- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2001

The chances that the Washington Capitals will pick up the option on the final year of Adam Oates' contract are slim, sources close to the team said yesterday, leaving the center to shop himself around the league this summer.
Oates, the team captain, did nothing yesterday to improve his standing when he failed to show for a mandatory season-ending team meeting.
"I didn't know there was a meeting," Oates said yesterday, refusing to say anything more. Other players said there was a general announcement on the team bus Monday night when the team returned from Pittsburgh.
General manager George McPhee and coach Ron Wilson both said they did not know where Oates was yesterday or why he did not attend the meeting. Both said he did not ask to be excused.
Oates was paid $3 million this season in the final year of a contract that had been extended once, with the club having the option for next season. Oates' base salary for next season would be $3 million because of scoring-based incentives. The center finished with 13 goals and 69 assists for 82 points, two points more than the requisite.
That may be his undoing. Washington acquired Trevor Linden from Montreal at the trading deadline. The center made $3.5 million this season, with the Canadiens picking up part of the salary. But next season Linden, 31, is scheduled to make $4 million, and Washington will pay all of that. Not picking up Oates' option saves the team $3 million.
But it is a tough call. Oates finished the year as the Caps' leading scorer for the second straight season (he finished second to Peter Bondra the two before that) and, at 38, became the oldest player to lead the league in assists, sharing the title with Pittsburgh's Jaromir Jagr. He had a hand in 36 percent of Washington's offense; he led the league with 37 power-play assists and had a hand in 56 percent of the Caps' scoring with the extra man.
"I wanted him to win the assist title outright," Wilson said yesterday. "We said we were resting him for that game in Buffalo [on April 6, the only game he missed all season], but he had a Grade 1 knee sprain. A couple days off allowed him to play, but he was never 100 percent after that. And in the [Pittsburgh] series he blocked a shot in Game 5, and we weren't sure until 10 minutes before Monday's game if he could play."
But there have been signs that Oates' dominant role on the team was changing. Since the middle of March his ice time was gradually reduced by about a third, and his place on key assignments, such as taking critical defensive zone faceoffs or defending against 5-on-3 disadvantages, was taken by others.
The Oates development is possibly the beginning of a busy summer for the team. McPhee said yesterday that the team is in the market for players who can produce more offense. What hasn't been decided is how to obtain them.
"We are very strong in a lot of areas in the net, on the blue line and up front in terms of character guys who are willing to work hard," McPhee said. "But we need a little more offense to win a series like the one we were just in, to be an elite team. That's what has to be addressed, and at this point I'm not sure how it's going to unfold. I think there's going to be a lot of activity this summer in terms of trades and players moving around with what's available in free agency."
Joe Sakic, Jeremy Roenick, John LeClair, Eric Lindros and Pierre Turgeon are a few of the players who may be eligible for free agency when the list comes out June 30. Another player who has yet to sign a new deal for next season is Mario Lemieux of Pittsburgh, but it's believed the Penguins owner will match any offer for himself.


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