Washington Capitals: Why a Shortened Season Will Hurt New Coach Adam Oates

Dave Ungar@@DaveUngar68Correspondent IIIOctober 17, 2012

NEWARK, NJ - MAY 29: Assistant coach Adam Oates of the New Jersey Devils watches from the bench during the media day skate at the AmeriHealth Pavilion the day prior to Game One of the Stanley Cup Final at Prudential Center on May 29, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

After more than a month of having absolutely no positive news in regards to the lockout, there is finally room for hope.

The NHL made a serious and substantial offer to the NHLPA yesterday that, in essence, offers up a 50-50 split of hockey related revenue (ESPN). For the first time in a long time, maybe—just maybe—fans can feel that chances are good we will have a hockey season after all.

Still, it is not as though the players have come out in mass and said Where do I sign? It is unlikely this offer will be accepted without some serious tweaking going on.

To the contrary, in a letter to the players today, as reported by ESPN, Donald Fehr has informed them that accepting the deal, as is, will result in significant and continuing concessions being made by the players. While the NHL is trying to salvage an 82 game season, it still seems like a long shot.

A shortened season will affect many teams. One team that will be greatly affected by a shortened season is the Washington Capitals. The key reason for this is the impact a shortened campaign will have on first year head coach Adam Oates.

When he was hired by the Caps (ESPN), Oates was handed the very difficult task of taking a team laden with superstars and helping them recapture their prior offensive prowess, while at the same time making sure the team did not abandon the defensive style of hockey that translates into playoff victories.

That would be a difficult task at the best of times. Throw a lockout on top of things for good measure, and Oates' job just got exponentially more difficult.

Without question, the lockout and a shortened season will hurt Adam Oates in his first season as the Caps coach. Here are a few of the places a shortened season will hurt the most.

No Margin For Error

With each game that gets canceled, Adam Oates' job becomes that much more difficult. In an 82-game season, there is some margin for error. Obviously, every coach wants to get off to a fast start. But even if the beginning of the season does not go quite according to form, an 82-game season provides the coaching staff with an opportunity to make adjustments, mix up the lines, employ different strategies and so forth.

Oates will not likely have that luxury. Unless the NHLPA ratifies the new proposal in shockingly quick fashion, Oates will have to hit the ice running. In a shortened season, where points will be at a premium, Oates and the Caps can't afford to get off to a bad start.

Even if by some small miracle an 82 game season is salvaged, Oates will still feel the effect of a reduced training camp and a virtually non-existent preseason. Any margin for error the Caps and Oates might have had is pretty much gone.

Certainly, that is not really fair, but it is the situation Adam Oates will have to overcome.

If the Caps are to succeed, Oates will have to be up to the challenge.

Less Time To Evaluate Players and Talent

As a franchise, the Caps are at a cross-roads in many respects. It is not just about having a new coach. In fact, it is more about the personnel on the team this year, seeing how they respond to Oates' coaching style and seeing who might need to be brought in, traded away, sent down, etc.

Here is where a shortened season really hurts Oates. There are lots of question marks with the Caps and many areas where how those questions are answered could determine the fate of the franchise.

Alexander Ovechkin is one of those key areas. With Ovechkin's numbers having declined the past two seasons, it was imperative for Oates to see how Ovechkin responded to his coaching style and, equally important, to see if Oates could get Ovi back on track and get him back to being at least a 50 goal scorer.

If Oates were to succeed here, then there is virtually no limit to how far the Caps could possibly go. If he failed, then as unthinkable as it may seem, the Caps would have to start thinking about a possible future without Ovi, or at least a future with Ovechkin having a diminished role.

Braden Holtby is another player who I am sure Oates was hoping he would get to evaluate over the course of an 82 game season, as opposed to a truncated one.

Another question mark heading into the season was whether Holtby could carry over his tremendous playoff success and maintain that level of excellence over the duration of an entire season.

If he could, then the Caps would have one less issue to worry about, knowing they had one of the better goalies in the NHL between the pipes.

If, however, he could not, then the Caps would either have to turn back to Michal Neuvirth or, perhaps, look elsewhere to try and address this need.

A shortened season is certainly not going to help Oates make as complete an evaluation here as he probably would have liked.

Then there is the Mike Ribeiro situation.

Ribeiro was acquired from the Dallas Stars in a pretty big draft day trade (Washington Times). Ribeiro was brought in with the hope that he could be the second line center the Caps had been searching for the past three years.

The problem that the lockout is causing is it denies Oates a good opportunity to evaluate Ribeiro's performance and determine whether, in fact, Ribeiro had solved the Caps' dilemma of finding a second-line center.

The problem gets compounded when one stops and recalls that Ribeiro only has one year remaining on his present contract. This puts the Caps in the unenviable position of having to decide whether to offer Ribeiro a new deal or let him go to free agency—without the benefit of a full season to review his play in order to make that difficult call.

Without question, there are other players Oates will need to watch, players such as Marcus Johannson, Mathieu Perreault, Joel Ward, Dmitri Orlov, not to mention free agency acquisitions such as Jack Hillen and Wojtek Wolski.

How these players turn out could have a great bearing on how quickly Oates will push to get a player like Filip Forsberg to the USA sooner, or to try and convince Evgeny Kusnetsov to agree to come to the States.

The shortened season will have a significant impact on Oates' ability to evaluate his talent, see how they stack up, see how they are responding to his coaching style and then make the necessary adjustments.

Less Time To Evaluate Coaching Staff

As important as evaluating personnel is, evaluating the coaching staff he has put together has got to be almost as important for Adam Oates.

Oates put together an eclectic group for his coaching staff as he brought in the relatively inexperienced Calle Johansson to work with the defense, hired the very experienced Tim Hunter as an assistant coach and brought back Blaine Forsythe, Olaf Kolzig and Dave Prior (Washington Examiner), all of whom were on the staff last season under Dale Hunter.

While it would be reasonable to assume that Oates and his coaches met numerous times during the offseason to try and put a plan into place, to formulate strategy, to discuss lines and things of that nature, it has to be remembered that all of that was just theory. It is a much different matter actually putting that theory to practice, which is something Oates and the rest of his staff have been denied thus far.

In reality, Oates and his staff are not exactly formulating a strategy specific to the Caps—but they are working together and coaching hockey. As reported by Katie Carrera of the Washington Post, Oates, along with his staff, is co-coaching the AHL's Hershey Bears while the lockout is in effect.

This might be the best the Caps and Oates could have hoped for, under the circumstances. Oates will co-coach the Bears with Mark French, which will give Oates some valuable experience as an actual head coach.Oates will even get to work with some of his players, such as Braden Holtby.

Almost all of Oates' coaching staff will either be with him in Hersey, in some capacity, or they will be working with the Caps' ECHL affiliate, the Reading Royals. So, the entire coaching staff will be doing what they were hired to do—coach.

But they won't be coaching together at the NHL level. The AHL and ECHL are fine hockey organizations—but they are not the NHL. The NHL is a different animal. Working together with your coaches on a limited basis at the AHL level is just not going to be nearly the same as what Oates and his crew will experience at the NHL level.

This is another way in which a shortened season will hurt Adam Oates. While Tim Hunter has a ton of experience, Oates and Johansson do not. The interplay between those two, especially with Johansson being in charge of the defense, was going to be key.

With less time to work together, it may very well impact the cohesiveness that I suspect Oates will be looking for, as well as the balance he is likely trying to achieve between the more up-tempo brand of hockey he wants to bring to DC and the tough-as-nails defensive style employed by Dale Hunter last season.

The same is true, but probably to a lesser extent, as to the other coaches. No matter how you look at it, a shortened season will greatly impact Oates' ability to interact with his coaches and to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses—as well as being able to evaluate his own.

There are other ways in which a shortened season will hurt Adam Oates in his first season in Washington. From subtle things, such as rediscovering the nuances of the Verizon Center and how the puck comes off the boards, to more involved things, such as observing training patterns and tendencies of players.

But the areas I have outlined in this article seem to be the most pressing, and potentially most problematic, ways in which a shortened season will hurt Adam Oates.


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