Adam Oates is like every other passionate hockey fan in North America. He wakes up every morning, goes on the internet to see if there are any new developments on the NHL labor front, then heads to work.
Only when Oates shows up at his office at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, there’s no one else there.
The Capitals’ 50-year-old coach completed his six-week stint as co-coach of the Hershey Bears last week and now spends his days huddling with assistant coaches Calle Johansson and Tim Hunter in an attempt to come up with a game plan for an NHL season that is growing shorter by the day.
“I can’t imagine it will be too much longer before we know something,” Oates said Thursday while negotiating committees from the NHL and its players’ association met with federal mediators.
“We’re preparing in case [a settlement] happens. Obviously, I feel that if it does happen we’ll get a little mini-camp so there will be a couple things we’ll ask the guys to do and try to get that down as quickly as we can.”
Although Oates is not permitted to speak publicly about the lockout, he said he hopes and believes there will be an abbreviated NHL season and he wants to be prepared for when that happens.
In Hershey, Oates and Johansson joined the coaching staff of Mark French and Troy Mann and came up with a system of play that is expected to be used by both the Capitals and their AHL farm team. The Bears went 6-9 in the 15 games Oates and French shared duties behind the bench.
“The uncomfortable part was the first couple days and it was only uncomfortable because we were all trying not to step on each others’ toes and do the right thing,” Oates said. “On the surface the idea is great, but to actually go through it and make it work took a couple days. But after that it was great.
“They were very gracious allowing us to come down and work with them. We’re grown men and it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world for all of us, but it was good because we got to talk hockey every day and with more guys you get more opinions.”
After three seasons as an NHL assistant, Oates said he was happy to run his own practices, conduct his own meetings and work a bench for the first time. All in all, he said it was a positive experience that lasted just long enough. Oates’ final game behind the Bears bench was the night before Thanksgiving.
“I think there’s a point in time where it is their team, their show and let them move forward,” he said.
Oates said it was important for him and Johansson to work together with the forward and defensive rotations and to get to know each other as coaches. Oates said Hunter spent the past six weeks between Hershey and his home in Toronto.
“Calle and I spent the whole time together,” Oates said. “Both of us know each other as players but to coach together in that capacity and get used to using the same terms is always positive.”
Oates said he was impressed with the Capitals’ top prospects, saying Braden Holtby is an NHL-ready goaltender and defensemen Dmitry Orlov, Tomas Kundratek and Cam Schilling are on the right course to the NHL.
Capitals fans will have a chance to see the organization’s top prospects Thursday, Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. when the Bears face the Norfolk Admirals at Verizon Center. The game is considered a home game for the Admirals and already it’s a virtual sellout, with only single tickets remaining in the upper levels.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Oates said. “It gives the fans a chance to see the prospects and be a part of another event. And for the players I think it’s great because you’re going into an NHL building.”