The Mighty Ducks got a little bit older Monday ... and added experience ... and gained some playoff savvy ... and, they hope, became better too.
All of which depends on whether center Adam Oates can hold off the aging process a little bit longer. Oates, a five-time NHL all-star, signed a one-year deal with the Ducks, plus a club option, that could pay him $7 million.
The club option becomes Oates' option if he and the team reach certain incentive levels, among them Oates scoring 60 or more points and the Ducks making the playoffs.
The upside for the Ducks is, they acquired one of the top playmakers in NHL history. Oates can take command of their woeful power play, make crisp passes to Paul Kariya, and he has a bagful of playoff experience.
"To get a chance to play with Paul Kariya is a big reason I went with the Ducks," Oates said. "He's like Brett Hull with speed. I played the best hockey of my career with Hull."
That was then, however--Oates was in his 20s--and this is now.
Oates will turn 40 in August and the Ducks have been down this road before, with Jari Kurri, Tomas Sandstrom and German Titov. But Oates is coming off an 11-goal, 75-point season, a season the Ducks would be happy to see him duplicate.
"He may be on the downside [of his career] but he will be one of the big point-getters on the team," General Manager Bryan Murray said. "He is still a capable player and a smart player. I think everyone saw with guys like [Carolina's] Ron Francis and [Montreal's] Doug Gilmore that experience can make a huge difference on a hockey team. I have no problems with his age."
The Philadelphia Flyers apparently did. They acquired him from Washington in March, giving up first-,second-, and third-round draft picks, as well as their top goalie prospect. Yet, the Flyers walked away from Oates after his poor playoff performance--no goals and only two assists in five playoff games--as Ottawa eliminated the Flyers in the first round.
Oates' final days in Washington were not pleasant. He asked to be traded, then backed off that demand. He was stripped of his role as team captain last summer.
Still, Oates' numbers last season, which included a league-high 64 assists, could help the Ducks solve a couple of festering problems. They ranked last in the NHL on the power play at 11.5% and only Columbus scored fewer goals.
Oates, although he has slowed, is still adept at running the power play. He ranked third in the NHL with 26 power-play assists.
"This is one of the areas where he can help us most," Murray said. "He passes the puck well, sees the ice and, most importantly, he is a patient player. He will hold the puck and allow guys to get into position."
He is also capable of getting the puck to Kariya, who is coming off the worst full season of his career--32 goals, 57 points. Oates ranks eighth on the NHL's all-time list in assists with 1,027 while playing for Detroit, St. Louis, Washington and Philadelphia.
The Ducks, though, have brought in graying NHL greats before. In 1996, they signed Kurri, who was 36, to play between Kariya and Teemu Selanne. He finished the season with only 22 assists. The signings of Titov in 2000, and Sandstrom in 1997 also brought less-than-hoped-for returns.
Oates does bring experience, including 142 playoff games, and Murray hopes that he will mentor the young Duck players.
"I think the young players will learn from him," Murray said.
"He's a character guy and I'm trying to bring a few younger players into the lineup, that's important."
The Ducks plan to renovate their practice facility at Disney Ice, upgrading their training equipment and enlarging the area.... Murray said that the team was closer to signing Russian forward Stanislav Chistov, their first-round pick in the 2001 draft.
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*--* Oates' Brand The numbers on Adam Oates, who signed with the Ducks on Monday: Season Team GP G A P +/- 1985-'86 Detroit 38 9 11 20 -24 86-87 Detroit 76 15 32 47 0 87-88 Detroit 63 14 40 54 16 88-89 Detroit 69 16 62 78 -1 89-90 St. Louis 80 23 79 102 9 90-91 St. Louis 61 25 90 115 15 91-92 St. Louis* 54 10 59 69 -4 91-92 Boston 26 10 20 30 -5 92-93 Boston 84 45 97 142 15 93-94 Boston 77 32 80 112 10 94-95 Boston 48 12 41 53 -11 95-96 Boston 70 25 67 92 16 96-97 Boston* 63 18 52 70 -3 96-97 Washington 17 4 8 12 -2 97-98 Washington 82 18 58 76 6 98-99 Washington 59 12 42 54 -1 99-00 Washington 82 15 56 71 13 00-01 Washington 81 13 69 82 -9 01-02 Washington* 66 11 57 68 -2 01-02 Philadelphia 14 3 7 10 -2 Totals 1,210 330 1,027 1,357 36 *Traded