On Oct. 23, 2013, Bleacher Report NHL National Columnist Jonathan Willis did not name Oates as one of his 10 NHL coaches on the hot seat. Nor did Willis include Oates on a list of eight NHL coaches on the hot seat published on March 13, 2014.
But a lot has changed since then.
In fact, a lot has changed since March 22. That day should have marked the beginning of a sustained winning streak as the Capitals went 2-0-1 on a brutal three-game West Coast road trip, capping it off with their first victory against the San Jose Sharks in The Shark Tank since Oct. 30, 1993, according to San Jose Mercury News.
But the Caps have struggled since then, at the most inopportune time. In the team's last seven contests, the Capitals are 2-3-2, earning only six of a possible 14 points in the Eastern Conference standings. Washington now sits in ninth place with a 36-30-13 record and 85 points, four points out of the final wild card spot.
After the San Jose game, the Caps were two points ahead of their acceptable total of points in the standings, according to my blueprint to make the playoffs that I laid out for them on Feb. 26. Now the Caps are three points below the accepted point total at this juncture, with only three games to play in their regular-season schedule.
As a result, Oates is feeling the heat.
But make no mistake: Oates is not being scapegoated. He must be held accountable for how the team has performed this season, even if he is not responsible for how the team was constructed.
One way to analyze the Capitals' performance—and by extension, Oates' performance—is to look at a summary of the team's statistics for this season, along with their rank in each category:
|Washington Capitals' 2013-14 Team Statistics and League Rank|
|Five-on-Five Goals For/Against Ratio||0.85||25th|
|Power Play %||23.4||1st|
|Penalty Kill %||81.7||17th|
|Shots Per Game||29.7||19th|
|Shots Against Per Game||33.5||27th|
|Winning % - Scoring First||.650||21st|
|Winning % - Trailing First||.256||22nd|
|Winning % - Leading After Period 1||.609||27th|
|Winning % - Leading After Period 2||.846||14th|
|Winning % - Outshooting||.500||17th|
|Winning % - Outshot||.418||24th|
|Faceoff Win Percentage||48.4||23rd|
But no statistic paints a more vivid picture of the Capitals' shortcomings under Oates then this nugget tweeted by Adam Vingan, the team's correspondent for NHL.com, after the team's 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils on April 4:
That New Jersey game was significant for another reason. It marked the joining of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mikhail Grabovski on the team's top line, in Grabovski's third game back from injury. This trio has played together for 18.54 percent of the time over the last three games, starting with the game in New Jersey. That is the most of any even-strength line combination in that span, according to LeftWingLock.com.
However, this potent line combination was a bit overdue—at least in the eyes of one NHL scout, as told to Craig Custance of ESPN.com (subscription required):
Adam Oates finally decides to play [Nicklas] Backstrom, [Alex] Ovechkin and [Mikhail] Grabovski together in New Jersey [on Friday]? They finally decide in that game 'I'm going to throw those guys together'? They’re not getting in. Washington is such a screwed-up team.
I feel like we’re trying to change our identity every night. Some nights we want to score off the rush, other nights we want to try and grind it out and there’s just not that consistency in not just our game but in the style of our game. We’re kind of losing our way in between games and playing towards other teams’ [styles] and how they’re dictating the game, and as a result we’re not getting results.
Oates himself did nothing to win back his veteran players—or his entire team, for that matter—in comments he made to Katie Carrera of The Washington Post on April 2. Oates was discussing a play from the game on April 1 against the Dallas Stars involving team captain Alex Ovechkin and Stars forward Ray Whitney. Oates said that “Ovi quit on the play coming back," adding that Whitney “forced [the play] down the ice and just goes to show you you’ve got to hustle the entire time, the whole entire time.”
The play in question directly led to a goal in the Stars' 5-0 shellacking of the Caps. However, that goal came when Washington was already trailing 3-0, and it happened halfway through the third period. This does not seem like the ideal scenario for calling out your captain in a public forum, if there is such a thing.
Ovechkin's response was even more telling. Instead of lashing out publicly, Ovechkin responded in a dismissive manner in comments he made to Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com on April 4, failing to either take Oates' comments seriously or accept responsibility for his actions:
Be honest with you I didn’t see [Whitney] and I kind of lost position. It is what it is. We make lots of mistakes, not one mistake. You can’t blame one mistake on our game...It is what it is. He’s the head coach. I get the blame for it. In that moment I think everybody quit on the play.
It's one thing to lose the respect of one of your veterans, or even most of your locker room. It is something else entirely to lose the respect of your captain. Bruce Boudreau can tell you all about it. Gabby was fired less than a month after the F-bomb heard round the world.
Like Boudreau, Oates does not seem to have his captain or his team behind him. He doesn't have history on his side either.
If the Capitals do indeed miss the playoffs, Oates will attempt to buck a trend from Washington's 39-year franchise history. The two previous times a Capitals team ended a postseason streak of at least two seasons, the head coach in question was fired as a result. See for yourself:
|Washington Capitals Head Coaches Who Ended Playoff Streaks|
|HEAD COACH||TENURE||RECORD||BEST FINISH||FINAL SEASON||RECORD||FINISH||STREAK|
|Adam Oates *||2012-?||62-48-16||1st||?||35-30-13||6th||6|
|* Through April 7|
So, considering the preponderance of evidence against him, would Adam Oates' firing be justified at this time?
As my dad would say in response to that question:
"Well, you can't fire all the players..."
Note: All statistics updated through April 8 courtesy of NHL.com unless noted otherwise.