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
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.