Oates defends his quest to make players better

Oates defends his quest to make players better
April 21, 2014, 11:00 am
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(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

As the Capitals’ evaluation of general manager George McPhee and his coaching staff continues into a second week, the following questions likely will be addressed regarding head coach Adam Oates:

In his two seasons behind the bench, did Oates bombard his players with too much information? Did he try to change too many aspects of his players’ games? Was he too obsessed with the length and curve of a player’s stick? And does it really matter if a left-handed shooter plays on the right side?

As you might imagine, Oates’ answers to all three questions is an emphatic no. no, no, and absolutely.

“Some will fight it,” Oates said of his suggestions. “Some will take it right away and then have a hiccup, want to fight it, not like it. But the video doesn’t lie and the situations don’t lie."

“We play a sport that has a tool and sometimes the tool gets in your way. But in the salary cap era, these are the 23 guys we got and I have to make them better. To me, that’s part of being a pro. Sometimes you’ve got to fight through the frustrations. They might not like it, but it’s my job to get them to understand why, because one day you’re going to be a better player.”

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Caps right wing Joel Ward admits he’s an example of a player who benefitted from Oates’ suggestions. During last year’s lockout, Ward cut his stick shorter and altered the curve of his blade. He made more modifications before this season and finished with career highs in goals [24] and assists [25].

Ward said the changes to his stick helped him control the puck in tight areas.

“It was helpful, for sure, once I got used to it,” Ward said. “It took a while to get used to it, but once you get the mindset that this is how it’s going to be, it worked out for me. It worked out for Chimmer, too. He was making a lot of changes too.”

Jason Chimera also had a strong season, rebounding from a 14-point season in 2012-13 with a career-high 42 points this season.

“Maybe for some older guys it’s tougher,” Ward said. “I look at myself as coachable. I’m always willing to learn.”

Oates said he doesn’t mind getting challenged by players who are resistant to his changes. He notes goaltender Braden Holtby as an example.

“I like the fact that he wants to challenge me, I do,” Oates said. “That’s an athlete that will eventually get better because he’s into it. The guys that don’t do that, they’re not really about getting better.”

Of course, there are many other aspects of Oates’ coaching methods that are under evaluation. Oates is a firm believer that right-handed players should play on the right side of the ice and lefties should play on the left, so much so that whenever a left-handed defenseman was injured, Oates insisted that a lefty be recalled from Hershey.  

Oates said last week that he and his coaching staff may have made mistakes with the way they scheduled practices and off days during a season that included a three-week break for the Winter Olympics.

“Probably there might be days where we gave them a day off and in hindsight we shouldn’t have, or vice versa,” Oates said. “Sometimes you fight through your own second guessing, right?”

Oates also said he needs to be “an open book” to his players and assistant coaches, adding, “If you ignored someone's thoughts, that would be a mistake,” he said. “As I've said all along, I really believe in communication. So if there was something that stuck its head out, of course you're going to listen. If you're closed-minded, that's a mistake, which I'm not. I'm a very open book.”

Oates said he expects his season to be evaluated, but he also expects he and his staff will return for a third season behind the Capitals’ bench.

“I’ll get my feedback from my boss,” he said, “and I’ll pass that along to the assistants and then I’ll give the assistants my individual feedback on them. And then we’ll talk collectively as to what we all can do better.”

Like most players in most NHL locker rooms, several Capitals said they would like to see Oates and his staff return next season.

“Of course,” Ward said. “I didn’t have any problems with him. I played in a similar system with [former Nashville Predators coach Barry] Trotz. I hope everyone’s back."

“For me, it’s about guys buckling down more and getting after it. Some people say this and some people ay that. I played in this system and it works. I played on a team in Nashville that on paper wasn’t as strong and it works.”