Adam Oates: Loving Life As A “Hired Gun”

Photo: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Adam Oates’ exit from the Nation’s Capital in the spring of 2014 was void of fanfare, as his short stint as the Capitals Head Coach did not go well. In the end, he would last less than two full seasons, earning a 65-48-17 record and a flight out of town along side Capitals’ GM George McPhee. After a few additional coaching stints with varying titles and responsibilities, Oates’ pro coaching career seemed to come to an early end. It appeared coaching may not be in the cards for the hall-of-famer.

It’s part of the human condition, the search for your place in the world. The path that place may be longer and more winding for some, but in the end, most of us find our spot. After his stints as a team coach, Adam Oates has found his spot as a one-on-one hired gun.

The Path

Oates was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame on June 26, 2012. The honor came on the very same day he was named the new head coach of the Washington Capitals, the 16th head coach in franchise history. Not a bad day for the former Capital.

The 2012–13 lockout delayed Oates’ coaching debut in Washington, so he would bide his time as a co-coach with Mark French for Washington’s AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears. When the season finally began, Oates and the Capitals struggled out of the gate, winning just two of their first 11 games. But ultimately he and his players would find their groove and finish strong, rising from last place to first place in the Southeast Division. The Capitals would exit the postseason in the first round, losing to the Rangers in seven games, but a certain level of optimism was in place for the following season. Not a bad start to Oates’ head coaching career.

But it wasn’t to be. The Capitals struggled throughout the 2013–14 season, as the team failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 16 years. The team finished with a 38–30–14 record, but finished ninth in the Eastern Conference. As a result, the Capitals opted to cut ties with both Oates and GM George McPhee.

Albeit a brief run, Oates still left his coaching mark in Washington. Whether it was trying Ovechkin on the right side, which ultimately met much disdain, or implementing new power play strategies, which are still utilized by the Capitals as well as most of the league today, his time atop the coaching tree was certainly impactful.


Finding A Niche

Oates continued searching for his niche. He knew professional hockey well, but not how best to apply his knowledge. He just needed to find the best way to capitalize on his expertise. Enter Oates Sports Group, started by Oates more than four years ago, with a sole focus on improving his clients’ offensive production. Alas, his niche was found.

“I love the life,” Oates told the Boston Globe, today ranking 18th all time in NHL scoring (1,420 points). “I love working with the guys.” It’s clear Oates has found his spot, and business is good.

The Hired Gun

In a recent interview with Kevin Paul Dupont for the Boston Globe, Oates shed light on his life as a so called “hired gun”, and the offensive/scoring successes his clients have realized as a result of his one-on-one coaching.

According to Oates, 37 of his 50 player-clients reached career-high point totals last season, including Ryan O’Reilly. The Blues pivot posted personal bests in assists and points, then opened a postseason hardware store by winning the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP for the Cup-winning Blues and added the Selke as the NHL’s top defensive forward.

Ex-Bruin Blake Wheeler has been an Oates client for the past couple of seasons. The 6-foot-5-inch right winger has responded with back-to-back campaigns of 91 points, career bests, after averaging 76 points the two prior seasons. “That’s 15 points, and I can tell you, Blake loves him,” said Matt Keator, Wheeler’s Boston-based agent. “He’s helped build an extra dimension into his game — small things that make a big difference, the use of time and space out there, more spatial awareness.”

Secret Sauce

There is, as Oates calls it, a “secret sauce” to what he teaches, and it’s no surprise he protects the recipe.

“You go to McDonald’s for a Big Mac . . . you pay for it, they hand you one, right?” he mused recently when reached on the road in Minnesota. “They don’t tell you what goes into the sauce.”

“I see a need for it, no doubt,” said Oates, pondering whether coaching staffs should devote more time and resources to the art of scoring. “I just don’t think there are guys out there that know how to teach it.”

In his current gig, noted Oates, it’s his ability to size up a player’s game and detect oft-subtle weaknesses that is the foundation of his business. In the Oates world of better scoring, production begins with the stick (proper fit essential) and puck handling.

It has long been a mystery here why NHL teams, for all the training and coaching methods they’ve devised and embraced over the last 30 years, haven’t carved out space for a scoring coach the way, say, baseball teams have added hitting coaches.


Oates told the Globe his two primary teaching philosophies:

 “Shooting is the most overrated thing to work on in the world. Because, think about it, some guys get one shot every two games and it’s a rebound, a tip, a breakaway. Your job is to be in the right spot at the right time. That’s it. Get there. Execute that. If you do that, you’ll get more shots. If you get to that point, and you’re still not scoring, then we’ll talk about shot.”

 “When you allocate your time in the summer, what really matters? What really matters? You know, we’ve got into this craze of the strength coaches, right? OK, you gotta be in shape, I get that, you have to be strong. But for hockey, if you are spending more time being in the gym than working on your hands, you’re an idiot. You look at the world’s strongest man vs. the world’s martial arts champion, who is going to win? No-brainer: The martial arts guy. They just don’t look good, but they’re the killers. End of the day, if you are strong, in shape, then get on the ice.”

A New Client To Watch

According to the Globe piece, just days ago, Oates took on what may be the greatest challenge of his four years in the skills biz, adding former Bruin Milan Lucic to his client list.

The 31-year-old “Looch,” who was recently flipped from Edmonton to Calgary, is in dire need of offensive help and overall career recovery. Once a 30-goal scorer with the Bruins, he potted only 16 goals in his 161 games with the Oilers the past two seasons.

Oates would not go into detail regarding what prescriptive fix he had for Lucic, but sounded assured he can help a guy he sees as motivated to reclaim his stature as a player with brute force who can add some offensive pop. He’ll have to help Lucic get off the mark faster, and enhance his puckhandling, which is Page 1 on the Oates primer.

“I know what everyone wants. I can tell you what makes a guy a success or a failure.

“That’s what I’m good at.”

By Jon Sorensen

Former Bruin Adam Oates adds points — and value — to players’ careers

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About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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8 Responses to Adam Oates: Loving Life As A “Hired Gun”

  1. Day One Caps Fan says:

    Great article Jon!

    Count me among the disappointed that Coach Oates’ tenure in Washington ended mostly with dread. And this was after great anticipation. Oates is a brilliant hockey mind — and it’s good that he’s doing this one-on-one “personal training” with players needing a boost.

    Maybe Oatesy could have gotten into Burakovsky’s head last season? And maybe fixed it?

    This “fix Milan Lucic” project is most intriguing! Looch has a new home, new coach, new “guru” in Adam Oates. Maybe he gets 25 goals at +15 and the Flames meet the Caps in the Stanley Cup Finals!

  2. Diane Doyle says:

    As a Head Coach, Adam Oates reminded me of Ted Williams, the last manager of the Washington Senators before they moved to Texas. Ted, who happened to be a superstar, was a great special hitting instructor in spring training for his old team, the Boston Red Sox. The Senators hired him as manager for the 1969 season. Senators had a much better year than year than they did in 1968 and he had instructed many of the hitters on the team how to hit better. The team fell off after that (hurt by bad trades, to a great degree.) But Ted Williams, like Adam Oates, was a great specialist coach who had a positive effect on the team, due to being able to coach his specialty. But neither Williams nor Oates were as good outside their area of specialty and neither really had the “people” skills to be a head coach (or in the case of Williams, a baseball manager)

    • Anonymous says:

      Good analogy. Oates is a smart guy, that may have difficulty communicating in the team environment, but is seemingly finding his way in the one-on-one environment.

      • Diane Doyle says:

        Williams was also great at communicating with hitter in the one on one environment, too. He had been a special hitting instructor on more than a few occasions.

    • Day One Caps Fan says:

      Wow! A comparison between Adam Oates and Teddy Ballgame. I like it!

      The fate of the Washington Senators brought many curious fans to the new Washington Capitals NHL franchise when it opened for business in 1974. The Senators were “my team” in the 1960s, and the high-water mark was the 1969 season with Ted Williams leading the light-hitting Nats to an 86-76 record — a million miles away from the Orioles who won the pennant with about 108 wins.

      But evil owner Bob Short mortgaged the Senators’ future on burned-out Detroit pitcher Denny McLain, who followed his 30-win season with a 20+ loss catastrophe. The Senators’ 1970 and 71 seasons were each a disaster, an they left town for Dallas after the 1971 season. I had zero interest in the NHL, and the Senators were my sports passion. But after they’d been gone for three years, I was happy to attend a Caps game for a $3 ticket and in a much safer place than RFK stadium.

      I wish “Oatsie” well in his new gig as a “hired gun”

  3. hockeydruid says:

    I can think of several current Cps who should attend Oatsies camp…..Hagelin, Stephenson, Boyd, Orlov, Djoos, Panik and several from Hershey and those just drafted. Get them early and often and get their scoring ability up!

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