Among Adam Oates’s many accomplishments — the sum of which are getting him inducte into the Hockey Hall of Fame Monday — he is the only center in NHL history to feed a trio of 50-goal scorers: Brett Hull in St. Louis, Peter Bondra in Washington, and Cam Neely with the Bruins.
“Only wish I had spent more time playing with him,’’ said Neely, lamenting the fact that his own injuries kept him from having a longer run as Oates’s wing man. “Speaking as a right-hand-shot right wing, getting the puck from a right-hand-shot centerman, I think what made him special was his passing, especially on his backhand. He had that knack of knowing where everyone was, being one play ahead of everyone else, and then making the perfect pass.’’
Oates will enter the Hall as part of a foursome of spectacular forwards, along with Mats Sundin, Joe Sakic, and Pavel Bure. Total career points: 5,189. Save for Bure, the dazzling Russian Rocket right winger, all of them were centers, and Oates the only one never truly considered the face of his franchise.
Oates finished with 1,420 points — 1,079 of those delivered as assists. For his entire run, beginning in his rookie days as a Red Wing (undrafted free agent out of RPI), he made his bones as a master faceoff man and extraordinary disher, always preferring the term “helper” to “assist” when referring to a scoresheet.
“From my perspective, he had a high hockey IQ,’’ said Neely, now president of the Bruins and a 2005 Hall inductee. “Certainly, right up there with the brightest guys to play the game.
“Just always smart positional play, always where he was supposed to be on the ice. And he probably never got the credit he was due for his play in the defensive end.
“So all of that, and his great faceoff work, made him a special player.’’
Another Bruins alum, Geoff Courtnall, played with Oates in St. Louis on a line with Hull. Courtnall will attend the ceremonies in Toronto, and in a story in the Toronto Star last week, he reminisced about Oates’s uncanny knack to move the puck along the boards on his forehand, then transition to a sleight-of-hand backhand feed to make the pass without stopping the puck.
“It was all one fluid motion,’’ recalled Courtnall. “I scored a lot off it — and so did Brett.’’
Oates’s stick was unique, its blade one-third to a half shorter than any other in the league. The truncated blade was so short, in fact, that it seemed nearly impossible to imagine that he could handle the puck at all, never mind win countless faceoffs with it or deliver those pinpoint relays.
“You’d think, after a while, he would have had them made that way, to his specifications,’’ said Neely. “But they came through from the manufacturer the regular way, then he’d just work the blade to where he wanted it. I guess that was all part of it. Whatever works for you, right?’’
For all their combined magic on the ice, Oates and Neely didn’t spend a lot of time talking tactics or positioning. Many of the greats just play with a feel for the puck, for the game.
“I guess you’d say we both kind of got it,’’ said Neely. “I think maybe at the very start I told him my preferences — places I did and didn’t like to get the puck.
“But early on, things just clicked for both of us, so we really didn’t communicate a ton. He knew where I’d like to be, and he’d get it to me. I probably had a longer stretch of time with Craig Janney as my center, and Janney was really good, too, and then with Adam it was a notch above.’’
Oates, 50, over the summer was named coach in Washington, taking over after Dale Hunter’s short run behind the Capitals bench. According to Neely, he and Oates haven’t spoken much since the days they played together, simply because their careers and lives went in different directions. But they’ve spoken recently, Neely reaching out to his old linemate during the summer when Oates was elected to the Hall.
“At first, I was kind of surprised at the coaching thing,’’ said Neely. “Rick Tocchet was coaching in Tampa, and he asked Adam to help him down there, and he said, ‘Let’s see how it goes.’ And from there he just liked it.
“So the more I thought about it, it makes sense, because playing with Adam, I could always see he had a good mind for the game and liked to talk about it. I bet he does a good job with it.’’
THE CLOCK IS TICKING
Negotiations turn serious
Nearly three weeks of not talking to one another ended Tuesday when negotiators for the NHL and the Players Association stopped play-acting as hostile divorcees and finally logged meaningful, maybe even substantive, hours at the table in an attempt to forge a CBA.
What does the sudden traction mean? In the end, maybe nothing, but for now it signals that the sides are being squeezed by the reality of the calendar. If there isn’t an agreement by mid-January, then the season is lost and all focus shifts toward spring/summer talks aimed at opening the September training camps on time.
The process is working with an expiration date of approximately 60 days, give or take a few midnight runs for Chinese food or Steak ’n Shake.
Headed into the weekend, there remained myriad sticking points, which is to say, once more, welcome to collective bargaining. Even if, say, the sides made nice over a 50/50 split of gross revenues, that issue suddenly could be reopened in order to satisfy revenue sharing among the 30 teams or to negate long-term contracts intended to dodge the cap (increasingly a sticky issue last week).
CBA talks are not like moving a runner along the basepaths, where a player, once he advances to third, cannot end up back at second. Not even the early ’60s Red Sox were that woeful on the bases. Resolution on all these critical issues, including the dicey “make whole” component regarding players being paid full value of their contracts, can continue to change until the last T is crossed and the last “aye!” called.
The mess of it all is here today for many reasons, but here are the two biggies:
1. The owners grossly overreached with their initial proposal in July, some two months prior to the CBA’s expiration. Had they entered talks with something akin to their offer of Oct. 16, then 6-8 weeks of jawboning might have spared the game its third lockout since the summer of 1994. The hawks on the ownership side (Boston’s Jeremy Jacobs among them) pegged their opening tactic on punishment and revenge because, in their eyes, the players snatched obscene gobs of money out of their pockets the last seven years. The insanity of that mind-set, of course, is that ownership designed that cap-based deal and shut down the league for a full season in order to get it. Now it’s a document of bankruptcy? If true (which it isn’t), then owners should fire themselves and/or the architects of that summer of 2005 document. The problem with the latter, of course, is that those same people are still architecting. How awkward, not to mention deliciously ironic.
2. The players, who last season received 57 percent of the NHL’s $3.3 billion in revenues, failed to understand and/or appreciate the runaway freight train they were riding three years ago as they were executing their mutiny to fire executive director Paul Kelly. Prompted by a small portion of their rank-and-file, and a cabal inside the NHLPA office in Toronto, they booted Kelly and then ran the charade of a talent search that found
In sum, extremists on both sides have created a level of dysfunction and distrust, and a senseless delay of game in an industry grossing north of $3 billion. With that mid-January deadline creeping closer, it appears sensibility and moderation may have entered the process last week. If they can keep the extremists at bay, or at least temper them, there remains a decent chance a season of 48-60 games will be salvaged.
Chara’s take on Armstrong
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara was back in town last week while his Czech-based KHL club, Prague Lev, was on break for national team play. An avid bicycler, Chara remains uncertain what to make of the scandal surrounding Lance Armstrong.
“Obviously, I am huge fan of Lance,’’ said Chara. “I am hearing lots of different opinions. People are saying, ‘How can they prove, or how can they say he was positive when they can never find a positive test result? How can they accuse somebody of something someone else said?’
“It is very controversial, and then at the same time, OK, they did it with Marion Jones. She kind of lied and then they proved she was taking something.
“I think time will tell us what really did happen, or didn’t. I think this whole thing is still open. As time goes on, maybe the riders, former riders and teammates, will talk even more about it.’’
Chara is convinced that Armstrong, though quiet in the days since being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, eventually will say something.
“I think he will do something about it,’’ said Chara. “That’s just the way he is, the personality he has. I don’t think he is just going to stay like this and say, ‘Hey, I am tired of fighting it.’ I think he will eventually do something.’’
And if so, what?
“I think he will try do something about the titles . . . maybe not the titles, but maybe how they made those decisions, the UCI,’’ he said. “I just think . . . people who made those calls will have to be accountable to how they made those decisions. Did they have real test proof?
“I just don’t know how it all came out that, hey, now he is positive and, ‘We are stripping you of titles.’ We have 10 people saying he was taking something, but they never found anything.
“I don’t know, it’s kind of weird, don’t you think? For example, someone says you are a drug addict because five people say it. And you say, ‘No, I am not!’ But they fire you from your job, but they never found any drugs in your system. You say, ‘Why am I fired?’ And they say, ‘Well, we have people saying you are a drug addict.’ Is that normal? You know, it’s kind of weird.’’
Cam Neely reports that the Bruins continue to consider options in regard to a practice facility. For at least one more season (whenever that happens), Wilmington will remain the practice base. However, rumors have long circulated that the Bruins will find a spot closer to downtown, be it in one of the suburbs or a city neighborhood. Something within walking distance of the Globe, of course, would be everyone’s first pick.
Bound to be a page-turner
Still waiting to dig in, both hands, to Derek Sanderson’s new tome: “Crossing the Line: The Outrageous Story of a Hockey Original,’’ written with Kevin Shea. I traveled years with the Turk, back in his Channel 38 days, and look forward to savoring in print some (most?) of the stories he shared on countless bus and airplane rides.
The memory of new Hall of Famers Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin wearing the blue Nordiques sweater only makes me wish more that the NHL would find its way back to Quebec City. Rapide! . . . It’s now 30-plus years since promising Bruins winger Normand Leveille lost his career to a cerebral hemorrhage, suffered in a game at Vancouver on Oct. 14, 1982. Still partially paralyzed, Leveille remains in the Montreal area and will turn 50 in January . . . Eric Lindros thinks the NHL would be wise to bring back the center-ice red line. He thinks it would create a mid-ice drag on speed and diminish the number of head injuries. One of the few times I’ve been on the same page with L’Enfant Terrible.