Former Boston Bruin Adam Oates never won a Stanley Cup, but as far as memorable moments in hockey go, this has to be the next best thing. After being passed over six years in a row, Oates, who was also named new head coach of the Washington Capitals this afternoon, was finally selected for enshrinement into the Hockey Hall of Fame. “This is a tremendous honor” Oates said, “and I look back and realize how lucky I was to have great coaches to help me along the way”. Joining Oates as part of the class of 2012 are first timers Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin, along with a surprising Pavel Bure.
Oates was one of the lone bright spots, along with captain Raymond Bourque and a hobbled Cam Neely, on a series of declining mid-nineties Bruins squads. Mired in a contract dispute with the St. Louis Blues, Oates was dealt to Boston in 1992 in exchange for Craig Janney and Stefan Quintal. Oates quickly became a force for the Bruins, notching 19 points in 15 playoff games that year. In his first full season with the B’s, Oates paired with rookie sensation Joe Juneau, posting career numbers (for both of them), scoring 45 goals and adding 97 helpers to finish third in league scoring. Oates continued to put up strong numbers, pairing with Neely to form one of the most exciting scoring tandems in the league.
The slick centerman, known for his ability to set-up high scoring teammates, had more assists during the 90′s than any player not named Gretzky. Oates represented the B’s in three All-Star games (93′, 94′, and 97′) and his clean play earned him several Lady Byng nominations. He also twice finished top three in league scoring while with Boston. Oates was a premier face-off man in his day, often called upon for the crucial draw late in a game. On one occurrence, former Bruins color-man Derek Sanderson actually took to breaking down Oates’ face-off technique… and how much his unique stick came into play. Oates played with little to no curve in his blade, giving him much more control on his backhand and thus, more versatility (both in the face-off circle and in setting up teammates on the fly). Interestingly, Oates also chopped off a few inches from the tip of his stick. Sanderson reasoned that it kept Oates’ blade from getting tied up, and therefore helped him win a cleaner draw. At least, that’s how a 10 year old’s mind remembers it.
Number 12 was finally shipped out of Boston in March of 1997. With the B’s heading nowhere, Oates had enough and ripped management in the media. The departure of Oates marked the end of a once proud time for the B’s and the beginning of a long strange journey in re-discovering their current identity. The players Boston received in the deal were all gone within five years, however Oates went on to great success, remaining a cog in the Capitals offense for years and playing in two Stanley Cup Finals. Coupled with some star seasons early on in Detroit and St. Louis, the numbers don’t lie. Oates finished with 1079 assists, good for sixth place on the all-time list. Add in his 341 goals and another 156 playoff points and it’s tough to understand how it took the hall this long to add him in the first place.
The most telling indicator of Oates’ character probably came after his playing days with the Bruins. Wanting to pay homage to longtime friend and teammate Ray Bourque, Oates donned number 77… and wore it for the rest of his career. A classy tribute to one Hall of Famer… from another.