- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2001

DENVER On the day the Washington Capitals' hierarchy concluded three days of intense meetings in Vero Beach, Fla., team captain Adam Oates criticized coach Ron Wilson for the way the center was used late in the season.

Oates' ice time was reduced significantly after the trading deadline, March 13, through the team's first-round playoff ouster by Pittsburgh in six games. Wilson said Oates, 38, slowed considerably as the season waned and then sustained a knee injury.

"I wasn't hurt," Oates said in an unsigned notes column in Sunday's Boston Globe. However, the player told Washington beat reporters at the time that he had suffered a slight knee injury that led to his missing the next-to-last game of the regular season in Buffalo.

Oates blamed his lack of ice time on Wilson and the acquisition of center/right wing Trevor Linden from Montreal at the deadline. Linden took over many of Oates' duties on the first line as the veteran Cap was relegated to third-line duty. Oates even was replaced as the one forward killing off 5-on-3 disadvantages, which he said hurt his pride.

General manager George McPhee said last night he had seen the report in the Globe but had no comment.

"The day before the Linden trade, we beat Ottawa 6-5, and I had three assists," Oates told the Globe. "Then, two days later, all of a sudden I can't play. It's like I got old overnight. All year long I wasn't slow. Now I'm slow? How did I get slow overnight?"

The low point, Oates maintained, came in Game 4 of the playoffs, when he saw less than 8 1/2 minutes of action. During the season, he often played about 22 or 23 minutes a game and was on the ice for all critical defensive assignments and faceoffs.

"It was the most embarrassing moment of my whole career," he said.

Oates' outburst came as the club tries to make a decision whether to retain him. Oates is in the option year of his contract the club's option. If the Caps decide not to pick up the option, he becomes an unrestricted free agent. If they keep him, he is scheduled to make $3 million.

Oates was the team's leading scorer last season with 15 goals and 67 assists for 82 points. He and Pittsburgh's Jaromir Jagr led the NHL in assists, Oates becoming the oldest player to lead that category.

Meanwhile, McPhee said he, team owner Ted Leonsis and president Dick Patrick had "comprehensive and productive" meetings throughout last weekend but reached no firm conclusion on how to proceed on their stated objective to improve the club's offensive output.

Among the decisions yet to be made is whether to retain Oates a finalist for the sixth time for the Lady Byng Trophy, awarded yearly to players of high skill who exhibit gentlemanly qualities.

"No decisions will be made on [individual] players until after the [June 23] draft," McPhee said. "We are going to continue to evaluate all our players in relation to what we can expect in the future. We are committed to do whatever it takes to improve, to be younger, bigger and faster."

The question fans want answered concerns the large free agent market this summer and whether the Caps will dip into it. The market is going to be very expensive besides being huge.

"We want to explore all options right through the draft," McPhee said, refusing to be more specific. Without saying so, that left the trade avenue open, meaning the club might trade some of its youth in an attempt to land some proven offense.

Or it could package Oates, a proven producer for 16 seasons, with some younger players and/or draft picks. In that case, the club would have to deal for a first-line center.

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