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 Belichik of the NHL.
In the fourth and final part of the interview, Oates discusses the expectations of fans, the importance of playoff grittiness and how he interacts with players during the offseason.
You’ve been here as a player and now as a coach and you’ve experienced some of the playoff disappointments. Can you appreciate the frustration level of the fans?
I do. Obviously, I know the history and they want more. That’s their expectations, sure, and I don’t blame them for that. We all want the same thing and we’ll do our best to do that for them. I thought they had a really good team a couple years ago and were going on all cylinders. I don’t think the team was going on all cylinders the last couple years. But I thought at the end of the season we were in a position where everybody felt really good, like we could do some damage and that’s why it hurts to lose like that. But I think a lot of guys had good years and they have to refocus. We’ve got to hold onto the feeling that it’s going to happen one day. There’s no other way to explain it, really.
You mentioned Ovechkin’s success this season and that there are areas of his game that can be better. What improvements can he make?
All the things we talk about with all the players are in their individual meetings, so I really don’t want to say that. If you ask him and he tells you that’s his business. I don’t want it to come from me. There are a couple things every guy can improve on and he does as well.
When you look at the playoffs and see the impact of gritty guys like Andrew Shaw and Brad Marchant, is that something you think is lacking or the Caps could use a little more of?
I think when a guy gets hot like that everybody wants that. Obviously, Shaw has come out of nowhere. Marchant has done it before. I like our players and I think we have a very good team. Can we play grittier? Yeah, I’m sure we can always play grittier. But how many hits did Ovi have in Game 7?
He hit just about everything in the first 10 minutes of that game.
Didn’t he? But because we lost people forgot. I understand that, but a month later I can’t forget that. The first 10 minutes of that game he almost killed [Rangers defenseman Ryan] McDonagh. There will be a year when that hit wins you that game. It could have for us. It didn’t. That’s why you can’t derail yourself off the tracks. We keep growing as a club. Look at Chicago. They won the Cup a couple years ago and they’re back, right? When they didn’t win it, they didn’t make a lot of changes.
Is it a case where you almost have to convince your general manager [George McPhee] to keep the team intact?
He has expectations, I have expectations. He will evaluate me based on how he thinks I’m doing with what he gives me. That’s my job. He’s obviously put these guys together and I believe in them. I told him I do and quite honestly, I do. Can we get better? Yeah, no question.
Is there a player you saw this season that you think can make a big step under you with a full season next year?
The guy that really wowed me was Troy Brouwer, based on what I knew about him as a player and what he did for us. I can also say that about John Carlson. John Carlson, I think, is a great, great hockey player and has the potential, like Greenie [Mike Green], to be an elite defenseman in this league. Hopefully, the learning curve keeps going. Marcus Johansson had a tough first half and had a better second half and I think he’s got tons of room to grow as a player. He’s a guy who could really help us if he continues to grow.
Do you talk much with players during the offseason?
Well, Ovi texts me every day. We have a very good relationship. I think he knows I’ve got his back, which is my goal. We’ve just been texting about the different playoff games. I’ll probably reach out to everybody at some point after free agency [July 5] to see how things are going. I’ll call and tell them they can call me any time they want.
When you played, did you have many conversations with your coaches in the summer?
Never. Never ever. They didn’t talk to us during the season. [Laughs]. These guys have my phone number on their phones. Figure that out.