Leadership, for Washington Capitals center Adam Oates, is relatively straightforward: Practice and play with a distinct intensity, leave everything on the ice, let someone else handle the rah-rah stuff. Those principles were instilled through 14 seasons skating on teams captained by Steve Yzerman, Ray Bourque and Dale Hunter -- three of hockey's legendary leaders. The lessons have paid off.
Capitals General Manager George McPhee announced yesterday that Oates was named the ninth team captain in franchise history, taking over for Hunter, who retired this summer to take a position in the team's player development department.
"Steve Yzerman, Ray Bourque and Dale Hunter -- all those guys were quiet guys who led by example," Oates said. "That's how I like to lead."
Oates joins a list of past captains that includes Rod Langway, Kevin Hatcher and Ryan Walter. He finished second on the Capitals in points last season and only Wayne Gretzky has more assists than Oates this decade (662-614). McPhee met with Oates last week in Cape Cod to discuss the decision and the club made the move official at a news conference yesterday in front of the White House. Oates never stopped smiling.
"To have the opportunity to be a captain of an NHL team is something that's very special to me," Oates said. "I'll always cherish it."
Oates, who will earn $2.95 million this season, enters his fourth season with the Caps. He came to Washington in a blockbuster trade with Boston in March 1997 with Rick Tocchet and Bill Ranford. The Caps parted with highly touted prospects Jason Allison and Anson Carter in the deal, along with enigmatic goaltender Jim Carey. Oates, 37, went undrafted out of college before signing with Detroit in 1985. He spent parts of six seasons in Boston and three in St. Louis, where he formed a potent one-two punch with Brett Hull, joining the league's group of elite players.
Coach Ron Wilson said he is eager to work with Oates as an intermediary between the players and the coaching staff, but it is not certain whether the captain will remain in Washington all season. He is eligible for unrestricted free agency July 1, and, like Hunter last season, could be dealt on or before the March trade deadline, depending on the Capitals' success, Oates's production and the intensity of interest he draws from other teams. Given the strong returns for potential free agents in trades last March, a deal for quality prospects could prove highly attractive.
For now, McPhee is focused on trying to re-sign restricted free agents Richard Zednik and Jaroslav Svejkovsky before training camp opens Tuesday. Both youngsters are expected to make key contributions this season and are part of a young core the Caps hope will lead the franchise into the next decade. McPhee said the sides have made progress toward new deals in the last month, though he's not certain either player will be signed by the start of camp.
There is also a possibility unrestricted free agent Joe Juneau could re-sign with the Caps. McPhee told Juneau's agent to notify him when the forward has an offer and the Caps will consider matching it. "We'll give them a quick yes or no," McPhee said.