- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2001

Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee seemed to leave the door ever so slightly ajar yesterday for disgruntled center Adam Oates to earn an extension on the last year of his contract.

Oates, 39, is entering the final year of his contract and has asked for a trade or a one-year extension of his current pact, which is scheduled to pay him $3 million.

Until now, the club favored trying to trade him instead of offering an extension. But when asked yesterday if Oates could earn a contract extension with his play, McPhee hinted that the Caps may have reversed their field.

"We don't discuss contracts that much, so I'd rather not talk about contracts," he said. Then, breaking into a smile, he added, "But it's a good question."

The first drills of camp yesterday had Oates centering rookie Matt Pettinger on the left and Jaromir Jagr on the right. The second time down the ice they scored, with Oates passing to Jagr, who fed Joe Sacco coming down the left side two rapid-fire passes and a quick score. A packed house at Piney Orchard Ice Arena roared.

Washington has committed itself to spend $20.7 million over the next two seasons for Jagr, arguably the best player in the world, but the club needs a front-line center to feed its superstar. Oates is one of the best setup men in the history of the game and is the best playmaking center the Caps have ever had.

However, he is adamant about being traded or getting a contract extension to boost his confidence, he maintains, and provide compensation if he gets injured.

This summer Oates made negative comments about the team and questioned Ron Wilson's coaching decisions, widening the gulf between player and club. To make their point clear, the Caps have taken away his captaincy, a rare and embarrassing move in the sport. Was Oates surprised at the reprimand?

"No, not at all," he said.

Said Wilson, doing his best to defuse the situation and remain focused on camp: "It's business as usual. You have to be prepared for everything and I know with Peter [Bondra] last year, everything worked out and with Adam I'm sure everything is going to work out as well."

Camp opened a year ago with Bondra demanding a trade, but the situation was resolved during the season with a four-year extension. Oates maintains that his situation is different.

Meanwhile, Oates said he was pleased to be playing alongside Jagr.

"It was great he's the best player in the world," Oates said. "I think we all look forward to seeing what he can do, even though I've played against him for [11] years. I know what he can do but it's different when it's touching your stick."

Would the attraction of playing all season with a point-producing machine change his mind about his demands?

"Not at all," Oates said without hesitation. "I think it's totally different than the actual situation."

Jagr, wisely, is not getting involved.

"Hey, I'm here for a day, you're asking me to pick a center man? I'm Jaromir Jagr, I'm not George McPhee," he said with a grin. "[Oates is] a great passer, no question about it. But I'm one of the players, I'm not making out the lineup here."

Oates said he never thought about not honoring his contract, but he said he did consider retirement even though he has a shot at several milestones that likely would lock up a Hall of Fame election.

"It did enter my mind, but I love the game of hockey too much for that," he said.

Both Oates and McPhee acknowledged a Tuesday conversation during which McPhee asked Oates to be professional.

"I said, 'I've never been anything but professional,' " Oates said.

McPhee said he told Oates, " 'We don't need distractions, Adam. We're here to win a Stanley Cup. If were going to have distractions, we'd have to address those.' We just wanted to lay some ground rules."

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