To win your division and finish third in the East is one thing, but to do so in your first season with a new team and no training camp to implement your system is quite impressive. After a terrible start to the season and a 2-10-1 record, Washington Capitals head coach Adam Oates had faith in his system and more importantly, collectively brought together a locker room that had been previously labeled unmanageable.
One can make an argument that the Capitals play in a weak division and don’t deserve to be hyped as a “good” team, but it is the NHL that they play in, and no matter who you play, you have to bring your “A” game. Not to mention, since 2004, more Stanley Cup champions have come out of the Southeast division than any division in the Eastern Conference (Tampa Bay won it in 2004 and Carolina won it in 2006). The only other two Eastern Conference teams to win the Cup since then are the Penguins and Bruins, both playing in different divisions.
Yes, the Capitals were the only team from their division to make the playoffs this year, but it’s also because teams like Florida and Carolina were suffering from key injuries throughout the season.
Again, it doesn’t matter who you play, if you make the playoffs, you’re certainly doing something right. After that horrid start, Oates rallied his troops to end the season with a 25-8-2 record. The Capitals also had the league’s best record in April, which is arguably the most important time for any team to step it up.
With the season now in playoff mode and the annual NHL awards ceremony looming, it isn’t too early to discuss some possible candidates for the Jack Adams award.
The Jack Adams Award is “an annual award presented by the National Hockey League Broadcasters’ Association to the NHL coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.”
Is Oates a big reason for the Capitals success? Well, maybe you can ask Alexander Ovechkin, who took Oates’ suggestion to move to right wing, and led the NHL in goals with 32 of them. Or, how about you watch a Capitals game and observe their power play unit that struck at a deadly rate of nearly 27 percent on the season. The percentage is the best the NHL has seen from a power play unit since 1999.
Or, maybe you might want to ask any member of the New Jersey Devils, including current head coach Pete DeBoer, who missed the playoffs just a season after reaching the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s clear they are missing Oates in New Jersey, as their offense wasn’t nearly as efficient as it was when they had Oates assisting DeBoer.
Don’t forget, this is a Capitals team adjusting to their third head coach in the last year. When Bruce Boudreau was in charge of the bench, the Capitals were a strictly offensive-minded team. When Boudreau was fired and Dale Hunter stepped in, the team completely turned to defense. Ovechkin and Co. did not like this system, as they did not have much trust in Hunter.
When Oates came in, things changed. The team learned to not only trust their coach, but trust in each other. The adversity showed by the team to overcome an extremely tough and frustrating stretch of time shows that their coach held things down in the locker room.
As the results were produced and the Capitals started to play solid hockey in every phase of the game, the team was finally brought together as a confident, cohesive unit.
That is why the success can be attributed to Oates, and that is why he is a deserving candidate to receive the Jack Adams Award for the 2013 NHL season.
Matt Schreiber is the Florida Panthers Lead Writer for The Hockey Writers. He grew up just outside of Washington, DC before moving to Boca Raton, FL, where he currently resides. He also covers the NHL for Bleacher Report.