Just prior to the start of training camp last month, Adam Oates agreed to work as an unpaid consultant for the Lightning in what was essentially a favor to his good friend and former teammate, Lightning head coach Rick Tocchet.
That arrangement came to an end on Friday when Oates was named to the position of assistant coach.
"We are pleased to announce the hiring of Adam Oates as an assistant coach," said Lightning GM Brian Lawton upon making the announcement. "Adam will help improve our special teams and add additional experience to our staff."
The feeling is mutual, with Oates excited not only to be back on the ice but also to have the opportunity to work alongside Tocchet as the Bolts look to improve upon their 29th place finish last season.
“You know, I haven’t been in hockey in a while. Not to say I haven’t been watching though,” asserted the Weston, Ontario native. “After Rick got the job in Tampa we talked about some possibilities. I’ve had some opportunities to get back in the game but nine months is a long time and you want to make sure you get along with the guys you’re working with.”
“Obviously, Rick and I are good friends and that was definitely a factor in my decision to join the organization. I feel I’m at a stage in my life where I have some knowledge to share with the guys who are still playing the game and I’m really looking forward to the challenge,” Oates added.
Focusing his attention primarily on the power play and offensive strategies of the Bolts’ forwards, Oates has effectively given the Lightning a new lease on life when on the man advantage.
Under his direction, Tampa Bay’s power play finished fourth in the league during the preseason (24.4%) and shows no sign of slowing down. In Saturday night’s meeting with Atlanta, Marty St. Louis netted another goal with the man advantage while his cohorts on the power play unit consistently barraged Thrasher goaltender Ondrej Pavelec with pucks.
“We had some success in exhibition games. I think we’ve got guys who are willing to understand their role, whether it’s a penalty kill or a power play concept, and when you have that you can create some chemistry,” said the NHL veteran.
“With the power play, I find that not many teams pay attention to it. They figure they’ve got five guys to the other team’s four and their players should just be able to go out there and get the job done,” Oates said.
“Maybe 20 years ago that was the way it was. Today though, it needs the extra attention. My job is to provide options for the guys and have them understand what their roles are. With core players like Vinny (Lecavalier), Marty (St. Louis), Bugsy (Malone), and Stammer (Stamkos), we can really get it working. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to tweak it until we find success.”
In fact, with Oates now directing the charge, Tampa Bay is poised to make dramatic gains after ending the 2008-09 season with a mediocre 17.8% conversion rate (19th in the league).
As for what excites him most about working with the particular mix of players and coaches offered up by the Lightning organization this season, Oates again cites his eagerness to play a role in the bigger picture.
“Well, I feel that they’ve had a couple of tough years here and are a lot better as a group now. The coaching staff is getting along great. We’re all in the same boat,” he said. “Really, what we’re trying to do here is to solve a puzzle and I’m just excited to be a part of the solution.”
Ranking sixth all-time on the league’s assists list with 1,079 and having amassed four 100-point seasons and eight 80-point campaigns during his 19-year NHL career, Oates certainly has the credo to do just that.
Known as one of the league’s elite playmakers, Oates expertly combined a highly productive level of play with the kind of sportsmanship only six-time Lady Byng nominees are known for. And though Tocchet, his polar opposite of sorts who’s amassed enough penalty minutes for the both of them, seems to favor a tougher, chippier style of play, Oates is confident the two can mesh their respective playing styles into a cohesive coaching strategy.
“When I was playing with Rick, he wore every hat in the book. He was a tough guy, then a star and a tough guy,” said Oates. “He played with superstars like (Wayne) Gretzky and (Mario) Lemieux. He was traded. He was benched. He had incredible highs and lows.”
Reflecting further, Oates said, “You know, Rick has experienced everything an athlete may have to go through and he’s grown tremendously from those experiences. I think our coaching styles really complement each other.”
And so, it is with infectious optimism and a solid offensive playmaking perspective that Oates joins the Lightning family.
“As a player, it (hockey) is in your soul,” he said. “It’s a new chapter and I’m really looking forward to it.”
“It’s funny because this morning we were all talking about how 15 years ago, Cap Raeder coached Rick and I in Boston. Now, Rick is Cap’s boss and we’re all three together again. Things have really come full circle.”