Lets face it. If Adam Oates is going to be successful as the new coach of the Capitals, his first order of business will be forging a strong relationship with Alex Ovechkin.
That process started shortly after Oates accepted his first head coaching job in the NHL on Tuesday when he received a congratulatory phone call from his 26-year-old captain.
I just talked to him briefly and he seems to be a great person, Ovechkin said during a break in the NHL Players Association meetings in Chicago. Im looking forward to working with him. Youre always excited when something big happens with your team.
I hope were going to work well and were going to play and were going to win I think.
After enjoying MVP seasons in 2008 and 2009 under Bruce Boudreau, Ovechkin admitted he felt handcuffed under Dale Hunters defense-first system last season, which encouraged strong defensive positioning and shot-blocking.
He says hes optimistic Oates will bring a fresh look to the Capitals that allows him to be more creative with the puck and re-ignite his game.
Its not blocking the shots and its not dump and chase, Ovechkin said. Any system that I play I learn a lot. Im an offensive guy, its not a secret to anybody, and Im pretty excited and very happy to hear the Caps signed that kind of guy who likes offense.
To his credit, Ovechkin adapted to Hunters system last season, but finished with a career-low 65 points and was at odds with the defensive posture Hunter took after the Capitals took a lead.
As the Devils assistant coach, Oates worked hard with Ilya Kovalchuk to broaden his game and Capitals associate coach Olie Kolzig said he believes he can have a similar impact on Ovechkins game.
The sheer fact Ovi reached out to Oatesy shows me that Alex is excited about having him as a coach, said Kolzig, who spent three years as Oates road roommate when they both played for the Capitals. Because Im sure Ovi talked to Kovalchuk about him. Maybe this is just the spark that he needs.
With the Devils, Oates encouraged Kovalchuk to make more give-and-go plays instead of trying to beat players one-on-one. Kolzig said he expects Oates to employ a similar tactic with Ovechkin.
Adam was the give-and go king, Kolzig said. That guy was unbelievable with the puck. Thats one thing he might try to get across to Ovi. Hey, instead of trying to beat guys one-on-one all the time, use Nicky Backstrom to your advantage.
Nicky is an Adam Oates-type player. He can make a pass with the best of them. Oatesy might ask Ovi to utilize the players on the ice to benefit himself instead of trying to beat everybody one-on-one.
Say this about Ovechkin. He made the first step in forming a good relationship with his new coach by pulling out his cell phone and giving Oates a call.
I think coaches and players have to have a good relationship, especially in the kind of situation where we have right now, said Ovechkin. Its nice.