Head coach Adam Oates may not know when he will make his head coaching debut with the Washington Capitals, but he says he’ll be ready whenever the times comes.
Oates spoke to reporters before Thursday’s AHL Washington Showcase at Verizon Center on Day 82 of the NHL lockout. Hours later the NHL rejected the NHLPA’s latest proposal further prolonging the league’s fourth work stoppage in 20 years.
While the emotional roller coaster this week included optimism that a deal could be reached, Oates sounded like a man prepared to jump into the regular-season as quickly as possible once an agreement is in place. Oates and coaches around the NHL may not have much of a choice.
“I can’t imagine there is any team out there that’s not ready,” Oates said. “I’m sure the coaches have actually ruined some of their video because you’ve watched it too many times and you’ve changed your mind. I bet if anything that’s happened. I’m sure that guys are over prepared right now.”
If the lockout can be resolved in the weeks ahead and there is to be an abbreviated 2012-13 season, there likely won’t be very much time between the ratification of new a collective bargaining agreement and the start of the regular-season.
The first lockout under Commissioner Gary Bettman’s watch ended Jan. 11, 1995, with the regular-season starting just nine days later.
“It was a scramble to get ready,” recalled Capitals assistant coach Tim Hunter, a Vancouver Canucks forward from 1993-96. “There were no exhibition games, we were off and running right away… so there was a lot of rust in the first month of the season.”
The Canucks had reached Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals the previous spring, but began the lockout-shortened season with a new head coach in Rick Ley. Vancouver won just once in its first eight games in 1995, lackluster results, Hunter says, that could be related to the limited training camp and preseason.
“[Ley] had his own way of doing things and there was a lot of learning and teaching before we got to playing and it was a lot to swallow. We struggled a little bit off the hop and we’re hoping for that not to happen [with a new coaching staff] here.”
Based on his experience as a player, Oates does not foresee too many challenges in starting a regular-season so soon after a potential end to the lockout.
“What I remember is [that] it was just hockey,” said Oates, a Boston Bruins alternate captain in 1995.
“As soon as the flip was switched, a week later we were playing. We had all skated so much, we were all having mini games and we were thankful it was over. [The feeling was] let’s play a game. I’m sure half the guys are ready so it’s like ‘let’s go’.’”
Unlike Hunter’s Canucks who struggled with a limited training camp, Oates and the experienced Bruins were sharp from the get-go, winning six of their first eight regular-season games. Oates began the year with four goals and 11 points in those eight games, on his way to a 53-point campaign in the shortened 48-game season.