Every year, the debate over what players should be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame rages on.
Everything from statistics and leadership credentials to individual awards and championships won are taken into consideration, but the formula for what makes a player "Hall of Fame" calibre remains unclear.
The Hall of Fame selection committee seems to place a premium on players with winning pedigrees (see Gillies, Clark), as well as those who were fan favorites in their respective cities (check out Bernie Federko and Cam Neely).
Sometimes, players who had statistically more dominant careers get overlooked simply because they opted to stay out of the spotlight over the course of their career.
This was the case with centerman Adam Oates.
Oates was a playmaker, the type of pivot who turns 10-goal scorers into 29-goal snipers (see Chris Simon's stats from 1998-99), or a 50-goal man into an 86-goal phenomenon (Brett Hull's MVP season). Oates' greatest downfall was that he lacked goal scoring touch, so traditionally, his popularity didn't extend beyond the city he happened to be playing in (which changed quite frequently).
There was little flash in Oates' game, but he made up for it with his intelligence and efficiency.
Oates used crafty passes and puck handling to create opportunities for his wingers, and created space for skilled snipers such as Hull, Peter Bondra and Neely. His point totals are well over the standard for Hall of Fame forwards, as he averaged over a point per game over the course of his career. He also finished third in the NHL scoring race three times, which represents how elite of a producer he was during the prime of his career.
Oates was only named to the NHL All-Star Game five times, which is puzzling in itself.
Take for example, the 2001-02 NHL season, where Oates was overlooked. At the age of 39, Oates piled up a league-leading 64 assists, but somehow was not named to the Eastern Conference squad at the mid-season classic.
On two other occasions, Oates posted seasons of over 90 points, including the 1990 season where he had 102, but still failed to make the All-Star team.
Another knock on Oates is the fact that he never won a championship.
This is largely due to the fact that he was never a member of any dominant teams. His best years came on a St. Louis team that never came close to winning a Cup, as their success hinged on the offensive exploits of Hull and Oates.
Oates had two chances at a Stanley Cup at the end of his career, but both times his team was the clear-cut underdog and lost.
His Washington squad that fought its way to the Finals in 1998 was a grinding, blue-collar bunch that relied on otherworldly goaltending from Olaf Kolzig, and timely offensive contributions from Oates, Bondra, Gonchar and co.
In 2003, his Anaheim Mighty Ducks upset a number of Cup contenders en route to a 7 game heartbreaker at the hands of the New Jersey Devils.
In the end, Oates does not carry the star power or reputation that players such as Eric Lindros, Doug Gilmour or Pierre Turgeon did during their playing days, and that will ultimately be what keeps him out of the Hall of Fame.
While he never received the credit that he deserved during his career, the awards and accolades achieved by the recipients of his pinpoint passes are a testament to the on-ice genius that was Adam Oates.
When Brett Hull polishes his 1991 Hart Trophy, he can thank Adam Oates. When Peter Bondra looks back upon his league leading 52 goals in 1998, what was it that propelled the Slovakian sniper to these new heights? Adam Oates.
Who was the player with the most assists in the 1990's not named Wayne Gretzky?
Who is the player with most points and assists not enshrined in the 'Hall?
And it may well stay that way.