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77 Days Until The Season Begins

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Photo credit:Edmonton Journal Archives
Cam Lewis
9 months ago
Throughout the summer and into the fall, we’ll be counting down the days until the Edmonton Oilers begin their 2023-24 season with a daily trip down memory lane. Today at No. 77 we have Adam Oates, a Hall of Famer who had his last hurrah with the Oilers.
Following the team’s surprising run to the Stanley Cup Finals in the spring of 2003, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim opted not to pick up the option on Oates’ contract, making the 41-year-old a free agent.
Despite his age, there was reason to believe that Oates still had gas left in the tank. He scored 45 points across 67 games for the Mighty Ducks in 2002-03 and added 13 points over 21 games for the team in the playoffs. He also wasn’t far removed from leading the NHL in assists, as he did so in 2000-01 and 2001-02 while with the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers.
The summer went by, the leaves started to fall, and players everywhere were heading to their respective teams for training camp, but Oates didn’t have a contract. He started to think that maybe that loss in Game 7 to the New Jersey Devils would be his last game in the NHL.
It took until a few weeks into the 2003-04 season for teams to start calling Oates’ agent. Among those teams was the Oilers, who were without two of their top centres one month into the season. Mike Comrie was holding out and Marty Reasoner was dealing with two different injuries, so the team offered the veteran pivot a one-year, $1.95 million deal.

Edmonton Journal Clipping from Wednesday, November 19, 2003.

SEASON COUNTDOWN PRESENTED BY BETWAY


Oates broke into the NHL as an undrafted free agent with the Detroit Red Wings, serving as the team’s second centre behind Steve Yzerman. His best seasons came after he left Detroit, as Oates found a tremendous amount of success as the playmaker to snipers like Brett Hull, Cam Neely, and Peter Bondra while playing for the St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins, and Washington Capitals.
Nobody expected Oates to be the producer he was during his prime, but signing a big-name player was exciting for a small-market team like the Oilers. At the time, Oates’ 1,063 assists in his career rank sixth in league history behind only Wayne Gretzky, Ron Francis, Raymond Bourque, Mark Messier, and Paul Coffey.
“This is a rare opportunity for us to acquire one of the best offensive talents in the history of the game,” general manager Kevin Lowe said. “Adam is a world-class passer and is one of the best faceoff specialists in the history of the game. He has won nearly 58 per cent of his faceoffs since the statistic was introduced.”
Oates finally made his Oilers debut at the end of November, nearly two months after the season had started. Since he wasn’t skating while unsigned in September and October, it took Oates quite some time to find his legs and get up to speed at the NHL level.
He picked up a few assists and gave some life to Edmonton’s power play, but Oates didn’t score his first goal as an Oiler until his 39th game with the club, a 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks on February 21. Oates found his groove in the latter months, as he added six assists during a stretch in which the Oilers went 8-2-1 to close out the season.
Unfortunately, the Oilers came up just short of making the playoffs. They lost their last game of the season by a score of 5-2 to the Canucks and wound up two points back of the Nashville Predators for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Oates picked up an assist on a powerplay goal by Brad Isbister in the first period of what wound up being his final game in the NHL. He announced his retirement after the game and finished his career with 341 goals, 1,079 assists, and 1,420 points.
Though his two goals and 18 points over 60 games with the Oilers might not have been incredibly memorable, Oates certainly had an impact on the team. As Bruce McCurdy noted in The Cult of Hockey when Oates was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012, the veteran helped young centres Shawn Horcoff and Jarret Stoll develop into more complete players.
“Brought in as an experienced set up man and faceoff whiz, Oates was a craftsman, and a crafty one at that, but his skating legs had deserted him. Probably his greatest value to the team was as a mentor, as young centres like Shawn Horcoff and Jarret Stoll learned valuable lessons from the master of the faceoff dot. (Oates finished in the top ten in the NHL every single season from the beginning of faceoff data in 1997 until his retirement, usually in the neighbourhood of 58% or so.) Under his tutelage Horcoff improved from previous seasons of 42%, 46% and 43% to become an over-50% guy, while Stoll blossomed as a faceoff man early in his career after playing with Oates in his rookie campaign.”

How many days are left until the Edmonton Oilers start the 2023-24 season? 77!

Can you guess who will be featured in tomorrow’s countdown?

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