Not long after Alex Ovechkin found out who his new bench boss would be, the star winger called Adam Oates to welcome him to the new role.
“It meant a lot,” Oates said Wednesday. “He was very excited on the phone and I was very excited. I told him I was looking forward to coaching him and coaching this team and he seemed very enthusiastic.
“I don’t know him other than to obviously watch him,” Oates continued. “My favorite quality about the man is he obviously is very enthusiastic when he scores but when you watch other guys score, he is just as enthusiastic, and when you watch that on the outside looking in, that’s a great quality.”
Just as Oates finished his comment, General Manager George McPhee piped up.
“Just to finish Adam’s answer,” McPhee said. “He still might have to dump it in and block a shot once in awhile.”
It was a reference to Ovechkin’s comments earlier in the week when he said he was glad Oates likes offense, that “it’s not blocking the shots and it’s not dump and chase.” With his quip at Oates’s introductory press conference, McPhee made it clear that Ovechkin won’t receive a free pass when it comes to defensive responsibilities.
Oates spoke of respect for Ovechkin’s talent – calling the physical element of his game “unprecedented” — but added that with any player there is room for improvement. While Oates wasn’t about to publicly disclose what he might work on with Ovechkin just a day after being named head coach, the 49-year-old believes he can help the Russian winger improve his overall game.
“I think he’s a special player. In terms of adding a little bit to his game I think I can,” Oates said. “But he’s got to earn my trust as a coach first, along with the rest of the guys, and it will be a process that we’re starting soon and looking forward to.”
As has been well referenced at this point, Oates helped Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk become a better two-way player and introduced more defensive subtleties into his game. To be certain, Kovalchuk and Ovechkin are not the same player or person, but that Oates already has helped one star player tweak his play with successful results certainly can’t hurt.
“Ilya is a great guy and he made those adjustments willingly and it was a huge part for him in the game,” Oates said. “Really, he had to be showed some things. He’s the same guy he was when I first met him, he’s a fabulous guy he just needed to learn a little bit about the game. Even the superstars need to be coached once in awhile.”
A couple more notes:
— Now that Oates is in place, he and McPhee will set about choosing the Capitals’ assistant coaches. While former assistant Dean Evason will obviously not be returning now that he has been hired as head coach of the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals, McPhee wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Jim Johnson coming back.
“I know he’s talking to another club, and it may work out with them,” McPhee said of Johnson. “I can’t deny him the right to do that. I don’t want to hold anybody back while we’re doing this. That may happen with another club. If it doesn’t, he could be a candidate when we get back to this next week.”
McPhee added that he had not yet spoken with assistant coach Blaine Forsythe, who runs the coaching staff’s video operations, about returning.
“We’ll do it together and probably get it done next week,” McPhee said. “We certainly have a list and we’ll get at it.”
— The NHL and NHLPA have agreed to a $70.2 million salary cap for next season, with a floor of $54.2 million. Given that it was agreed to under the current collective bargaining agreement, which expires on Sept. 15, it is in essence a temporary salary cap that applies to the summer. The salary cap limit may very well change once the two sides, which are expected to begin negotiations on Friday in New York, come to terms on a new CBA.
More from Post Sports