Then and Now: Adam Oates

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Adam Oates entered the league quietly and left the league just the same, but the former center was rewarded for his playing career recently when he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

After he joined the Detroit Red Wings during the 1985-1986 season as an undrafted free agent out of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Oates went on to finish 16th on the all-time points list with 1,420. Known as one of the game’s greatest playmakers, Oates finished sixth on the all-time NHL assists list with 1,079, which is more than Gordie Howe and Mario Lemieux. Oates was one of the game’s best playmakers, but that didn’t mean career stability. He suited up for seven different teams in 19 seasons.

Oates spent four seasons with the Red Wings, over two seasons with the St. Louis Blues, and six seasons with the Boston Bruins before he became a member of the Washington Capitals. He played in 17 games for the Caps during the 1996-97 campaign before he was named an alternate captain for the team during the 1997-98 season, when Washington was swept in the Stanley Cup Finals by the Detroit Red Wings. Oates registered a goal and two helpers in the four-game series.

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The Weston, Ontario native was the Caps’ captain for the entirety of the 1998-1999, 1999-2000, and 2000-2001 seasons. He still held the honor when he was shipped to the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2002 trade deadline. In exchange for the 39-year-old pivot, the Capitals received goaltender Maxime Ouellet along with Philly’s first-round, second-round, and third-round draft picks in the 2002 draft. Ouellet, who played in all of two games for the Flyers, took part in six games for the Capitals.

As for the picks, Washington traded its first-round pick from the Orange and Black to the Dallas Stars, who picked defenseman Martin Vagner. After he didn’t sign a deal in Dallas, Vagner was picked by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2004 NHL Draft. He never played a game in the NHL.

The Caps used the second-round pick on Maxime Daigneault, a goaltender who never reached the NHL, but played in both the AHL and ECHL. He is currently on Saguenay Marquis of the LNAH.

The third-round pick was used to select center Derek Krestanovich. He spent four seasons in the ECHL and hasn’t played since 2007-2008.

With the Flyers, Oates recorded three goals and seven assists in 14 regular-season games. Although Oates had three assists in his first two tilts with his new team, Philadelphia only won five of their last 14 games, as they lost seven and tied two down the stretch.

Thanks to their tumble near the end of the regular season, the Flyers started the postseason as the two seed and faced the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. After Ruslan Fedotenko notched the lone score in overtime of Game 1, the Flyers lost four straight games, three of those shutouts by Patrick Lalime. As for Oates, he was the only Flyer to take part in both goals, as he had an assist on both tallies.

This marked the end of his time in Philadelphia, as Oates signed a deal with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks for the 2002-03 campaign. The center set his lowest point total since his rookie year with the Wings, as he accrued nine goals and 36 helpers to finish fourth on the squad in points behind Paul Kariya, Petr Sykora, and Steve Rucchin.

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The 2003 NHL playoffs saw Oates and his teammates reach the Stanley Cup Finals, something that the former Flyer enjoyed for the second and final time in his career as a player. As the seven-seed in the Western Conference, the Mighty Ducks swept the Red Wings, beat the top-seeded Dallas Stars in six games, and swept the sixth-seeded Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference Finals before they lost in seven games to the New Jersey Devils. Oates had three assists in the Stanley Cup Finals, as he collected four goals and nine assists throughout the entire 2003 postseason. His most impressive game in the Mighty Ducks’ run was his two-goal game in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals.

Unfortunately for Oates, Anaheim’s loss to New Jersey was his last taste of the NHL playoffs as a player. The forward parted ways with Anaheim after the playoffs and went unsigned until November of 2003, when the Edmonton Oilers inked him to a deal.

Oates participated in a total of 60 games for the Oilers during the 2003-04 season. He potted a pair of goals and 16 helpers for 18 points, his lowest point total for a single season since he produced seven points in nine games for the Markham Waxers of the OPJHL in 1979-1980. Since Edmonton missed the playoffs by two points, Oates’ final game in the NHL as a player came in the Oilers’ 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on April 3, 2004. He had an assist in the loss and was named the game’s third star.

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Oates announced his retirement shortly after his final game and took a few years off before his return to the game as a coach. The former Flyer joined the Tampa Bay Lightning staff and served as an assistant coach to another former Flyer, Rick Tocchet, during the 2009-10 campaign. Wes Walz, yet another former member of the Orange and Black, also served as an assistant to Tocchet. With a record of 34-36-12, the Lightning finished 12th in the Eastern Conference and Tocchet was fired.

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Oates then became an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils for the 2010-11 season. He stayed with the club through last year, where for a third time in his career he was a member of an organization to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, but he couldn’t win the title. In a series that was hard for the majority of Flyers fans to digest as well, the Los Angeles Kings beat the Devils in six games to win the Stanley Cup.

After the Washington Capitals lost to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2012, then head coach Dale Hunter announced he chose to return to his former position, which was the head coach of the OHL’s London Knights.

On June 26, the same day he was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Oates was named the head coach of the Capitals. Although he hasn’t been able to coach a game in the NHL yet, Oates did spend time as a co-coach during the lockout with the Hershey Bears.