By now, Adam Oates would have been 12 games into his new career as an NHL head coach.
By now, he and assistant coaches Calle Johansson and Tim Hunter would have had enough material to begin tweaking what worked and what didn’t in their first month together as a coaching staff.
Instead, Oates has spent the past five weeks as Mark French’s co-coach with the Hershey Bears, trying to implement his system while Johansson and Hunter rotate games behind the bench with Bears assistant coach Troy Mann.
It is not exactly what Oates envisioned when the Capitals hired him to replace Dale Hunter on June 26.
“It’s very frustrating, but it’s a work stoppage; it happens in all walks of life,” Oates told reporters gathered to discuss, among other things, his Hockey Hall of Fame induction in Toronto on Nov. 12.
“You have to take a mature attitude about it. Do I want to coach the guys? Absolutely. It happened to me when I was a player [in 1994-95] and it happens everywhere. You’ve just got to wait it out.”
With labor talks resuming this week, there is renewed optimism that the NHL players and owners will be able to salvage an abbreviated regular season. If that happens, Oates was asked if he might be at a disadvantage as a first-year coach trying to implement a new system.
“Yeah, probably,” he said. “I was very excited [when I was hired]. I am excited. I can’t wait to touch base with them. When it happens it will happen.”
As a coach, Oates needs to straddle both sides of the fence during this labor standoff. Now considered NHL management he is not permitted to communicate with his players. But as a former player who experienced similar feelings during the 1994-95 lockout that resulted in a 48-game regular season, he said he respects both sides.
Through his first nine games in Hershey Oates has helped guide the Bears to a 4-4-1 record. After three years as an assistant coach in the NHL, he said the two biggest adjustments has been adapting to the AHL schedule – the Bears often play games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, followed by four days off – and the responsibility of calling out forward line changes.
“You hear your own voice more often than you did as an assistant coach,” he said.
He also has had to consider those three games in three nights when distributing ice time, saying he might back off on a veteran player’s ice time on a Friday so that he’s got enough left in the tank for Sunday.
Oates said he’s been impressed with Capitals prospects Braden Holtby and Dmitry Orlov, each of whom are expected to join the Capitals in the event of a labor settlement. Another positive from Oates’ time in Hershey has been the opportunity for Johansson and Hunter to understand what he wants from his players.
“It’s good for us to speak the same language because if [the lockout] does end we won’t have a lot of time,” he said. “Hopefully we’re all saying the same things to the guys and we can make the transition as fast as possible.”
If there is one thing Oates will not look back fondly on from his AHL experience it will be the long bus rides. The Bears have already made trips to Syracuse, Binghamton, Connecticut, Springfield and Bridgeport.
“It’s a tough part of the job,” he said. “You gotta take your hat off to them. They love hockey and they still want the life and love the life.”
Free agency does not start until July 1, but John Carlson's agent is already taking calls from other interested teams.
The interview period began at 12 a.m. on Sunday morning, which means teams are now able to reach out to any potential free agents, but no contracts can be signed until July 1. While Brian MacLellan said Friday that a new deal with Carlson to keep him in Washington was "really close," Carlson's agent, Rick Curran, has made it clear there was no deal in place yet as of Sunday.
So does this mean Carlson now has one foot out the door?
At this point in the negotiation, Carlson has a major advantage and that advantage is time. Sunday's interview period is just another way to hold the Caps' feet to the fire. The closer we get to July 1, the more pressure the team is under to get a deal done.
But the Caps still have some leverage too.
“I love it here and all that,” Carlson said during on breakdown day. “I want to stay here, but there's more to it than that.”
By rule, as his current team, the Caps are the only team that can offer Carlson an eight-year deal.
So Carlson may have turned up the heat a few degrees on the Caps, but it's not time for fans to worry just yet.
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Friday's trade with the Colorado Avalanche seemed to mark the end of Brooks Orpik's time with the Washington Capitals. But that may not actually be the case.
Trading away Orpik also meant trading away his $5.5 million cap hit. That is not an insignificant amount of money especially for a team trying to re-sign defenseman John Carlson to a big-money contract.
But Orpik will not be playing out the final year of his contract in Colorado. The Avalanche placed Orpik on unconditional waivers Saturday for the purpose of a buyout, according to Sportsnet's Chris Johnston.
CapFriendly has the details of the buyout. The Avalanche will pay Orpik $3 million and take a cap hit of $2.5 million in the 2018-19 season and $1.5 million in the 2019-20 season.
So why would Colorado agree to take Orpik just to buy him out and take on dead cap space? Because by acquiring him, it lowered the cost of the Grubauer trade.
What this means for Brooks Orpik is that he will become a free agent, free to sign with anyone for the upcoming season. Including Washington.
For a 37-year-old defenseman who does not boast great mobility or speed, a $5.5 million cap hit was a bit too steep for the Caps who were very close to the cap ceiling last season and who need that extra money to re-sign their free agents. But the team did value Orpik's leadership and that could be especially important as young defensemen Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos continue developing plus prospects Jonas Siegenthaler, Lucas Johansen and Connor Hobbs all try to work themselves into contention for a spot on the NHL roster.
If Orpik does return, it will be a masterstroke for general manager Brian MacLellan. MacLellan freed up a lot of cap space to re-sign Carlson without having to buy out Orpik's contract, but could still possibly keep him on the roster at a much-reduced cost.
After a strong playoff performance, there may be other teams vying for Orpik's services next season. Getting traded to get bought out likely isn't a good feeling, but considering he just won a Stanley Cup in Washington, the defensive guru Todd Reirden is expected to be promoted to head coach and that re-signing with the Caps would mean not moving his family for what could very possibly and will very likely be the last contract of his NHL career, there are a lot of reasons why it would make sense for both the team and the player if Orpik stayed with the Caps.
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