The Adam Oates era begins

The good news for Washington Capitals fans is if you're looking for an excellent coach in terms of game preparation, hockey knowledge and how to maximize the talent you can't do much better than the new bench boss Adam Oates. He will be the smartest guy in the room and an excellent choice to right the ship in Washington.

Oates was neither the fastest nor the most talented player but he was definitely the smartest and best prepared. As a coach he has improved every team he's been a part of. Want examples? Try Steven Stamkos. Oates worked with him and look at him now. Look at what he did in New Jersey where he took what many considered to be a very selfish Ilya Kovalchuk and turned him into a very good TWO-WAY player. Under Oates tutelage Kovalchuk learned that good defense and proper positioning within the overall scheme can help create more offensive chances for yourself and your team mates. Zach Parise also says Oates helped him fine tune some things he never thought of. Coach Oates has the task of teaching Alexander Ovechkin "hockey in totality". Former Coach Dale Hunter exposed Ovi's lack of defensive awareness and benched him because of it. It wasn't that Hunter wanted to punish Ovechkin. He was sending the Capitals Captain a message. The message was simple, If you want to win anything other than individual accolades/awards and lead this team to a Stanley Cup you need to be a total player. Oates will teach him how to take those overwhelming offensive skills plus his aggressive nature and use them within the framework of a balanced system to create more opportunities for himself and his teammates. The sky is the limit for Ovechkin if he has an open mind and is willing to work hard and learn. Oates will teach him to see the bigger picture beyond just scoring goals. Other Caps coaches have tried but I believe Oates will succeed mostly because Ovi is probably tired of seeing everyone else win a Cup but him.

I suspect Oates biggest and fastest impact will come up the middle with the centers. Nicklas Backstrom will immediately benefit from having a coach who mastered the position both in his ear and in his head. Even veteran center Mike Ribeiro stands to benefit from having Oates behind him. Many have been down on the development of Marcus Johansson but Oates may be his salvation. I've watched Marcus Johansson for a couple of years now and the kid has all-world speed and talent but seemed to lack the focus and situational awareness to put his skill sets to best use. I guarantee you that Oates will make him better. If Johansson can't learn to be a better hockey player under Oates then he needs to look at another profession. Oates impact will not be felt at just the center position. Oates suggested to then Coach Ron Wilson to put Chris Simon on his line to create more space for himself and Peter Bondra. The Result was a 30+ goal season for the fighter Chris Simon. He also put Peter Bondra on the point in the power play and which made the Caps power play one of the best in the league.

If a team truly takes on the personality of the coach then expect the Caps to be smart, adaptable, detailed oriented and intense. At last, the Washington Capitals will be a balanced team that excels at the little things that often makes the difference between winning and losing. That has been my biggest gripe about this team since the Boudreau era began. They have a ton of talent but they lack the balance and attention to detail required to be the last team standing for a Stanley Cup. Now they have a guy that can teach them if they are willing to listen and most important apply what Oates is teaching.

On Defense the Caps bring in Calle Johansson who in many ways is just like Oates in terms of his understanding of balanced hockey, focus and attention to detail. Calle was neither the fastest nor the strongest but he was always in the right spot at the right time and rarely made mistakes. He was Nicklas Lidstrom before Nicklas Lidstrom and was widely considered one of the best overall defenseman in the league during the Ron Wilson led Caps era. Calle will definitely have a positive impact on Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson and the rest of the defense corps.

Now for the bad news...all of the good things Oates and Johansson brings takes time to implement so I do not expect the Caps to be outstanding out of the gate. In fact I expect them to struggle as they learn how to play hockey the Adam Oates way. In many ways this 48-50 game season should be looked upon as "Introduction to Oates Hockey #101". How well the Caps do in this shortened season is all a matter of how fast they learn and apply the lessons they get. I believe these Caps are tired of losing and tired of the bad rap they get of being choke artists. It is my hope that they learn quickly and take on the personality of their coach. If they do that the Caps will be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender that no one wants to play.

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