Five Questions on Maple Leafs Assistant Coach candidate Adam Oates

Five Questions on Maple Leafs Assistant Coach candidate Adam Oates

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Darren Dreger reported yesterday what many of us have speculated about for some time now, which is the possibility of former Washington Capitals head coach Adam Oates¬† joining the Maple Leafs as one of Randy Carlyle’s new assistants.

Granted, we had Randy Carlyle fired and Peter DeBoer hired literally before the season ended in April. But there appears to be some leg to this one.

With that in mind, we asked friend of the site Peter Hassett of the excellent Russian Machine Never Breaks blog to answer a few of our questions on the potential hire.

Thanks to Peter for taking the time to answer our questions.

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MLHS: How quickly did Oates lose the fan base’s favour last season, and why?

Peter Hassett: First of all, you spelled “favor” wrong. How embarrassing for you.

Oates had a lot of esteem from fans based on the 2012-13 season, but things turned quickly– probably by the end of November. At that time, Oates had refused to separate Troy Brouwer from the clearly injured Brooks Laich. Both were getting creamed.

Meanwhile, the big 2013 deadline acquisition, Martin Erat, had become disgruntled as Oates refused to give him ice time (shades of Carlyle and Grabo). Erat requested a trade. Finally, Oates refused to give a sweater to Dmitry Orlov, once considered a blue chip defender. To satisfy contract rules, George McPhee had Orlov bouncing between DC and Hershey without seeing much ice. Orlov also requested out of the club, but Oates eventually relented (perhaps at the prodding of management) and Orlov did well once he hit the ice.

I’d say by the first week in December, when Braden Holtby stopped standing on his head and stealing wins, the fans had begun to turn. Frankly, I’m surprised Oates survived til April.

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MLHS: Our issues with Randy Carlyle often centered around the team’s shot differential, a lack of space allowed for the development of up and comers (no 4th line, basically), and that the team’s early success was a house of cards made up of opportunistic 5v5 scoring, good goaltending, and a good powerplay. Does that sound familiar?

PH: Way too familiar. It seemed like the Caps and Leafs were riding on the same rails this season, except only your team got a bunch of dramatic wins in those early weeks that masked the problems– at least to the uninitiated (and Steve Simmons).

For the most part, Toronto and Washington have pretty decent rosters with a lot of dynamic firepower up front particularly. The Caps were perhaps weaker on the blue line, but they made up for it with a top-3 power play.

Still, I feel like DC and Toronto are kindred. Our frustrations were the same, even if the way the owners dealt with those problems were not.

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MLHS: There was another parallel between these teams on the penalty kill. The Capitals finished up 16th (the Leafs were 28th), but the PK had fallen off considerably after starting the season as the league leader in this respect (the Leafs were also near the top to start, as well as in the lockout-shortened season). Why did the PK fall off for the Caps under Oates?

PH: Oates had a lot of Very Strong Opinions about how the PK should be run: clogging up passing lanes by being less aggressive at the half wall, keeping even-strength forward pairs together on the PK, making John Carlson play literally every second of every man-down situation (65%). Probably for a bunch of reasons, that didn’t work. The Caps allowed more attempts during the penalty kill than any team since the NHL has been tracking them. The Caps have a dedicated video coach and are purported to have an analytics department, but either they didn’t tell Oates how bad things were going or Oates didn’t care. The orthodoxy stuck, and Braden Holtby’s excellent shorthanded save percentage eventually dropped– sending the Caps from #1 in the league to the middle of the pack. Without that goaltending, it could have– and should have– been so much worse.

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MLHS: Oates’ breakout system was said to have hurt a Washington defence that was definitely weak without the puck but did have some mobility and puck moving ability. Do you agree? Brendan Shanahan has stressed the need for mobility and puck moving ability on the Leaf defence, in which respect Gardiner and Rielly are the future. If Oates handles the defence, for instance, should we be concerned? The Alzner and Carlson go-to pairing in Washington didn’t seem to reach its potential, either.

PH: I agree wholeheartedly and with a little bit of fist pumping. John Carlson, Mike Green, Dmitry Orlov, and even Nate Schmidt have real talent at carrying the puck through neutral, but Adam Oates decreed that he didn’t want them carrying it more than a few feet before moving it up. In general, Oates prioritized territory over actual puck possession– both in dump in chase in the offensive zone and with quick passing in the breakout. Neither of those tactics worked, and they blunted the talents of his players.

If Oates is hired in Toronto and given control over the defense, it will have been because Carlyle and Shanahan like his ideas, which Oates is pretty good at articulating, even if the ideas themselves don’t actually work. That should be scary for you, as I’d consider defensive failings to be the primary driver of problems in Washington last season. Every returning defensive player saw a drop-off of some kind in 2013-14, and I expect every single one of them to rebound next season merely by having a coach who isn’t Adam Oates.

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MLHS: Were there things you felt Oates did well in Washington?

PH: Absolutely. There were players– particularly Joel Ward and Jason Chimera– whose constellation of talents jibed well with Oates’ coaching. They committed to the dump-and-chase style and made it work for them (I think they’d be lethal under Darryl Sutter in LA). But the big thing that Oates did well is the power play. The Caps had a predictable formula (i.e. – get Ovi on the dot, get him some space, then get him the puck), and yet it worked time after time. More than half the league imitated the setup, but no one did it quite as well. I think that was a genuine achievement for Oates, and he should be congratulated for it.

If there were a position for “power play coach only,” Oates would be perfect for that in Toronto. Kessel would hit 40 goals. I don’t think that position exists though, and you definitely don’t want Oates running both of the special teams or the defense. So maybe he’d be a good equipment manager? He loves talking about stick curves and tedious crap like that. It’d be a good fit.

Good luck with that!

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More on Adam Oates:
The Arguments For and Against his Firing in Early April

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Peter Hassett serenades Oates on his way out the door:

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