- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Washington Capitals are going back to the well of moving former players behind the bench, as Adam Oates was named head coach Tuesday afternoon.

Oates, who spent the past two seasons as an assistant with the New Jersey Devils and the previous one with the Tampa Bay Lightning, is the fifth straight hire by general manager George McPhee without previous NHL head coaching experience.

But those who know Oates well aren’t worried.

“Obviously he knows the game very well, he understands it very well. Honestly there’s no reason for me to think he’s not going to do well,” Devils forward Dainius Zubrus said. “All the stuff that he worked with the players here and the stuff he was trying to teach and the way he was approaching this, it was great.”

Later in the afternoon, Oates received a second honor, election to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“Absolutely fantastic day. I don’t know if that’s ever happened before. I’ve got to go out and play lotto, I think,” Oates said. “Just two huge honors. Obviously I’m very excited about the coaching job and to be called from the Hall of Fame, it’s just a special, special day.”

Zubrus agreed with the commonly held notion that Oates is a players’ coach, given the 49-year-old’s positive rapport in New Jersey, Tampa Bay and elsewhere from his playing days.

Ex-Caps winger Peter Bondra called Oates a “great teammate” and thinks he’ll fit in well in this new job.

“I’m excited for Adam. I think it’s great. I like the fact that the Caps, they try to take care of their own people,” Bondra said in a phone interview. “Adam is familiar with the Washington Capitals, he played for Caps for a few years. I like that. i think that’s where Adam would be good transition, a faster transition, because he’s familiar with George, everybody around, Mr. [Ted] Leonsis. I’m really happy for him.”

Zubrus admitted being “a little bit disappointed” that Oates was leaving the Devils “because I liked him. I liked him a lot.”

“I think he’s going to do well. I really enjoyed working with him the last few years,” Zubrus said. “I know he helped me a lot with different stuff. A lot of times we’d go after games and go through some video and things like that. I thought his input was very good.”

McPhee made the comment before the NHL draft that he wanted a more “up-tempo” style of hockey, and Oates should be able to bring that. He was credited with helping Ilya Kovalchuk improve in New Jersey and for a strong power play.

But don’t think he’ll forget about the defensive end, either.

“Everybody think Adam will be offensive coach. He’s detail guy,” Bondra said. “I think he’ll work really hard to get everyone on the same page on the team and continue what Dale Hunter and Bruce Boudreau did the last couple years.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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