A few weeks after the Capitals were eliminated from the playoffs, veteran right wing Mike Knuble was asked what kind of coach would be the perfect fit for the Caps.
"Maybe they need to find somebody who can communicate well with the players yet not coddle them," Knuble said. "Maybe a style between Bruce and Dale."
He was referring, of course, to the offensive style of Bruce Boudreau and the defensive style of Dale Hunter.
In Adam Oates, the Capitals believe they have found that coach.
Nearly everyone who has worked with Oates, either as a player or a coach, talks about his hockey intellect and the importance of trusting in it.
"I think he'll be a great balance between Bruce and Dale," former teammate and current Capitals associate goaltending coach Olie Kolzig said Tuesday. "Dale was a blue collar guy who believed in defensive hockey.
"When he took over for Boudreau on Nov. 28 we were a very fragile hockey team both defensively and offensively. And the way he corrected it was by saying, 'Hey, if we can't score goals we can sure as hell prevent them.' And to his credit he got all the guys to buy in. We were one game away from going to the conference finals.
"But we still maybe weren't utilizing the players that we had."
Players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Semin, Mike Green and Marcus Johansson were asked to sacrifice their offensive talents for a more patient defensive game. They did, but it wasn't enough to get the Capitals to the conference finals for the first time since 1998.
"What's going to be great about Adam," Kolzig said. "is that he'll be able to relate to those offensive guys, but at the same time still keep everybody accountable in their own end. That's the balance I think George is looking for."
Joel Ward certainly hopes so. Ward was one of the veterans who inhabited Hunter's doghouse near the end of the regular season and he's anxious to get a second chance under Oates, who helped take the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals last season.
"Honestly, you like to score and put up a lot of goals, but you need to play defensively and we were headed in that direction under Dale," Ward said. "If we can continue that path and use the offensive talent we have we can be successful.
"You can see the succes the Devils had by playing good defensively and getting timely goals."
Oates will be remembered by Capitals fans as one of the best playmakers ever to wear a Caps jersey. But Kolzig pointed out there were nuances to his game others never noticed.
"He'd be in the stick room getting guys to change the lie of their stick to receive a pass, or the curve of their stick to get off a better shot," Kolzig said. "Nine times out of 10 he was right."
Kolzig pointed out that as well as Oates played offensively, he was also on the Caps' No. 1 penalty kill and took crucial faceoffs late in games. He also noted he was in excellent shape and worked hard enough in the offseason to play 19 years in the league.
"But I think one thing people don't realize is how intense he was," Kolzig said. "He was always ready. He was always prepared. You could see back then he would be a great hockey coach. He was a great communicator. He could talk with anybody and everybody."
Ward said he's looking forward to getting to know Oates but stressed that his success ultimately will be judged on one thing.
"Wins," he said. "It's pretty simple. No matter who is coach, we need to win hockey games."