In an exclusive interview with CSN Capitals Insider Chuck Gormley, Capitals coach Adam Oates takes a look back at the Caps’ first-round playoff exit, his first experience coaching captain Alex Ovechkin, and why he wants to be the Bill Belichick of the NHL.
In today’s Part Three of the interview, Oates discusses his thoughts on the Stanley Cup playoffs, the comparisons between Alex Ovechkin and Brett Hull and the kind of coach he wants to be.
What are your thoughts as you’re watching these playoffs?
I don’t know. It makes me mad at times. You watch and see a lot of highs and lows. You see a team play great one night and lousy the next. It kind of reminds you how to stay the course, I guess is a good way to put it. Boston is a really good example to me. They won the Cup, but before that they were up three-nothing to Philly and blew it. I mean, that had to be devastating. And the next year they come right back. They didn’t change their formula. They quieted all the naysayers, and they won three Game 7s to win the Cup. They never scored a power-play goal the whole series. It had never been done before, and they won the Cup. That’s unlikely, isn’t it? And they lost to Carolina [in 2009] and they lost [in the first round] last year and they haven’t changed, and they’re back. I kind of always felt that way as a player. What can you do? You can only control yourself, do your best, play your hardest and deal with the media.
And if you look at it, Joel Quenneville and Claude Julien are still behind those benches in Chicago and Boston.
Quenneville, if they don’t score a shorthanded goal against Nashville [in 2010], he’s fired. And now he’s going for his second Cup. I’ll give you one of my good examples. Mike Babcock coached me his rookie year [as an NHL coach] in Anaheim and we lost Game 7 of the Final [in 2003]. Game 7 of the Final is pretty good, so you’ve got to be a decent coach. The next year he misses the playoffs. Does that make you a bad coach? Of course not. It wasn’t long enough for players to tune him out. There are always extenuating circumstances. You’ve got to be good to the media so hopefully they’ll be good to you on those tough days and fight through it and face the music.
But aren’t there coaches who go into this job knowing they have a short shelf life and, knowing that, it’s their way or the highway?
Yeah, and I don’t agree with that, just so you know. I think that’s a shame because you’re not trying to improve yourself at all. Listen, I want to get better as a coach. The learning curve is always open. You don’t stop learning. A guy like Marty Schottenheimer never changed his formula, never. His first day [as Redskins coach] he gets on Deion Sanders, who has six [Super Bowl] rings. He says, “I don’t care; it’s a man’s business.” Well, Deion knows it’s a man’s business. He’s got six rings. Like, slow down with yourself. Take a step back. I realize Deion Sanders is unique but he’s got six rings.
Are you saying it takes a special coach to coach superstars?
At the end of the day there are a lot of guys that couldn’t coach Ovi. A lot of guys that couldn’t coach Brett Hull and all Brett Hull did was score 750 goals, right? There were a lot of guys who couldn’t coach him. I’m not saying he was easy to coach, I’m not. But all the guy ever did was score big goals, game-winning goals, be reliable every night in scoring you a goal.
Do you see comparisons between Hull and Ovechkin?
Yeah, I do. Just because I played with Brett and I see a lot of similarities. I think Ovi is a more complete player, of course, just because of his physical capabilities. But Hullie and Ovi are both very, very smart guys. Hullie, because he’s so mouthy, never got any credit for being smart. But a lot of guys couldn’t coach Dennis Rodman, right? Phil Jackson had no problem.
Because he didn’t try to control him?
Yeah, and I want to be like that. I really do. I want to be that guy. I want to be Bill Belichick, who -- you don’t have to rant and rave. You don’t have to have the football mentality to coach football. Now, it didn’t work in Cleveland, but everyone in New England loves him because he got to Tom Brady. After that it’s been the best of all-time, right? So, I want to be that guy. I want to be a guy that keeps learning as a coach, keeps motivating his players because he’s knowledgeable and it makes sense to them. At the end of the day, no matter who it is, whether it’s my backup goalie, my sixth defenseman, my 12th forward, I want them to say, “That makes sense to me. Good, I got it.” I had a good relationship with Matt Hendricks, Jay Beagle. Ovi is a focal point in our league so he gets different attention. But I still have an ability to talk to Matt Hendricks and Jeff Schultz and I really believe that’s important. I think Jeff Schultz can play in this league. I think he can play better, but I think he can play in this league. That’s legit.