The second greatest passer of his generation was rightfully voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame yesterday and it was about goddamn time. In a city that has played host to a bountiful collection of some of the greatest athletes in sporting history, Adam Oates was a bright, shining comet that dazed us all too briefly before departing with the requisite burnout (courtesy of a front office that swallowed quarters then shit nickels).
“Holy shit, look at that! Do you see this? We got this guy for fucking Janney and Quintal?!??” would eventually give way to—paraphrased—”What the fuck is this team doing?”. And, just like that, after five brilliant years, he was off and the Bruins ushered in their newest crop of future contract headaches (I hope you Chiarelli haters remember this shit).
But, man, oh man, what a glorious run it was. After turning Brett Hull into the deadliest sniper in the game, Oates became a folk hero here shortly after the Bs obtained him from St. Louis when he beat Buffalo in OT right off the face-off in the ’92 playoffs and poured in 19 points in 15 playoffs games before falling to Mario Lemieux and the eventual champion Penguins. Oates was just getting started.
The next year (’92-’93) he put a monster 45-97–142 line while leading the league in assists and with 11 game-winners. Even more remarkable—very few of those points were put up by fellow HOFer Cam Neely due to the prototype power forward’s (getting a little verklempt here…) knee injury. In ’93-’94, Oates and Neely gave us what eventually amounted to hearing one last beautiful symphony on the deck of the Titantic. Thanks in large part to the sublime, effortless dishes from the astute Oates, Neely scored 50 goals in just 44 games—second only to Wayne Gretzky’s 50 in 39. It was a stunning achievment that hasn’t been seen since and one wonders if we will again. Oates ended up 32-80-112 in 77 games.
Oates didn’t beat you from one particular area but rather from anywhere in the offensive zone. Whether it was a puck-wide seam from Gretzky’s Office, a no-look touch pass, or, most likely, a feathery, tape-to-tape backhander, Oates was simply a magician with the puck—his linemates got set-up more than Ellen Degeneres in high school (there was perhaps no finer example of this then him turning Chris Simon into a 29-goal scorer). He would continue on his 1.06 points per game pace for the next few years and continue to be the league’s premier playmaker. But thanks to the Neely injuries (which, to the front office, made Oates expendable) and a roster peppered with has-beens, local kids, and cheap grinders, Oates would soon be taking his wand to D.C.
After a particularly rough stretch and with the frustration of too many seasons of skinflint GM Harry Sinden (in the Waylon Smithers role) doing nothing to upgrade the team finally boiling over, Oates lashed out. And then, just like that, he was tossed out. The Bs dumped the unhappy Oates, Rick Tocchet (oh, what could have been…), and Billy Ranford to the Caps for some kids named Allison (Worst. Bs captain. Ever.), Carter, and Jim Carey. Well, alrighty then.
Though he was 34 when the Bs traded him, Oatesy was hardly all done. He helped take a surprise Capitals team to the SCF in 1998 before they were swept away in a cloud of Red dust from Detroit. After a couple more productive years, he was shipped to Philly at the deadline for a cup of coffee before signing with Anaheim for the ’02-’03 season. At the age of 40 and with Father Time starting to make his presence felt, Oates (along with J.S. Giguere) helped inspire the then-Mighty Ducks to a miraculous Cup run that came up one win short. He finished up a stellar career with a non-descript year in Edmonton before hanging up his skates—a fate sealed by the looming lockout.
It took a few years, but the HHOF election committee, a body more shadowy than Gheorghe Muresan at sunset, got it right this year. Well, at least as far as Oates goes (no way should Sundin have gotten in before Shanahan, Shero, or Burns but when you play in Toronto, those things happen; Sakic was a no-brainer and Bure deserved it). Additionally, he was also hired as the head coach of the Capitals yesterday, a well-deserved nod after paying his dues as an assistant.
1420 points in 1337 games. Sixth all-time in assists (after Gretzky, Francis, Messier, Bourque, and Coffey). Five-time All-Star with three different teams. Four seasons with at least 100 points. And, oh yeah, and he was never fucking drafted. It was about time. Congrats, Oatesy.
Vote 1 for thank God we blogged this and 10 for it’s summertime. Nobody gives a flying fuck