- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 7, 2002

VOORHEES, N.J. The NHL's most accomplished passer not named Gretzky or Lemieux calls a furnished apartment home. He's playing with two new linemates mired in deep slumps. But don't cry for Adam Oates. Less than five months shy of his 40th birthday, the former Washington Capitals captain has a solid shot at the first Stanley Cup of his 17-year career thanks to last month's trade from the Caps to the more formidable Philadelphia Flyers.
"Everyone here has done everything they can to make it as easy as possible," Oates said Wednesday at the Flyers' practice facility 15 days after being acquired for goaltending prospect Maxime Ouellet and picks in the first three rounds of June's amateur draft.
"Still, no matter how many times you're traded, you don't get used to it," Oates said. "You get uprooted from your routine. Your life gets turned over a little bit. Playing every other day doesn't give you time to catch your breath and get used to your new city. And it takes a while to fit in with your new club. This is a very good team, and I'm trying to establish myself here."
Not that Oates needed any introduction to the veteran Flyers, whom he faced so often over the years while skating for Detroit (3 seasons), St. Louis (3) Boston (five) and the Caps (five). When it comes to assists a game among the top 100 scorers in NHL history, Gretzky (1.32) and Lemieux (1.17) are in the stratosphere, but among the mortals, Oates is the king at .851. He's the only one of the top 30 scorers in NHL history to have more than three times as many assists as goals.
And even though Oates had only five assists in his first nine games for the Flyers, after tying Jaromir Jagr for the assists championship last season with 62 he will be the winner this year, extending his title as the oldest man to top the NHL in a major category.
"I was pretty ecstatic when I heard about the trade," said Flyers right wing Mark Recchi, who along with fellow big-time goal-scorer John LeClair combined for just four goals in Oates' first nine games as their center. "Adam's an unbelievable playmaker who makes the people around him better. There's an adjustment period going on now, but we know he'll be there for the playoffs."
Although the Flyers went 3-5-1 in their first nine games after importing Oates, the all but certain Atlantic Division champions likely will finish first or second in the Eastern Conference, guaranteeing them home-ice advantage at least until the conference final, if they make it that far. Philadelphia lost the 2000 conference final to eventual Stanley Cup winner New Jersey but was upset by Buffalo in the first round last spring.
Oates, eighth all-time in assists and 17th in points, is seeking to reach a second Cup final after he and the Caps were swept by Detroit in 1998 in his only previous appearance. The only players ahead of Oates on the all-time charts who didn't win a title are Marcel Dionne (assists and points) and Dale Hawerchuk (points), and next year he'll pass Dionne in assists and Hawerchuk in points.
"This is totally different than when I was traded to Washington [on March 1, 1997]," Oates said. "That team was just about out of the playoffs [the Caps did miss out]. We're struggling a little right now, but we've got a lot of proven players. We'll be fine."
Even though the Caps looked out of playoff contention when he was traded and he had been stripped of his captaincy by coach Ron Wilson during the offseason, Oates also would have been fine staying put in Washington. For now, a rented apartment makes sense for a man whose contract is up at the end of the season.
"We took a long time to get untracked, but the last couple months were a lot of fun," Oates said, still referring to the Caps in the first person plural. "I enjoyed playing with [Jagr] a lot. There wasn't any lingering effect from [the public rift with Wilson after last spring's first-round playoff loss to Pittsburgh]. Losing the [captains] 'C' was expected because I had asked to be traded and because of my contract situation.
"I think the Caps made a good deal. Hopefully, I can make it a good deal for both teams. I know I'm going to play somewhere next year. How we do in the playoffs will probably have a great deal to do with whether it's here or somewhere else."

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