He never won a Stanley Cup, was undrafted, bounced around seven NHL teams, never won an NHL individual award, and his career goal total amounts to slightly more than a third of his assist total. Yet the playmaking centre couldn’t be more deserving of his Hockey Hall of Fame induction next Monday.
The 50-year-old head coach of the Washington Capitals kicks off our four-part series highlighting the greatness of the 2012 Hall of Fame class.
As with all good things, we begin with Adam.
1. He was a high school dropout.
A bit party-happy in high school, Oates ditched his studies to focus on hockey. As a 19-year-old, he earned money by working as a gas station attendant while playing for the Junior A Markham Waxers.
2. He was one hell of a lacrosse player.
A young Oates actually preferred box lacrosse to hockey. In five seasons with the Ontario Lacrosse Association’s Etobicoke Eclipse, Oates was crowned the league’s highest scorer and once set single-game records of 19 assists and 29 points. He eventually left Canada’s actual official sport in 1984 to focus on a more lucrative stick game.
3. NHL scouts pegged him as too slow.
After going undrafted, Oates returned to high school and upon graduation sought the help of a skating coach. By the time he worked his way to the NHL in 1985-86, he was the NHL’s highest-paid rookie, signing a $1.1-million, four-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings.
4. His impact was immediate… sort of.
Oates scored both a goal and an assist in his first NHL game. But after struggling in his next dozen or so games he was demoted to the AHL – where he would later win the Calder Cup with the Adirondack Red Wings.
“We’re talking back in ’85, when there was a lot of fighting in the game and I wasn’t a fighter,” Oates told NHL.com this week. “It was tough and I had to figure out a niche to play.”
5. Dealing him was one of the worst trades in Red Wings history.
Detroit sent Oates and Paul MacLean to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for veterans Bernie Federko and Tony McKegney.
It was in St. Louis where Oates would begin to put up his Hall of Fame numbers.
6. Six teams didn’t want him.
How often does a Hall of Famer get traded or not re-signed when his contract is up?
If you’re Adam Oates, a half dozen times.
It’s crazy to think that a leader, a smart decision-maker and a future head coach for goodness sakes would be traded or allowed to go unsigned by more than a quarter of the league’s clubs. This is a guy who rarely took a minor penalty and six times was a finalist for the Lady Byng – once for each time he was let go – yet some teams didn’t feel the need to keep him?
7. “Hull and Oates” was an sweet nickname but a sweeter on-ice duo.
There is no questioning Brett Hull’s shooting accuracy. But would he have put up a head-shaking 72 and 86 goals in 1989-90 and 1990-91, respectively, without being fed Oates’ smack-on-the-tape passes?
Not a chance. Oates himself linked consecutive 100-plus-point seasons during that time.
“He was so smart, so hockey smart, that he saw things in where to go and how to beat guys that I didn’t even fathom — and I thought I knew the game,” Hull told NHL.com. “To be able to play with a guy that you were just as close with off the ice as you were on the ice, I think that had a lot to do with how successful we were.”
8. His best season wasn’t even as a Blue.
Memory does funny things.
Even though Oates spent twice as many seasons (six) with Boston and Washington as he did in St. Louis (three), we tend to picture him in a Blues uniform, feeding Hull. But Oates had a career-best 45 goals, 97 assists and 142 points as a member of the 1992-93 Bruins. It was with Boston that he had his three highest goal-scoring seasons.
9. With 19 NHL seasons and 1,337 games to his name, he still averaged better than a point per game.
Despite declining production during his denouement with Philadelphia, Anaheim and Edmonton, Oates still amassed a ridiculous 1,420 regular-season points.
More than 1,000 of them were, of course, assists.
He didn’t get credit for this one, though:
10. He has helped build future superstars.
As an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning and New Jersey Devils, Oates has played a key role in shaping the offensive talents such stars such as Steven Stamkos and Zach Parise. The Devils surprised the East in 2012, bringing Oates within two victories of that elusive Cup, and Oates has now been promoted to head coach… of the Washington Capitals.
11. Ray Bourque loved him.
“People take what he does for granted. He does it in a quiet way. He’s not a flashy guy,” Bourque once told the Boston Globe. “He’s the best centerman I’ve been around.”
12. Forgotten fact: He was one heck of a ladies’ man.
Here’s the digital proof.