One Of The Greatest Scoring Duos In NHL History
Adam Oates never had a chance to lift the Stanley Cup. Nor did he ever win a major award. Yet the word most often associated with his NHL career is "brilliant." Oates combined his talent with a chess master's understanding of the game. This allowed him to get in the right position on the ice, control the puck and draw the defense to him and then make the perfect—not good enough—pass to his teammates.
He was not Wayne Gretzky, but he may have been the second-best assist man in the last quarter century. Amazingly, Oates was not drafted by an NHL team. He came into the league as a free agent and he was signed by the Detroit Red Wings. He asserted himself with the Red Wings before becoming a superstar with the St. Louis Blues. He was later traded to the Boston Bruins and then the Washington Capitals. He also had stints with the Flyers, Ducks and Oilers.
Adam Oates was a spectacular passer, but he was far from a one-dimensional player. His career numbers are spectacular. Oates played 1,337 games in his NHL career and he scored 341 goals and added 1,079 assists. He averaged 1.06 points per game. His assist total ranks sixth on the NHL all-time list. While Wayne Gretzky had his office behind the goal line, Oates's office was high near the boards in the offensive zone, the area known as the "half-wall". From that point he could see the ice and the game as well as nearly anyone who played the game.
The combination of Brett Hull and Adam Oates was one of the greatest scoring duos in NHL history. Not in terms of longevity, but in terms of sheer efficiency and effectiveness. Oates wore his St. Louis Blues uniform for 195 games, so his time with Hull was about two-and-a-half seasons. But in those games the two men played together, Hull scored 212 goals while Oates tallied 228 assists.
Hull treasures the time he played with Oates and considers it one of his career highlights. "It was an immediate connection we had, not only as hockey players, but as friends,” “As much as I loved to score goals, he loved to set up goals just as much. I've been told, and I've actually thought it myself, I could have (scored) 1,000 goals if I had kept playing with Adam."
Adam Oates was a wizard with the puck and made those around him much better players. His partnership with Brett Hull in St. Louis is well-known, but he also played with Cam Neely in Boston and Peter Bondra in Washington. Oates is the only players in NHL history to play with three 50-goal scorers on three different teams. All three credited Oates as playing a key role in their productivity.
Adam Oates eclipsed the 100-point mark four times in his 19-year career. In most of those seasons, his goal totals were dwarfed by his assists. No surprise there since he was such a brilliant passer. However, in the 1992-93 season with the Boston Bruins, Oates asserted himself as a goal scorer. He scored 45 goals for the Bruins and also had a league-leading 97 assists. His 142 points allowed him to rank with Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr and placed him among the greatest single-season Bruins' scorers of all-time.
Adam Oates never won the Stanley Cup during his career, but he made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in the 1997-98 season with the Washington Capitals. Oates and the Capitals lost to the Detroit Red Wings, but he was solid throughout the playoffs. He scored six goals and had 11 assists in that 21-game playoff run, and Oates was successful on 19.4 percent of the shots he had on net in that series.
There was Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri in Edmonton, Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in Pittsburgh, and Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull in Chicago. One of those players, though, claims that the NHL's most magical duo resided in St. Louis. "Brett Hull and Adam Oates were the greatest 1-2 scoring punch in the history of hockey," said Bobby Hull, Brett's father. "Stupidly, some hockey people didn't think they were good enough to play together, and they broke it up."
It only lasted 33 months, but in that span Hull had the three highest-scoring years of his Hall of Fame career, and Oates, with back-to-back 100-point seasons, set the tone for his Hall of Fame campaign, as well. No one ever thought the Blues' tandem wasn't good enough together-quite the opposite. "They were the black and white keys on the piano," former teammate Brendan Shanahan said. "They made great music together."
But when Oates wanted to renegotiate a contract he had signed only a few months earlier, it was just a matter of time before one-half of the popular "Hull & Oates" hit would be moving on. That day came faster than it took the two to connect on a goal, ending one of the most memorable times in team history and giving Blues' fans only a glimpse of what No. 16 and No. 12 could have accomplished in unison. "I think clearly if we played a lot longer, we would have had some incredible numbers," Oates said. "Who knows where we would have gone?"
The Blues acquired Oates on June 15, 1989, in a trade that was certainly more notable for the player leaving. Franchise scoring leader Bernie Federko, along with Tony McKegney, were packaged to the Red Wings for Oates and Paul MacLean. "They weren't going to trade Steve Yzerman," Oates said. "I was the other offensive center." Oates was instant offense. As soon as he made a pass to Hull, the relationship took off. "The minute he got there and we started playing together," Hull said. "We kind of had the same-I don't know what you want to call it-mind-set."
Term it whatever you will, it existed. "No question we both felt that feeling right away," Oates said. "The trust factor between the two of us was incredible. It was almost a 'he knew that I knew that he knew' thing. I made plays where I thought Brett would be. So we started asking Brian [Sutter] to play us together more. And the 'Hull & Oates' thing had a good ring to it, so that didn't hurt."
The season before Oates arrived, Hull scored 41 goals with the Blues, and Oates had 62 assists with the Red Wings. So, in essence, it was like the Blues were throwing a lit match on a puddle of gasoline. "I think we were both ready to go to the next level," Oates said. In their first season together, Hull struck for 72 goals and Oates ignited for 79 assists. By the second year, they were deathly, with Hull reaching a career-high 86 goals and Oates exploding for 90 assists. Forty-one of Hull's goals were set up by his Oates. "The chemistry Adam and I had was...it was just ridiculous," Hull said. "It just felt like every time we were on the ice, we had a serious chance of scoring."
Hull could score from anywhere, but as former Blues defense-man Jeff Brown said, "As good as Hullie was at shooting the puck off his front foot, it seems like Oatsie was always sliding it in his wheelhouse." They began to drive their opponents nuts. "You kept looking at the scoring summaries and they said, 'Oates 2 assists, Hull 2 goals,'" Detroit general manager Ken Holland said. "It went on for weeks and months and years." Hull was getting much of the credit because he was the goal-scorer. That didn't bother Oates at all. "I would rather pass and watch you score than score myself," Oates told Hull. Hull responded, "It was just the dead opposite for me. There's nothing better, I felt, than hammering a shot and beating the goalie. We were almost a perfect pair."
Oates said for every one kid asking him for an autograph, Hull had 10. "Some guys are destined to be presidents and some vice presidents," Oates said. "He was a goal-scorer, a superstar. There are very few superstars in life." But Oates wanted to be paid like a superstar. After the pair's breakout season, the Blues restructured Oates' contract to reflect his performance.
Instead of a deal that would have paid him $800,000 over the next three years, Oates traded it in for a four-year, $3.04 million extension. He would make $320,000 in 1991-92, $330,000 in 1992-93, and $945,000 in both 1993-94 and 1994-95, along with a $500,000 signing bonus. "I was really pumped up about it," oates said in July 1991. "It's great to get recognized that way. [Jack] Quinn and [Ron] Caron were great to me. They didn't have to do it."
But by the end of the calendar year, Oates wanted to renegotiate. He ranked fifth in salary among Blues' players, following Hull, Shanahan, Garth Butcher, and Dave Christian. At one point, Oates' camp and the NHL Players Association doubted the validity of the contract, but Quinn countered, "I have the signature. He's committed as a Blue through the 1994-95 season."
Exasperated, the Blues traded Oates to Boston on February 7, 1992, for center Craig Janney and defenseman Stephane Quintal. "That's part of sports and part of the game, but it really [stunk]," Hull said. "We could have been a foundation for a number of years. Adding pieces to the pie to strive for that Stanley Cup in St. Louis would have been really something special. It was unfortunate."
There was no denying it. "We had a connection," Oates said. "He made me a better player. I hope I made him a better player, too." Both players went on to enjoy both team and individual success with other organizations, but when Oates returned to St. Louis for the retirement of Hull's No. 16 jersey, he said, "Brett, nothing compares to the three years I got to play with you."
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