Ben Raby, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - The Washington Capitals' next game is still more than three months away, but the Adam Oates era in D.C. is already off to a remarkable start.
The former Capitals captain finalized a deal late Tuesday morning to become the 16th head coach in team history, replacing former teammate Dale Hunter, who stepped down May 14. And hours after accepting his first ever head coaching position, Oates was one of four former players voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2012.
"Obviously it's an absolute fantastic day," Oates said Tuesday afternoon. "I don't know if that's ever happened before. I've got to go out and play Lotto I think.
"It's a huge honor - obviously I was very excited about the coaching job and then to be called to the Hall of Fame just makes it a special day for us."
Oates joins the Capitals after spending the past two seasons as an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils. Prior to that, Oates was an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2009-10.
The 49-year-old is expected to bring an up-tempo style to the Caps and help restore some of the offensive flair that was missing under Hunter.
Oates was no stranger to the offensive game during his 19-year playing career, finishing with 341 goals and 1,079 assists. He is sixth all-time in assists and 16th all-time in overall scoring with 1,420 points.
Not bad for a guy who was never drafted and signed with the Detroit Red Wings as a free agent in 1985.
"When the scouts look at the draft, they look at the big kids and the fast kids," Oates explained, "and I was a small guy and a late bloomer. I kind of slipped through the cracks but that allowed me to go to college… Obviously I got to play 19 years in this league which was fantastic, but it easily could have gone in another direction."
Instead, Oates landed in Detroit, the first of seven teams he played for in his Hall of Fame career. The Toronto native also played for St. Louis, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, Anaheim and Edmonton.
In the 1990s, Oates established himself as one of the game's best setup men and the numbers support the argument. From 1990-99, only Wayne Gretzky had more assists than Oates.
"Yes, Wayne Gretzky had the best numbers and was the best to ever play the game," fellow Hall of Fame inductee Joe Sakic said, "but I'll tell you one thing - in my era it was Wayne and it was Adam Oates for playmaking.
You remember going into St. Louis and watching Adam and Brett Hull and the magic they had and the chemistry they had… But it wasn't just with Brett. He made everyone around him better and was one of the best playmakers of all time."
In addition to Oates and Sakic, Pavel Bure and Mats Sundin were also inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The official induction ceremonies take place in Toronto Nov. 12.
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