In an alternate universe where NHL owners and players got a deal done over the summer to prevent a lockout, Adam Oates would be coaching the Washington Capitals. He'd be spending his early mornings at the practice facility and 41-plus nights at Verizon Center.
Instead, much of his time is spent with Hershey of the American Hockey League as he gets more on-the-job training for a position in the NHL that should be his. And while Oates has taken to co-coaching in the AHL, it's not what he envisioned.
"It's very frustrating. But it's a work stoppage. It happens in all walks of life," Oates said Monday. "You got to take a mature attitude about it. Do I want to coach the guys? Absolutely. But it happened to me when I was a player, and as I said it happens everywhere, so you just got to wait it out."
Oates isn't just putting his feet up and watching film. With his Hockey Hall of Fame induction a week away, the 50-year-old is practicing his speech and has his hands full in Hershey.
Co-coaching alongside Bears head man Mark French and with the help of Washington assistants Calle Johansson and Tim Hunter, Oates has not had much of a chance to study his players at the NHL level. Putting so much energy into the Hershey job, he still thinks constantly about the Caps, even if that's, at least temporarily, a fruitless exercise.
"You don't want to think about it because your hands are tied," he said. "I just hope it gets resolved and we can start."
No longer a player and not an owner, Oates has no say in the labor talks, which are expected to resume Tuesday in New York. Asked if he was optimistic about there being an NHL season, Oates smiled and said: "I'm not supposed to go there."
Oates' mind isn't on the negotiations as much as it is on coaching the Bears. Between that and making preparations for Toronto and Hall of Fame weekend, he said life has been stressful.
But coaching at the AHL level hasn't necessarily been a problem affixed with growing pains. Oates embraces the chance to run a bench alongside French, but it wasn't something he even considered until general manager George McPhee suggested it.
"It just happened to be a coincidental time with a lockout where you get an opportunity to get some coaching experience," Oates said. "I don't believe that you have to coach in the AHL to coach in the NHL. ... I'm not against it. I didn't think I had to go through it, but given what's happened, has it been a good opportunity? Yes."
Oates said nothing about his AHL experience has surprised him. That's not a slight at the difficulty of the job but more a testament to what Oates learned from New Jersey Devils coaches Peter DeBoer, Jacques Lemaire and John MacLean and Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet during his three years as an NHL assistant.
"I wasn't a head coach, but when you're beside a guy for three years, you know that there's certain things you have to do, certain things that you have to think about, a certain amount of time you put in," Oates said. "I've made mistakes. But I think you'll make mistakes in the NHL, too. Nobody's perfect."
Oates even went so far as to say working with the Bears wasn't a substitute for trial and error with the Caps.
"I think you're still going to make mistakes in the NHL. ... Every coach makes mistakes every night," he said. "Nobody coaches a perfect game; there's no such thing. You try and eliminate as many as you can."
Little things are different. Oates hears his voice on line changes more than he did as an assistant, but other than that not much of a change. This lockout is just building onto his coaching experience.
But Oates is itching to coach the Caps.
"I was very excited, and I am excited and can't wait to touch base with them," he said. "When it happens, it'll happen."
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