As was oft mentioned on Wednesday, there was a bit of uncertainty about whether Adam Oates would even play in Washington after he was traded here in the spring of 1997, and a bit more uncertainty about whether he would stay during the offseason.
This was during the decade when every sports column Tony Kornheiser wrote was terrific, and his column on Oates vs. the Caps was no different.
Here it is, in full. It’s from the paper of July 31, 1997, and it ran under the headline Oates’s Agent Is on a Power Play.
Memo to Adam Oates: Get out.
Washington is a big city. There are trains and planes and buses leaving every two minutes. If you don’t want to play for the Capitals, fine, just get out. I’ll buy your ticket.
This isn’t some Rust Belt hellhole or some Sun Belt frying pan. This is the capital of the United States. People from all over the country want to be here. If you don’t, leave.
Oh, and take your agent with you.
Who’s this pisher, Brian Cook, to declare: “Adam Oates will retire before he plays for the Washington Capitals”?
Oates has two years left on a contract that will pay him more than $ 2 million a year. Cook is saying Oates will give that up? And do what, catch cod in Newfoundland?
For some time Oates and his self-inflated agent Mr. Cook have been peeved at the Capitals for not renegotiating Oates’s contract upward to $3 million a year. That was their demand in March. According to George McPhee, the general manager, the Capitals were right there as of Monday:
“We’re $ 100,000 apart per year on this deal — that’s cab fare for these guys,” McPhee said. “There are performance bonuses written in that will put Adam over $ 3 million a year.”
Apparently, that’s not good enough now, because Team Oates feels insulted by the way the Caps fawned over Mark Messier -- and not over Oates. “At my original press conference I said this isn’t about show me the money, it’s about show me the respect. And they haven’t,” Cook said.
Slow down a second. At your original press conference? They haven’t shown you the respect?
Excuse me, who exactly are you?
Did I miss something, Brian? Who died and made you Charles De Gaulle?
This is not the first time Adam Oates hasn’t been happy with his contract and has tried to renegotiate. He did it in St. Louis, he did it Boston, now he is doing it here. It’s Oates’s M.O. to be very happy when he signs his contract -- and then 45 minutes later he’s unhappy, and you’re supposed to rub his tummy until he feels better.
Oates was the key figure in that dramatic March 1 trade that sent Jim Carey, Jason Allison and Anson Carter to Boston for Oates, Rick Tocchet and Bill Ranford.
(The day after the trade I was talking with Craig Laughlin, and Laughlin said, “David Poile may have made the greatest trade in the history of hockey.” I was flabbergasted. “The greatest trade in history?” I said. And here’s why I love Laughlin, because he said, “Well, I don’t know that I’d call it that.” I said, “Craig, you just did.” Now, with Tocchet gone and Oates bleating, the deal could be three guys for Ranford. Hmmmm.)
Oates was brought in to be the big offensive star the Caps have long coveted. He played in 17 games for Washington. What did he do? Well, here’s what he didn’t do: He didn’t lead the Caps to the playoffs. It’s not coincidental that the men who brought him here, David Poile and Jim Schoenfeld, are now employed elsewhere.
When Cook grouses about the attention the Caps paid to Messier, and wonders why they weren’t as attentive to Oates, he might consider this significant difference between his client and Messier: Messier has six rings.
Oates is a terrific player. Nobody questions that. But he shouldn’t get his nose out of joint. By courting Messier the Caps were simply trying to get better -- just as they were doing when they traded for Oates.
Negotiations between Cook and the Caps have been rancorous lately. Cook has been vehement that the Caps made a deal in March, and then reneged. Caps President Dick Patrick says the only deal they made was to “get together after the season and see if we could come up with an agreement.”
It certainly seemed the Caps had agreed to make Oates whole, the way he smilingly ended his brief holdout after being traded here. If there was an agreement, even in principle, you can understand Oates’s resentment. But here’s what’s true now: Oates has two years left on a perfectly valid, high-paying contract. And the Caps seem perfectly willing to give him three years at even higher pay.
“Either we can make a new deal, or he can play under the existing one,” Patrick said the other day. This seems fair to me. (Does any player ever volunteer to renegotiate his contract down after a bad year?) The Capitals have no plans to trade him. If Oates would rather retire than be paid either $ 2.15 million or $ 3 million a year, fine. Give me the money.
This is probably a negotiating ploy by Oates’s agent. Patrick and McPhee expect Oates to play for the Capitals this season, and he probably will. But there are some things that Oates and his agent — and everybody in the NHL — should understand. These are not the same old Caps.
David Poile isn’t sitting in a laboratory studiously tinkering with a beaker. There is a new arena, a new coach, a new GM and, apparently, from the money they put on the table to lure Messier, a new commitment to put an exciting team on the ice. (These new seats are expensive; it’s hard to sell dull, grinding, 2-1 hockey.)
The Capitals are looking for people who want to play in Washington. The first words out of Tocchet when he was traded here in March were: “I don’t want to play in Washington.” He made it clear the Caps were just renting him for a few weeks until he became a free agent.
Tocchet said he yearned for Philadelphia, but ultimately — like so many athletes — he took the biggest hunk of meat on the bone and went to Phoenix. (I guess the “Ph” threw him off.)
What angered me was that afterward Tocchet said he’d have been happy to stay here, but the Caps dragged their feet in making an offer. The gall of this guy, after bad-mouthing the team and the city. I’m glad he’s gone; good riddance.
I say this to Adam Oates: We haven’t heard you speak yet. All we’ve heard is your gasbag agent. If you’d don’t want to play here, don’t. Nobody’s going to miss you — you haven’t done anything here. But if you do want to play here, then tell your agent to shut up, because the last thing this city needs is more hot air.
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