Adam Oates had to sell Alex Ovechkin on a position switch and a new approach, but the results have been dazzling. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
By Allan Muir
Adam Oates was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012 on the basis of his 1,079 career assists, the sixth-most ever posted in NHL history. Not a bad case. But his latest helper may be his greatest.
What Oates has accomplished this season with the Washington Capitals is nothing short of miraculous. Sure, Ottawa’s Paul MacLean is getting most of the Jack Adams buzz, but if it wasn’t for plucky, undermanned teams rising up against the odds, we wouldn’t have half the sports movies we do.
We’ve seen that bit before, just like we’ve seen a coach cajole a star player into sacrificing offense for the good of the team. But what Oates has done with Alex Ovechkin, and by extension, the Capitals, is different. This is a rookie coach convincing a veteran superstar that everything he knew was wrong…and that Oates could make it all right.
It wasn’t that long ago that almost everyone (yours truly, included) had downgraded Ovechkin to the mundane status of just another guy. (HACKEL: What’s wrong with Alex Ovechkin?) He was stuck in a creative rut, disinclined to change, and content to simply take what the game gave him. That was a problem for Oates, because no team more accurately reflects its leader than Washington. While Ovi took the easy way, the rest of the Caps took it right along with him.
That led to a slow start. Really slow. By the time Feb. 21 rolled around, this team that was favored to win the Southeast Division had earned just 11 points and was dead last in the NHL. The calls started coming in from the cheap seats for the coach’s head.