When Adam Oates takes his place behind the Capitals bench for tonight’s game against the Ottawa Senators, the first-year NHL head coach will look at his counterpart behind the Senators bench and see a familiar face.
Oates and Senators head coach Paul MacLean were teammates for parts of three seasons from 1988-91, and the two will forever be linked with trade that jumpstarted Oates’ Hall of Fame career.
Oates had just completed his fourth season with the Detroit Red Wings when he learned in June 1989 that he had been traded to the St. Louis Blues.
The good news for Oates was that he wasn’t alone. The 27-year-old was heading to St. Louis with the veteran MacLean in a deal that sent Bernie Federko and Tony McKegney to Detroit.
While the change could have been difficult for Oates, having MacLean by his side made for an easier transition.
“Yeah, I’m sure” it helped, Oates said Monday, “because you’ve got a buddy when you go into that strange locker room. You’ve got someone with you so you’ve got a little bit of an allegiance. But we were both pretty sour at the time when it happened. We liked Detroit and we got traded in the summer and it was a shock. It was definitely a shock for me. And I know he liked it there as well. But it’s a part of the job.”
The trade would go down as one of the most one-sided in NHL history with Oates and MacLean appearing in a combined 310 games with St. Louis while recording 98 goals and 370 points. Federko and McKegney appeared in just 87 games combined with Detroit while recording 19 goals and 60 points.
While Oates would develop into one of the game’s best playmaking centers, MacLean was an eight-time 30-goal scorer with the Jets, Red Wings and Blues.
MacLean finished with 34 goals and 67 points with the Blues in 1989-90, had much to do with the first of Oates’ four career 100-point seasons (Oates had 79 assists and 102 points in 1989-90).
The distributor Oates and the finisher MacLean were perfect linemates for St. Louis in 1989-90 with then-rookie Rod Brind’Amour rounding out the Blues’ No.2 trio. Oates said Monday that much of his ice-time with Brett Hull during his first year in St. Louis came on the power play.
“I like to say that I made him a millionaire,” MacLean said tongue in cheek to the Capitals Radio Network Tuesday in Ottawa.
“Adam was one of the most pure passers I think that’s ever played the game and in any generation he would have been a good player. It was fun to play with him and I was really pleased to see that everyone took my lobby that he should have been a Hall of Famer last year and ran with it and got him in there this year.”
A rib injury forced MacLean into early retirement in 1991, but he’d return to the NHL as an assistant coach with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2002-03. Under Mike Babcock’s guidance that season, the Mighty Ducks reached their first Stanley Cup Final. A 40-year-old Oates just happened to be the team’s assistant captain.
“Yeah, he coached me then,” Oates recalled Monday, adding that he could tell MacLean had the ability to one day run his own bench in the NHL.
“He’s a smart guy. And he’s very…level headed. He’s the same guy every day. He’s not too high or too low. I thought he’d be a good coach.”