- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2001

Washington Capitals center Adam Oates said yesterday his dispute with the club primarily involved a new contract, not the way ice time was dispensed late last season by coach Ron Wilson.

And he said his dispute could be resolved quickly if he was offered a new deal. If not, he wants to be traded.

"The answer would be 'no,' but I don't want to make it absolute," Oates said yesterday when asked if he would be back under any circumstance. "I would want a contract, and [general manager George McPhee] has not approached me about anything in that direction. Based on that, I think the answer would be no."

Oates' demand to renegotiate his contract brings his dispute into sharper focus one in which a deal and the length of it is his primary concern, more important than playing time or linemates.

The Caps exercised their option on Oates' contract, guaranteeing the center $3 million. He will turn 39 before the season starts; last year he had 13 goals and 69 assists for a team-high 82 points, and his assist total tied for the league lead.

It is not the first time Oates and the Caps have been at odds over a contract. When traded to the Caps on March 1, 1997, he held out for one game (a 2-0 loss to the New York Islanders; the Caps missed the playoffs by two points) until the Caps agreed to discuss renegotiating his contract. He then threatened through his agent never to play for the club again when the deal wasn't done quickly enough the following summer.

"The way things stand right now, I definitely want to move on," he said. "I asked them for a contract all year, and the answer was no. I put real good numbers up, and it was still no. To me that means the Caps are going in another direction and I'm not part of it."

McPhee was on vacation and unavailable for comment yesterday; in the recent past he has said he has not made a decision on the center's future with the team. Attempts to reach other ranking front office personnel were not successful.

Until now, Oates maintained his complaint was with Wilson and the way the coach cut the center's ice time after a March 13 trade that brought center/right wing Trevor Linden to the team. He indicated yesterday that was a factor but it was secondary.

"Wilson and I have never, ever talked, so there's no rife," the player said. "I think Wilson lost faith in me. That's what I think. The thing that bums me out is that I think it could be handled differently… . There could be some communication, but that's not Wilson's style. I don't really have anything against the guy."

"Adam is entitled to his own opinion," Wilson said yesterday. "I'm sure he's still disappointed by what happened at the end of the season [another playoff loss to Pittsburgh]. I lost a ton of sleep fretting over changes in the lineup, but those are decisions we made that we thought would help us win. Unfortunately, it's made Adam angry, but there's nothing I can do about that."

Oates first asked for a new contract early last season and was turned down. He asked at least twice more, including right after the team gave wing Peter Bondra a contract extension Feb. 1, but was turned down again. Oates maintains it's more of a confidence issue than one involving money.

"I want a contract," he said. "When you're older you can't play on a one-year deal. What happens if I get hurt this year? Did I get hurt because I'm old, or did I get hurt because it was my turn? When you're older and you're done, they're not going to take a chance the following year. If you have a two-year deal, you've got so much more security, and I've always played better with security."

The center is rapidly climbing into rarefied position in the league record books in categories like games played, assists and points. He missed only one game last season, and his body, despite its age, is well-preserved, mainly because of his style of play.

He would still be a sought-after commodity, especially to a team that thinks it has a good chance to go deep into postseason, because of his excellent playmaking skills. And if he's matched with the right wing, say a Brett Hull, there is always the possibility that some of the magic that produced 286 points in less than three seasons could be recaptured.

"That would be fun," Oates said.

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