Introducing The Hockey Writers’ Countdown to Puck Drop series. From now until the puck drops on the 2019-20 NHL’s regular season on Oct. 2 when the Toronto Maple Leafs host the Ottawa Senators, we’ll be producing content that’s connected to the number of days remaining on that particular day. Some posts may be associated with a player’s number, while others will be connected to a year or length of time. We’re really excited about this series as we take you through the remainder of summer in anticipation of the return of NHL hockey.
In the Anaheim Ducks’ 25 (approaching 26) season history, a number of Hall of Fame players have hopped over the boards at the arena now known as the Honda Center. With 77 days remaining before the NHL drops the puck on its 102nd season (78 days until the Ducks open play), let’s look at the Ducks career of one particular Hall of Famer who wore the No. 77 with Anaheim – Adam Oates.
Oates Arrives in Anaheim
When Oates signed with the Mighty Ducks (as they were known at the time) Monday, July 1, 2002, he was already a shoo-in for the Hockey Hall of Fame. With his 40th birthday falling less than two months before the start of the 2002-03 season, Ducks fans hoped Oates could continue to produce at a rate he had the season before, when he had 14 goals and 64 assists in 80 games for the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers.
When Oates signed, he voiced excitement to play with another future Hall of Famer, Paul Kariya:
“To get a chance to play with Paul Kariya is a big reason I went with the Ducks,” Oates said. “He’s like Brett Hull with speed. I played the best hockey of my career with Hull.”From ‘Ducks Sow Their Oates,’ LA Times, 07/02/2002
The Mighty Ducks hadn’t made the playoffs in three seasons and had only qualified for the postseason twice in their nine-season existence. With franchise cornerstone Kariya entering free agency after the 2002-03 season, and their neighbors across the 57 Freeway, the Anaheim Angels winning the World Series in October, it was time for the franchise to make a statement.
Oates Heats Up, so Do the Mighty Ducks
The 2002-03 season didn’t start in a very promising fashion for Oates or his new team. The team had a losing record for the first month of the season, reaching .500 on Nov. 10 with a 1-0 win over the Minnesota Wild.
Related: Adam Oates – One of the Best Undrafted Players in NHL History
From there the Mighty Ducks continued to play slightly above .500 hockey until late January, when their record stood at 19-17-7-4. At that point, Oates had contributed 17 points in 32 games played.
Anaheim entered their matchup against the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 22 having not beaten their Freeway Faceoff rivals in their past nine meetings. It looked like that number would stretch to 10 in heartbreaking fashion.
After Anaheim had taken a 3-0 lead off two goals from Kariya and one from Steve Rucchin, the Kings stormed back with five consecutive goals to lead 5-3 with just over 13 minutes remaining in the third period.
Related: Steve Rucchin: The Middle Man
That’s when the Mighty Ducks took charge of the game and possibly their season. They scored three consecutive goals with under 10 minutes remaining to take back the lead and beat the Kings.
Oates contributed an assist on the game-winning goal scored by Petr Sykora. From there, Oates and the Ducks caught fire. Including that game, Oates notched 19 points, (six goals and 13 assists) in 21 games. Over that span, the Ducks went 15-7-1 to move eight games over .500.
Oates caught fire again in the final two weeks of the regular season, adding seven points in seven games as the Ducks clinched the seventh seed in the NHL playoffs. Oates finished the regular season with nine goals and 36 assists for 45 points in 67 games played.
Oates’ Best Chance
Looking back on his career, Oates’ season with the Mighty Ducks was the closest he ever came to winning the Stanley Cup in his entire 19-season career. He played a significant role in that playoff run for Anaheim.
Oates tied for the team lead in playoff points with Sykora, each scoring four goals and adding nine assists. While 13 points in 21 games played might not seem like a staggering number for a team that went to Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final, it squares with the dominating performance of Jean-Sebastien Giguere in goal, who became only the fifth player in NHL history to win the Conn Smythe for playoff MVP in a losing effort.
Oates’ 13 points came at opportune times for the Mighty Ducks. Eight of his 13 playoff points came on game-tying or game-winning goals, including this assist on Sykora’s game-winning goal in the fifth overtime of Anaheim’s Western Conference Semi-Final opening game against the Dallas Stars.
Oates scored the only two Mighty Ducks goals in the Western Conference Final-clinching victory over the Wild, a 2-1 win which sent them to their first Stanley Cup Final.
Oates contributed three points, all assists, in the Mighty Ducks’ loss in seven games to the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Final. The team’s Game 7 loss would be Oates’ last game in a Ducks uniform. The team declined to pick up his option for another season with the team, which would’ve come at 41 years-old.
Oates signed with the Edmonton Oilers for 2003-04, his 19th and final season in the NHL.
Though Oates’ time with the Ducks lasted less than a year, it was the most memorable season for the franchise to that point.
After the Ducks’ Stanley Cup victory in 2007, the Mighty Ducks’ 2003 Cup run, thanks in part to Oates, is probably the second most memorable in Ducks history.
All stats from Hockey-Reference