOil
June 02 2014, 11:49AM
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Bucky's a freeloader! been assistant since '09 and MacT thinks "we have the right coaches in place"? ya, right!! i'd replace Bucky with Oates in a second!

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#4 Sketchy
June 02 2014, 11:55AM
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HardBoiledOil wrote:

Bucky's a freeloader! been assistant since '09 and MacT thinks "we have the right coaches in place"? ya, right!! i'd replace Bucky with Oates in a second!

I'd replace Bucky with an iPad and Internet connection

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#5 BlazingSaitls
June 02 2014, 12:04PM
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Adam Oates is a very bright hockey mind and I think there is a great future for him in the league. One concern was just raised with me though.

Its his answer on the difference from assistant to head coach. Its an awful answer.

Never , ever, ever. I mean ever! have this guy assist Eakins. The last thing Eakins needs is a yes man to finish his questions. He needs to be challenged to differing views!

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#6 BlazingSaitls
June 02 2014, 12:06PM
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Sketchy wrote:

" The Capitals cleaned house firing Oates and longtime GM, George McPhee."

Can't wait til the oilers do the same. Miss the playoffs by 3 points and they clean house. We're the worst team in the league for a decade, and don't even change the assistants. WTF?

Same with Canucks. They lost a huge portion of their Seasonal ticket re-buys and cleaned house.

Im not saying their replacements will do any better but it does send the message ' failure is not an option'

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#7 Loweblows
June 02 2014, 12:08PM
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@BlazingSaitls

Oates assist Eakins? Oates is a hall of famer, while Eakins is statistically one of the worst players to ever dress in the NHL. Why the hell would Oates assist Eakins? If anything Eakins should be Oates' yes man.

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#8 hallsyoilerforever5
June 02 2014, 12:10PM
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@BlazingSaitls

Teams throughout the league cleaned houses on either 1) They're rebuilding 2) They missed the playoffs by a couple of points 3) They don't do well in the playoffs. The accountability in the oilers management is just excruciating. The old boys club need to pack up their bags and go. Years and years of no playoffs, and this coaching staff of Bucky and Smith still remain, while head coaches have gotten the axe. And please tell me why Chabot who did barely anything in the NHL is the goalie coach? Good lord.

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#9 backup bob
June 02 2014, 12:14PM
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Did Oates suggest, that the Oilers don't back check?

I see Oates wandering the desert for some time, before coaching in the NHL again. Same goes for Torts.

Kings will hoist the cup. The playoffs this year have been spectacular.

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#10 Sketchy
June 02 2014, 12:23PM
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@hallsyoilerforever5

They've replaced the head coach countless times, overhauled the roster, tried a new GM. The last common denominator in all this suck is the old boys club. Time to go. But apparently they're not going this summer, so hopefully after another crap year Katz will finally wake up

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#11 Rambelaya
June 02 2014, 12:23PM
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It's funny how many people seem to think you need to have done something successfully in order to be able to teach it. Sure, sometimes it helps, but often it doesn't.

I've worked with brilliant people who couldn't explain a concept to save their life, and I've worked with idiots who could get you to believe anything (even if their explanation was wrong, haha).

If I need a player, then yes, I want someone who's won. If I want a coach, I want someone who understands what to do, and can get people to do it. I don't care whether he can do it himself, as long as he can get others to do it.

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#12 Oiler Al
June 02 2014, 12:37PM
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Sketchy wrote:

I'd replace Bucky with an iPad and Internet connection

Replace him with an IPad,heck you could replace him with a billy goat and still be ahead of the game.

That's why I really question the leadership of MacT, when he personally endorses clowns like Bucky. OR: are the real shots being called by the Howward Huges of the NHL, bunkered down in his hole in Vancouver.

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#13 BlazingSaitls
June 02 2014, 12:46PM
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hallsyoilerforever5 wrote:

Teams throughout the league cleaned houses on either 1) They're rebuilding 2) They missed the playoffs by a couple of points 3) They don't do well in the playoffs. The accountability in the oilers management is just excruciating. The old boys club need to pack up their bags and go. Years and years of no playoffs, and this coaching staff of Bucky and Smith still remain, while head coaches have gotten the axe. And please tell me why Chabot who did barely anything in the NHL is the goalie coach? Good lord.

During the season, on oilers radio (I think) Cujo was asked if he is interested in being a goalie coach in the NHL. If I recall correctly he lit up and talked about Scrivens and Fasth.

He has just the right amount of unorthodoxy to coach the Oilers goalies. Scrivens and Fasth are both extremely competitive and battle hard to stop the puck. Cujo's best asset's imo.

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#14 hallsyoilerforever5
June 02 2014, 12:47PM
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@BlazingSaitls

Cujo > Chabot any day. Can they also replace Rexall's DJ so we don't have to hear cotton eyed joe again? Same with that terrible don't stop the party goal song, barf..

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#15 2004Z06
June 02 2014, 12:55PM
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Interesting comment about Kopitar. Why on earth would Oiler fans want a player of that ilk.

Draft Draisaitl!

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#16 Lochenzo
June 02 2014, 01:02PM
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Found the right mix of guys to play with Wayne Gretzky, who wasn't exactly stellar defensively or in the faceoff dot. Jari Kurri and Esa Tikkanen were two great two-way players.

Now, the current Oilers is a little crazy when you think about it. 5 of the top 6 forwards are still early in the learning curve, and we expect them to have learned these lessons yesterday. So, trading Sam Gagner to acquire a defensive-minded player with lots of NHL experience makes sense. There's too many growing pains happening on this team simultaneously.

Trading Sam Gagner from the mindset that he won't be better or a more complete player in the future is ridiculous.

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#17 TigerUnderGlass
June 02 2014, 01:34PM
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@ Gregor

Kopitar is on pace to become the first Slovenian to make the Hockey Hall of Fame. He is that good.

I agree with this. Kopitar is awesome. I don't know if I'd give up Gagner for him or anything crazy like that, but I sure like his game.

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#18 j
June 02 2014, 01:37PM
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Lochenzo wrote:

Found the right mix of guys to play with Wayne Gretzky, who wasn't exactly stellar defensively or in the faceoff dot. Jari Kurri and Esa Tikkanen were two great two-way players.

Now, the current Oilers is a little crazy when you think about it. 5 of the top 6 forwards are still early in the learning curve, and we expect them to have learned these lessons yesterday. So, trading Sam Gagner to acquire a defensive-minded player with lots of NHL experience makes sense. There's too many growing pains happening on this team simultaneously.

Trading Sam Gagner from the mindset that he won't be better or a more complete player in the future is ridiculous.

Agreed re Sam but we can't completely sacrifice offense to do it. That is the issue - we need a guy who plays both ends of the ice but still contributes. Apparently, they don't grow on trees. However, I think a stronger, defense oriented second line center may assist his wingers in scoring more points. Perhaps that is the perspective we need to take. Instead of focusing on one guy (Sam), focus on how many points we need out of our second line and what combinations and permutations help us get there? PS - Gretz was a fierce back checker. He did cheat for offense but would pick pockets all night long (a la Nuge/Datsyuk).

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#19 Fish
June 02 2014, 02:00PM
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Ray Liotta would be a very solid PP coach. (Just me or is Oates related to that guy?)

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#20 pelhem grenville
June 02 2014, 02:07PM
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Read the HEADLINE ...Oates mindset is to a HEAD COACH...not gonna happen if Eakins is there...wonder if Oates would come replace Bucky for one year... Eakins is given the ultimatum/chance that if he doesn't climb this team at least a dozen spots he's gone and Oates would then be given the green light to be the Head Coach...Oates is the level headed one this club needs to get respectable again... besides he played 60 games in oiler colors so that makes him even more eligible No?

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Fish wrote:

Ray Liotta would be a very solid PP coach. (Just me or is Oates related to that guy?)

Not just you. I've thought that for years.

It's too bad Oates doesn't seem to want to be an assistant/associate coach. I thought - and still think - he could help the Oilers a lot.

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#22 pkam
June 02 2014, 07:02PM
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Loweblows wrote:

Oates assist Eakins? Oates is a hall of famer, while Eakins is statistically one of the worst players to ever dress in the NHL. Why the hell would Oates assist Eakins? If anything Eakins should be Oates' yes man.

If I remember correctly, Babcock isn't good enough to play even one NHL game. I guess Babcock isn't even good enough to assist Oates.

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#23 Wax Man Riley
June 02 2014, 07:17PM
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Sketchy wrote:

" The Capitals cleaned house firing Oates and longtime GM, George McPhee."

Can't wait til the oilers do the same. Miss the playoffs by 3 points and they clean house. We're the worst team in the league for a decade, and don't even change the assistants. WTF?

I just wanted this to be posted again because it outlines exactly what is wrong.

And then I am going to prop myself.

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#24 Bringbackslats
June 02 2014, 11:28PM
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A few weeks back you suggested that Sidney Crosby was the best player in the world. I wrote in and stated that unless you qualify the best player for the pisition they play, the argument has little merit. The only debate can be who is the best forward, who is the best D, and who is the best netminder. I asked you if you could take 5 drew Doughty's and line them up against 5 Sidney Crosby's who would you bet on. I'm convinced even more now than I was 2 weeks ago that "Team Doughty" would win. Still waiting for your response Gregor.

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