Best known for the sleight-of-hand passes that he dished from the quirky downsized blade of his stick, former Bruins center Adam Oates continued to deliver the magic Tuesday, chosen the new head coach of the Washington Capitals on the same day that he was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
No telling what gig Cam Neely’s old setup partner might have added to make the day a hat trick, but June 26, 2012, will be remembered as the day the 49-year-old Oates shook hands with a new employer and joined hands with the greatest names the game has ever known.
“Absolutely fantastic day,’’ Oates told the Washington Times. “I don’t know if that’s ever happened before. I’ve got to go out and play Lotto, I think.
“Just two huge honors. Obviously, I’m very excited about the coaching job, and to be called from the Hall of Fame - it’s just a special, special day for us.’’
Oates, who posted a career-best 142 points in 1992-93, his first full year in Boston, ended his NHL playing days with the Edmonton Oilers in 2003-04, finishing with a career line of 341 goals and 1,079 assists in 1,337 games. Had it not been for the 2004-05 NHL lockout, he might have extended his playing career by at least one more season, but opted to call it quits, remaining out of the game until joining the Tampa Bay Lightning coaching staff as an assistant in 2009-10.
Oates moved to the New Jersey Devils staff the following season and now rejoins the Capitals - the club that acquired him in trade from Boston in 1997 - after three seasons of apprenticing under the likes of Rick Tocchet and Guy Boucher in Tampa and John MacLean, Jacques Lemaire, and Peter DeBoer in Newark.
Oates was alongside DeBoer this past season when the Devils made it to the Stanley Cup Final, losing to the Kings in six games.
The Hall of Fame, which will hold its induction ceremony Nov. 12 in Toronto, also selected three other prolific forwards: Joe Sakic, Pavel Bure, and Mats Sundin. Each of the stellar forwards averaged better than a point per game in their careers.
In Washington, Oates will take charge of one of the league’s most enigmatic squads, one that has been a perennial postseason disappointment despite having superstar winger Alexander Ovechkin as the face of the franchise.
The Capitals last season turfed the offensive-oriented Bruce Boudreau as coach, replacing him with ex-Capital Dale Hunter, who coaxed the team by the Bruins in Round 1 but abruptly resigned after the Capitals were ousted by the Rangers in Round 2.
Oates’s game, which had him feeding two Hall of Fame scorers in Brett Hull in St. Louis and Neely with the Bruins, was far more Boudreau-like in approach and emphasis, which is to say he had greater appreciation for the art of offense than the sheer toil of defense.
It remains to be seen what style he will preach as bench boss. Like Hunter, Boudreau, and their predecessor, Glen Hanlon, Oates takes over the bench without a single game of NHL head coaching experience.
“It’s not blocking shots and it’s not dump and chase,’’ an excited Ovechkin told reporters in Chicago, where he attended Players Association meetings prior the union opening negotiations with the league aimed at crafting a new collective bargaining agreement.
“Any system that I play, I learn a lot. I’m an offensive guy, it’s not a secret to anybody, and I am pretty excited and happy to hear the Caps signed that kind of guy who likes offense.’’
Oates twice cracked the 100-point plateau in Boston, after being acquired during the 1992 Olympics from St. Louis for Craig Janney and Stephane Quintal. Had it not been for key injuries to the likes of Neely and, later, Al Iafrate, Oates could have been the franchise center who helped the Bruins to a Stanley Cup or two.
The Bruins in Oates’s days struggled mightily for secondary scoring, and in an attempt to shift the focus of their offense, they swapped the prolific Joe Juneau to the Capitals at the trade deadline in 1994, hoping the inimitable Iafrate would juice up their backline and power-play prowess. Iafrate was a beast, but knee woes limited his entire Boston career to 18 games.
With Neely retired and the franchise crumbling in 1996-97, following the failed experiments of Kevin Stevens, Shawn MacEachern, and Tocchet, the Bruins flipped Oates to the Capitals in March 1997 along with Bill Ranford and Tocchet, acquiring Jason Allison, Anson Carter, and Jim Carey.
Weeks later, they selected Joe Thornton No. 1 overall in the draft, followed by Sergei Samsonov at No. 8.
The Hub was abuzz, fans believing the good times were back, the Spoked-B franchise poised to rock and roll the way it did when Neely and Oates were in full flight. But that kind of offense never returned, be it here in Boston or anywhere else in the NHL.