Washington Capitals Alumni Profile: Adam Oates

Adam Oats #77Photo:Doug Pensinger/Allsport

While right wing T.J. Oshie has donned the number 77 for the Washington Capitals the last five seasons, he is not the most offensively productive player to don the double-seven on a Washington sweater. That distinction belongs to center Adam Oates, who played a notable role in the Caps’ run to the 1998 Stanley Cup Final. In this latest Capitals Alumni Profile, Diane Doyle looks back Oates’ Capitals’ career.

Early Life and Career

Adam Oates was born on August 27, 1962, in Weston, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto, one of three children born to David and Loretta Oates. During his youth, he played both hockey and box lacrosse, preferring the latter. He played five seasons with the Etobicoke Eclipse in the Ontario Lacrosse Association and was the league’s highest scorer. During the 1981 season, he set single-game records of 19 assists and 29 points. He played one season of senior A Major Series Lacrosse but left after one season (1984) to concentrate on hockey instead, especially as there was no professional lacrosse league.

Oates played two full seasons (1980-81 and 1981-82) and part of a third season (1979-80) with the Markham Waxers of the Ontario Junior “A” Hockey League (OJHL), a Tier II team, with whom he was a prolific goal-scorer, after dropping out of high school to concentrate on hockey. In 1980-81, he scored 36 goals and had 53 assists, while in 1981-82, he had 59 goals and 110 assists for a total of 169 points. Oates was not selected in the NHL draft as scouts regarded him as “too slow”. Instead, he returned to high school, received his diploma, and was recruited to play for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York. RPI’s assistant coach Paul Allen had seen him play in 1982 and offered him a spot on the team.

Oates scored nine goals and recorded 33 assists for 42 points overall during his freshman year (1982-83) at RPI. That summer, he started working with a skate instructor to improve his foot speed. He improved dramatically in his sophomore year (1983-84), scoring 26 goals with 57 assists for 83 points, being named to the East Coast Athletic Conference (ECAC) Second All-Star Team, the first player for Rensselaer to make an NCAA All-American team since 1965. The following season (1984-85), he had 31 goals and 60 assists for 91 points and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker award, helping RPI win the National Championship. He was a first team All-Star for the ECAC and once again made the NCAA All-American team. After three years of playing with RPI, he finished as the school’s career assist leader, a record that still stands to this day. The RPI Engineers recorded an 85–19–1 record and won the ECAC championships in 1984 and 1985 during Oates’ tenure with the team. Oates was eventually inducted into RPI’s Athletics Hall of Fame, and was named the inaugural member of the hockey team’s Ring of Honor in 2004.

It was after this string of success that NHL teams began showing interest in Oates, with at least five teams trying to sign him. Oates ended up foregoing his senior year of college to start his pro career; he signed a four-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings for $1.1 million, which made him the highest-paid rookie in the NHL.

Oates spoke of his college career, “Going to RPI was an important time for me. I was too old to play juniors. I was a young, cocky kid coming out of Tier II. I was fortunate to have the time for my game to mature. I got to play 19 years in the league. I was very fortunate. I could have gone in another direction.”  He continued his education even after starting his NHL career and earned a B.S. degree in management from RPI in 1991.

 NHL Career Before the Capitals

Oates, now 23-years old, started the 1985-86 season with the Red Wings. He made his NHL debut on October 10, 1985 against the Minnesota North Stars, scoring a goal against goaltender Don Beaupre and adding an assist. He struggled after that, going pointless in his next 16 games before being sent down to Detroit’s farm team in Adirondack. Perhaps some of his struggles stemmed from the fact that teammates and opponents resented that he made a high salary for a rookie when he was somewhat raw. Throughout the season, Oates went up and down between Detroit and Adirondack. Ultimately, played in 38 games for the Red Wings, scoring nine goals and adding 11 assists for 20 points. He returned to Adirondack for their postseason run.

Oates earned a full-time role with the Red Wings the following season (1986-87) and remained with the Red Wings for the next three full seasons. He improved his point total each year with Detroit, with 15 goals and 32 assists in 1986-87, 14 goals and 40 assists in 1987-88, and 16 goals and 62 assists in 1988-89. While his point totals were respectable, his style of play did not fit well under then-Red Wings’ Head Coach Jacques Demers, who preferred a grinding, checking game.

On June 15, 1989, the Red Wings traded Oates and forward Paul MacLean to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for forwards Bernie Federko and winger Tony McKegney. The Red Wings were hoping that Federko could take some of the offensive pressure off star Steve Yzerman and add some leadership, but, as it turned out, Federko did not have much left in the tank. However, the move to the Blues was very productive for Oates. He teamed up with future Hall of Famer Brett Hull, a duo dubbed as “Hull and Oates“, who made music together on the ice. Hull and Oates were placed on the top-line together and the offensive productivity soared for both players. Oates was selected as one of the Blues’ Alternate Captains, in addition to his promotion to the first-line. In 1989-90, Oates had 23 goals and 79 assists for a total of 102 points. That same year, Hull had 72 goals, an improvement over the 41 goals from the year before. In 1990-91, Oates recorded 25 goals and 90 assists for 115 total points, while Hull had 86 goals, once again being the beneficiary of assists from Oates.

Despite the offensive success, there were storm clouds on the horizon for Oates’ relationship with the Blues. In 1991-92, with Hull and Oates still producing at a high level together, Oates wanted to have his contract renegotiated. He had signed a new contract extension the previous year but now wanted a raise and would not return to the Blues after the All-Star Break if he did not get it. The Blues refused his renegotiation demands and ultimately traded him to the Boston Bruins for center Craig Janney and defenseman Stephane Quintal. At the time, Oates was leading the NHL in assists with 59.

Oates ended up having the best season of his career during 1992-93, his first full season with the Bruins; he ended the campaign with 45 goals and 97 assists. That season, he was the main setup man for Cam Neely, who had made a comeback and scored 50 goals in just 49 games. Oates would have another good season in 1993-94 with a 32-goal and 80-assist performance, however, he injured his finger during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which hampered him the following season. He remained with the Bruins until the 1996-97 season; the Bruins’ fortunes had declined since the lockout of 1994-95 and were having a particularly bad season in 1996-97. Oates became frustrated with the Bruins’ management, saying, “You go on a [road] trip and everyone says it’s a big trip. For what? So we can win five games because we’re lousy and we get in the eighth spot and lose four straight and get embarrassed and then get shelled all summer? It’s upstairs, baby. That’s their job, not ours. … Are we rebuilding? What are we doing? What direction are we going in?”

After this outburst, Oates was stripped of the Alternate Captain’s “A”  that he had held for the Bruins since his first full season in Boston. Less than two weeks after his tirade, on March 1, 1997, he was traded along with goalie Bill Ranford and forward Rick Tocchet to the Washington Capitals in exchange for goalie Jim Carey, forward Anson Carter, center Jason Allison and a draft pick. Oates initially refused to report to Washington but ultimately did, after a four-day holdout, even though he still wished to renegotiate his contract.

Career With the Capitals

After the trade to the Capital, Oates changed his number to #77 in honor of his old teammate Ray Bourque, who was also one of his good friends. On October 7, 1997, in a game against the New York Islanders, Oates recorded his 1000th NHL point, becoming the 47th player in NHL history to reach the milestone and the 15th-fastest in league history. Oates led the Caps in assists with 58 and was second on the team in overall points with 76, second only to Peter Bondra. Once again, Oates was an assist master, setting up Bondra, who tied for the league lead in goals with Teemu Selanne. The 1997-98 season was also the season in which the Caps made it to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history. Two other Caps’ players also reached the 1,000 point milestone that season (Phil Housley and Dale Hunter).

The 1998-99 was not as good of a season for the Capitals in overall success. The team suffered numerous injuries, including Oates, who played in only 59 games that season, recording 12 goals and 42 assists. Overall, the Capitals lost 511 man games to injuries that year. Oates was named the Caps’ team captain just before the 1999-00 season, one in which the team returned to the playoffs but were eliminated in the first round by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Oates stayed healthy and scored 15 goals and recorded 56 assists. In 2000-01, Oates scored 13 goals and had 69 assists. Once again, the Caps made the playoffs, but the Penguins again eliminated them in the first round.

However, relations grew sour between the Capitals and Oates after the 2000-01 season. After Oates demanded a trade,  the team removed the captaincy from him, giving it to Brendan Witt and Steve Konowalchuk as co-captains. The team ended up missing the playoffs. On March 19, 2002, Oates was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for a first-round pick, a second-round pick, and a third-round pick. Before the trade, Oates had scored 11 goals and had 57 assists.

During his tenure with the Capitals, Oates played in 387 games, scoring 73 goals, and adding 290 assists for 362 points overall. He ultimately played more career games in a Washington sweater than with any other team, although he played just 21 games more with Washington than with Boston. He ranks 12th on the Capitals’ Career Assists List and 20th in Career Points.

 Remainder of NHL Career

After being traded to the Flyers, Oates scored three goals and recorded 11 assists in 14 games. He did not remain with the Flyers after the season and signed a contract with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (now the Anaheim Ducks) for 2002-03, during which he had nine goals and 36 assists. In 2003-04, he played 60 games with the Edmonton Oilers, recording two goals and 16 assists. The 2003-04 season ended up being his last in the NHL, as he announced his retirement on April 4, 2004, at 41-years old. For his NHL career, he played in 1,337 games, scored 341 goals, and recorded 1,079 assists for a total of 1,420 points. He currently ranksseventh on the All-Time Assists List and 20th in Points overall. He also scored 42 goals and added 114 assists for 156 points in 163 playoff games.

 Post-NHL Career

In 2009-10, Oates became an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he worked with the team’s offense. Under his guidance, the Lightning’s power play ranked ninth in the league and he was credited with helping Steven Stamkos’ offensive development. After that season, he became an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils, a position he held for two seasons, helping the Devils make it to the Stanley Cup Finals during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Devils General Manager, Lou Lamoriello, praised his work saying, “He did an outstanding job for us. I wish him well. He’s very communicative, very intelligent, he explains things very well. He has the resume behind him as a player and having the success he had – all the credentials are there for having the kind of respect players have for him.”

On June 26, 2012, he was elected to the Hall of Fame and was inducted on November 12.  His induction can be viewed here.

On the same day he learned of his Hall of Fame election, the Washington Capitals appointed him as Head Coach to succeed former Capitals teammate Dale Hunter.  Most of his former teammates praised his appointment, as he is a very detailed oriented person with great communications skills. He did not take his spot behind the bench until January due to labor lockout at the start of the season. The team initially struggled under Oates during the 2012-13 season, winning just two of its first 11 games. But the team then turned it around, winning 15 of their last 19 games and the (now-defunct) Southeast Division. However, they lost to the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. Players praised his positive outlook and willingness to work with them as the reason they turned things around. However, the 2013-14 season did not go as well for the Capitals as they missed the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. Frustration with the team’s inability to advance past the second round of the playoffs and the fact they missed the playoffs led to Oates’ dismissal and General Managed George McPhee’s contract not being renewed.

In December 2014, after the New Jersey Devils fired their coach, they hired Oates and Scott Stevens to be co-coaches for the team, with Oates handling the forwards and Stevens the defense. After that season, the Devils hired John Hynes as Head Coach and did not retain either Oates or Stevens.

After the season, Oates founded Oates Sports Group in 2015, which provides skills coaching and consulting services to NHL players. In an interview with the Boston Globe, he said, “I love the life. I love working with the guys.” He has about 50 NHL players who are utilizing his services. He kept busy with his clients during the 2020 pause of the season due to coronavirus.

by Diane Doyle

Related Reading
NHL.Com: 100 Greatest Players — Oates
Wash Post: Remembering 1997-98 Washington Capitals
Sports Illustrated Archive: Mystery Man — Capitals Captain Adam Oates
Wash Post: Oates Has the Charm and the Discipline
HHOF: Adam Oates
Adam Oates Is Busy During Pause In NHL Season
Adam Oates: Loving Life As A “Hired Gun”
20th Anniversary: A Look Back at the Washington Capitals’ 1997-1998 Season
Wash Post: Capitals Problems Began Before 2013-14 Playoff Miss
Players Tribune: Adam Oates NHL Skill


About Diane Doyle

Been a Caps fan since November 1975 when attending a game with my then boyfriend and now husband.
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