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 Part Two of the interview, Oates discusses Ovechkin’s development, the Capitals’ blue line and ways for him to connect with his players.
On Saturday night before Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final the Hart Trophy will be announced. In talking with other writers it looks like Sidney Crosby will probably get it. But in your eyes what did you learn about Ovechkin in your first season with him?
I learned that he’s a very coachable guy. We worked on a lot of things. Kind of like what I thought going in. I had to earn his trust and when I got it we were in a really good place. I think he’s got room to grow as a player and I think he’s a fantastic, fantastic player and he’s incredibly skilled.
That might have been the biggest question you faced when you took this job. How are you going to deal with Ovi? What was that like for you?
Easy. Easy. Yeah, easy. I have to go back to what I said to you when we first talked [after Oates was hired last summer]. You know what? As a player I wanted to be talked to and that’s what I wanted to be as a coach. So I talked to him. I talked to all the guys. When I talked to him, after a while it made sense and we got through some tough spots and then he was rocking and it was great.
Do you think he knew something had to change for him to get better?
Yeah, I mean, I think I showed him other parts of his game that he had and he still has lots more. He’s got lots more to his game in him.
When you look at Ovechkin, Backstrom and Green, they’re all guys in their mid-20s who have already spent a long time in this league. Do you agree they need to get better if the Caps are to make that next step in the playoffs?
Agreed. Agreed. That’s not saying they’re not great players. It’s not. It’s just saying, Is there more in there? Of course. Michael Jordan had to play better. I mean, he was already an MVP but he had to play better for them to win a title, right? That’s what we’re saying. They’re great. We want them greater.
You mentioned protecting your goaltender better. Do you think you could use a top-four defenseman who can carry the load?
I can’t disagree with you, but I can only coach the guys I have and I like the guys I have. I want one of them to step up and be that guy. I’ll help them and Calle [Johansson] will help them and we’ll grow their game.
A lot of people wonder what happened with Dmitry Orlov and where he fits into the defensive depth chart. Where do you see him fitting in next season?
I didn’t get a good look at him because he was hurt [with a concussion]. Right now I think he’s got to earn his way in. I know he played the year before and he obviously has great skills and a big body. But I had to go with the guys I had down the stretch. He’s got to earn his way in. Until that happens he’s not in the top six.
Any time someone starts a new job they feel they learn something they didn’t anticipate learning. Has that been the case with you?
You know, I think what I’ve thought about this summer so far is coming up with different phrases and words. Like, I want to coach these guys for a long time and I don’t want them to be sick of me. You want to keep the engine going while you’re not wearing them out with boredom. That means new words, new things. That’s one reason I really believe in the players working on their games individually. If all of a sudden Jay Beagle is having a hot two weeks, he feels great, doesn’t he? And then all of a sudden you see two other guys [on that line] feeling really good and they’re in a good mood. On the downturns of a long season, those guys can drive the bus. That’s why I really believe in everybody working on their game, because they can always drive the bus and that takes the pressure off you having to try to come up with a Knute Rockne speech or something like that. At the end of the day you still expect your stars – Ovi, Backy, Green – to carry the mail. But if you can find little areas where other guys can improve it sure helps the cause. Winning’s contagious. When you win everybody’s in a better mood, everybody’s happier, practice is more fun. When you’re winning you’re not sick of the coach and I understand that. I really do. If we can win and everybody gets raises, everybody’s happy.
Speaking of that, any idea how contract negotiations are going with Mike Ribeiro?
Honestly, no. I don’t think they’ve talked in a while. I think George [McPhee] is focused on the [June 30] draft, quite honestly.