Thursday marks a month since the Capitals were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs by the New York Rangers, and there’s been plenty of time for Adam Oates to analyze the decisions that led up to the Game 7 loss on May 13.
He’s evaluated what worked, what didn’t and what might have been a lucky break. Although some choices stick in his mind — like whether it was the right call to give players the morning off before the decisive Game 7, even though that’s how the coaching staff handled back-to-back games all season — Oates is focused on the future.
“I think it’s more important to try not to micromanage some of your decisions and over think them,” Oates said Tuesday from Florida, where he is spending time with his wife before the offseason picks up. “You did your best. It wasn’t good enough and we’ve got to figure out ways to be better for next year.”
His mantra of seeking steady improvement, both for the group and each individual, remains. But Oates knows that to foster the growth and evolution he strives for he must have the ear of the room long term.
Throughout the 2012-13 season multiple players praised Oates’s positive approach and credited him for helping boost their confidence and, in turn, their on-ice performance. Oates is careful not to take that strong relationship for granted, though, and wants to make sure the message is well received as he and the Capitals move past the honeymoon phase.
“I’m constantly trying to think of ways to make sure the guys don’t get bored with me,” Oates said. “I want to coach for a long time. I want to coach these guys for a long time and it’s inevitable that it gets stagnant — I want to prevent that for as long as possible.”
It’s a layered relationship for Oates. The long-term goal is always to win, but in order to achieve that success there are numerous “subplots” that involve finding ways for each player, position group or special-teams unit to better themselves.
Improvement for the individual should lead to improvement for the group and as long as his approach can continue to foster both, Oates believes the Capitals will be better for it.
“If you get a few guys to be improving during those dog days or dog moments, they’ll keep the bus driving because they’re feeling good about themselves,” Oates said. “It’s impossible to get all 20 guys happy at the same time, but in down times if there’s still a few guys who are feeling good about themselves hopefully they’ll get you through the rough spots. That’s why I think it’s very important that guys keep improving individually.”
After implementing his style of play and familiarizing himself with each player for a season, even an abbreviated one, Oates has different expectations of what day-to-day practices and meetings will entail next year. Barring radical changes to the roster, the majority of the Capitals will be familiar with his system and there shouldn’t be a need to repeatedly reinforce the fundamentals, as was often the case last season.
Adjustments to Washington’s game are to be expected, but Oates is looking forward to progressing beyond the basic structure.
“We talked a lot about system this year,” Oates said. “I want the guys to move on beyond that. That means we’re going to have a different set of things to talk about every day in terms of how to keep the team going and keep the team growing.”