As if being the only team to give Randy Carlyle an interview wasn't bad enough, the Sharks' search for a new head coach took another dubious turn on Wednesday with TSN's Darren Dreger reporting that Doug Wilson is scheduled to talk to former Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates today.
Sharks fans might know Oates best as the man who criticized Tomas Hertl for his iconic between-the-legs goal last season but there's more to Oates than that. Oates was a phenomenal NHL player who belongs in the Hall Of Fame for his decade-and-a-half stint as one of the league's most cerebral playmakers. Like another premier passer from that era in Wayne Gretzky, however, Oates isn't a particularly good coach.
Oates spent two seasons as the Capitals' bench boss and, to start with the positives, Washington enjoyed tremendous power play success over that span. Sure, that's not hard to do with Alexander Ovechkin on your team, but Oates' 1-3-1 setup with the man-advantage is still in use in D.C. today and has caught on across the league. Unfortunately, that's where the positives end for the man who last season coached the first Ovechkin-led Caps team to miss the playoffs since 2007.
Friends of the blog Russian Machine Never Breaks wrote the definitive post on Oates' incompetence behind the bench in Washington and amid a slew of bizarre lineup decisions (using Jay Beagle as Ovechkin's center down the stretch in 2013-14 was perhaps the most perplexing) were some baffling tactical miscalculations like this one:
George McPhee built a defensive corps of mobile defensemen, but Adam Oates wanted his blueliners to play a stricter style that did not match their talents. The coach told Ed Frankovic that he instructs his defenders to pass the puck within five feet of getting it during breakouts. That’s a very big adjustment for guys like Green, Carlson, and Orlov, who were first scouted for their skills at carrying the puck through the neutral zone.
That’s one small reason for the decline of the Caps defense, but it’s also emblematic of the kind of rigidity Oates has imposed to the team’s detriment and without any perceptible benefit. The Caps’ neutral-zone play– full of turnovers, odd-man rushes against, and missed passes– is one of their biggest flaws. It’s also the direct product of Oates’ systems decisions.
Likely due in some part to his cripplingly conservative breakout strategy, the Capitals were 24th in the NHL in puck possession under Oates, controlling just 48% of shot attempts after adjusting for score. This season, with Barry Trotz at the helm and a relatively similar roster (they added Matt Niskanen in free agency but that was balanced out by the acquisition of possession sinkhole Brooks Orpik), they were 12th, carrying 52% of the play.
Oates also presided over a renovation of Braden Holtby's game that led to the talented goaltender's worst season in the NHL by far in 2013-14. Under Oates' tutelage, Washington's goalie coach engineered a new playing style for Holtby that required him to play deeper in his net, leading to some uncharacteristically questionable goals against him that year. Holtby posted a career-worst .915 SV% in 2013-14. Reverting to a more familiar positioning scheme this season, Holtby stopped 92.3% of the shots he faced in the regular season before a brilliant .944 run in the playoffs.
Oates was let go by Washington at the end of that season and spent this past year on the Devils' staff as New Jersey posted their worst possession numbers in the past decade. There's no evidence Oates is qualified to do anything more than run a power play at the NHL level and a lot of evidence to suggest this has the potential to be a disastrous hire if the Sharks go through with it. As with Carlyle, if this is simply the Sharks covering all their bases through the interview process it isn't as concerning. It's important to keep in mind there are likely plenty of coaches Wilson has interviewed that we don't and never will know about and it's possible many of them are great candidates. But the fact that Carlyle and Oates, two of the NHL's worst coaches of the past five years, are on the list is a red flag.