NEWARK, N.J. — George McPhee made it clear again Wednesday that he’s in no rush to hire a new coach for the Washington Capitals.
“I don’t know whether it’ll be done in a few weeks or six weeks,” McPhee said after the NHL’s general manager meetings in New York. “We’ll take our time and try to do it right.”
That might be for the best, especially if ex-Caps forward and New Jersey Devils assistant Adam Oates is a candidate. This run to the Stanley Cup Final has raised his stock as a future head coach even though this is only his third season behind the bench.
“It’s tough for me to judge if he’s a good coach or right coach. Definitely Adam Oates has got a lot of knowledge about hockey,” ex-teammate Peter Bondra said in a telephone interview. “I definitely like him to be a future coach.”
Oates’ playing days in Washington did not end well, but that was more than 10 years ago, and Olie Kolzig is back with the organization as associate goaltending coach in spite of his rough exit.
Plus, Oates has evolved as a coach after one year with the Tampa Bay Lightning and two with the Devils.
“I played with him in Washington, so I kind of knew him as a player,” New Jersey forward Dainius Zubrus said. “He talks to a bunch of guys. After almost every game he comes out with his laptop and he’s showing clips and teaching guys and little things. His hockey sense, his knowledge of the game, I feel like he’s helped me and a bunch of other guys as well.”
Oates was not made available to speak at the Cup Final media day, per the Devils’ policy of assistants not talking to reporters. But there’s general agreement that he’s ready for a head coaching position if an NHL team is interested.
“I think he’s a very smart hockey guy. All the coaches this year have done a great job,” Devils forward Eric Boulton said. “They’re definitely prepared, and they put the work in and make sure guys know what they’re doing every night. When they have to change the system here or there or whatnot, I think he’d be a good head coach.”
Los Angeles Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford, who played with Oates in Boston and Washington, pointed out that typically skill players don’t often become coaches. Oates is an exception, and Bondra said his defensive abilities shouldn’t be understated.
But where Oates has shined in New Jersey is with the power play, which has been unstoppable at times. Not surprising given how much of a playmaker he was, especially on the power play.
“I haven’t really experienced what it’s like for him as a coach, but I know from a technical standpoint, he was a big part of the power play both in Boston and in Washington,” Ranford said. “That’s some real strong credentials that he’ll bring to a power play for any team.”
Oates’ credentials go beyond the power play. Bondra has spoken with Zubrus about Oates, and the reviews have been glowing.
“Oatesy has a lot of little tricks of the trade. He shows you a lot of things in practice that you wouldn’t necessarily think [of]. He’s very skilled, a very talented mind,” Boulton said. “On the ice, he works with you after practice and before practice. He shows you little things that maybe you wouldn’t think of doing or changing your game a bit here or there. He’s definitely helped a lot. He’s a good teacher like that.”