The Washington Capitals are desperately trying to find their way into the playoffs. Last night’s 4-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues was a big step, but the club remains four points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final wild card spot. Their postseason hopes are faint at best, which would be a bad enough situation on its own. However, now there is concern about a rift forming between the players and coach Adam Oates.
Last week, Oates bluntly stated his captain, Alexander Ovechkin, quit during a blowout loss to the Dallas Stars. He was specifically calling out a Dallas goal in which the Russian star was one of a few Washington players who committed crucial mental gaffes. Ovechkin did not take too kindly to this, claiming everyone on the ice quit during this specific play.
However, a big headline from yesterday has become even more controversial today for Washington’s bench boss.
Oates told media yesterday that starting goalie Jaroslav Halak had asked not to play against the Blues due to him not wanting to take on his former teammates. It was a surprising story, as you hardly want a goalie you acquired to help you in a playoff push ask to sit out of a crucial game.
There’s just one problem; Halak’s agent, Allan Walsh, said today that Oates lied about his client requesting a night off.
“Jaro never at any time said he didn’t want to start against St. Louis,” Walsh said. “A private conversation between a player and coach should stay private and not be discussed with the media.
“I am bewildered that a coach would break that trust, especially when those comments the coach publicly attributed to Jaro are not accurate.”
Other members of Washington media have reported this morning that Halak has gone on record as saying he indeed never asked to sit out, even claiming he told Oates he would play if the coach wanted him to.
So, in the past week, Oates specifically called out his best player for quitting on a play where, really, every Capital on the ice fell asleep, and then apparently lied about his starting goalie asking out of a crucial game. This is all taking place in a stretch of games where the team literally cannot afford to lose. It leaves one to wonder just what exactly Oates is thinking right now, if anything at all. His team is hanging on by a hair, and here he is causing significant drama by creating problems with key players on the roster.
Whether or not Halak asked Oates to sit out is anyone’s guess. A scenario in which Walsh didn’t like how his client was being portrayed and lashed out to try and save face is not out of the realm of possibility. At the same time, why wouldn’t Oates just tell the media he was starting Braden Holtby in net because he felt he had been playing well lately and leave it at that? Why try and stir the pot by saying Halak wasn’t comfortable playing his former team?
More importantly, now that Oates has shown no restraint in creating issues with men who play for him, will this affect the effort the team puts forth the rest of the season? Sure, they want to make the postseason. At the same time, with their chances looking slim at best, the team could very well respond to these problems by just quitting on their coach.
Oates has been rumored to be on the hot seat recently, and these events won’t help his cause. Don’t be surprised if the front office comes back to this past week when determining whether or not they want to keep Oates around next year.