Once again, a Washington Capitals leadership baton is passed from Dale Hunter to Adam Oates.
More than a decade after Oates followed Hunter as captain, a similar transition happened Tuesday when Oates, a former standout at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, was hired as the Capitals’ coach.
Except for one major exception: the one happened to fall on the same day Oates was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame — the first Engineers’ player the receive that honor.
“Growing up, I was a guy who was kind of overlooked, and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to go to RPI and have the time for my game to mature,” Oates said in a statement from the Hockey Hall of Fame. “This is a tremendous honor, and I look back and realize how lucky I was to have great coaches to help me along the way.”
The induction ceremonies will take place Nov. 12 in Toronto.
Oates, 49, was the leading scorer on the RPI team that won the NCAA Division I championship in 1985. He holds the RPI record for most assists in a season (60) and most points in a season (91), both set during the championship season.
In his three years in Troy, Oates had 66 goals and 150 assists for 216 points in 98 games, helping the Engineers to an overall record of 85-19-1. RPI, which was 35-2-1 in 1985, also won the ECAC Championship in 1984 and 1985.
Oates, a Weston, Ontario, native, led the team in assists all three years (33, 57, 60) and was first in points as a sophomore (83) and junior (91).
“Since he joined the NHL after the 1985 championship season, Rensselaer alumnus Adam Oates has had an outstanding career, both as a player and assistant coach,” said Rensselaer president Shirley Ann Jackson. “To see those achievements recognized by being named a head coach in the NHL, and being elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame on the same day, speaks volumes about his prominence in the game.
“We are proud of Adam, and we wish him much success as he begins his new career as a head coach with the Washington Capitals. He is great example of the Rensselaer spirit, on and off the ice.”
The accolades earned by Oates included All-America first team in 1983-84 and 1984-85, Hobey Baker Award finalist in 1984-85, all-league first team in 1984-85, Most Outstanding Player of the league tournament in 1983-84 and NCAA All-Tournament first team in 85.
Named to the ECAC Hockey All-Decade Team of the 1980s and most recently as one of the league’s top 50 players all-time, Oates was inducted into Rensselaer’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2004 and was the first person inducted into the RPI Hockey Ring of Honor (2005).
Even as he was joining Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin and Pavel Bure in the Hall Tuesday, Oates joined Washington six weeks after Hunter’s abrupt resignation. Hunter led the team to the second round of the playoffs as a midseason replacement before deciding he would rather be at home with his family, his farm and the junior club he owns in Canada.
So next up is Oates, who played 19 seasons as a center in the NHL, including parts of six seasons with the Capitals from 1996-2002. His 290 assists rank 10th in team history, and he and Hunter were part of the 1997-98 team that made the only Stanley Cup finals appearance to date in franchise history.
When Hunter was traded in March 1999, Oates was selected as captain for the following season.
Oates, who will be formally introduced at a news conference today, has spent the last three seasons as an NHL assistant, first with the Tampa Bay Lightning before moving to the New Jersey Devils in 2010. He was part of the staff that helped lead the Devils to this year’s Stanley Cup finals, which they lost to the Los Angeles Kings.
His most formidable task will be to develop a playing style that best suits a Capitals roster brimming with talent and that can also succeed in the playoffs. Led by Alex Ovechkin, Washington won four consecutive Southeast Division titles under offensive-minded coach Bruce Boudreau, but couldn’t advance beyond the second round of the postseason.
Boudreau was fired in November after an early-season slump and was replaced by the defense-first Hunter. Hunter eventually rallied the players enough to get them back in the playoffs but couldn’t push them to the conference finals.
Oates played in the NHL from 1985-2004, appearing in 1,337 games while scoring 341 goals with 1,079 assists for Detroit, St. Louis, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, Anaheim and Edmonton. Only Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux have averaged more assists-per-game than Oates in the NHL history, and only Gretzky (662) had more assists than Oates (636) during the 1990s. He also appeared in five NHL all-star games.
Oates is the fifth consecutive first-time NHL head coach hired by general manager George McPhee during McPhee’s 15 years with the Capitals, following Bruce Cassidy, Glen Hanlon, Boudreau and Hunter.
“Adam was a highly intelligent player in the NHL for 19 seasons,” McPhee said in a statement released by the club. “He has been an assistant coach in our conference for the past three seasons and is prepared to lead our club as head coach.”