For the past six weeks Capitals coach Adam Oates has talked about playing the same system and establishing the same “culture” as the one fostered by New Jersey Devils president, chief executive officer and general manager Lou Lamoriello.
With the Devils in town for three days we were able to catch up with Lamoriello on Friday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex to discuss his relationship with Oates and what goes into establishing a culture that has resulted in four Stanley Cup Final appearances in the past 13 seasons.
What went into hiring Adam Oates as an assistant coach in 2010?
Well, we were looking for an assistant coach at that time, really somebody specifically for the power play. I had known Adam from his college days when he was at RPI and I was [coach] at Providence. He is also a very close friend of somebody named Craig Billington [a former backup goaltender for the Devils].
I didn’t realize you and Adam knew each other back when he was at RPI.
When he was recruited, quite frankly, I had looked at him when he was playing in Toronto, to play at Providence. He ended up going to RPI and we followed him and he played against Providence in the playoffs. I followed his career because of his talents. He had also spent some time in my office one day with Craig Billington while he was still playing. So what transpired was, knowing him, I got a hold of him, we spoke, and he seemed like an excellent fit [as an assistant coach] and it turned out to be exactly that.
What did you like about him as a player that translated into being an effective assistant coach?
First of all, his concept of the game, his hockey sense. He was one of the best playmakers to ever play this game as far as reading the ice and understanding what was going on. There were players who had one sense and that was the first play. He can see the second, third and fourth and fifth plays. That’s something you can’t teach. That’s a gift from God. He was a special player but more important to me is he’s a special person. He has quality character and he loves the game He’s a student of the game, he really is.
What difference did he make for the Devils?
He brought a presence, he brought his professionalism, and he brought knowledge and I don’t know f you can ask for any more than that. And he was a team player.
That had to be important for Peter DeBoer to keep him on his staff when he was hired last year.
He met with Adam. If Peter wanted to make a change we certainly would have supported that. But he met with Adam, felt comfortable with him and it was an excellent relationship.
Adam has talked about building a culture similar to what you’ve built in New Jersey. Is that flattering in a sense?
I don’t know if it’s flattering, I just hope he’s careful.
Don’t perfect your model?
[Laughing] No, it’s a compliment and I certainly appreciate it. But we did a lot of talking for two years. He coached under some great coaches, too, in Jacques Lemaire and Peter. He’s a very intelligent individual who takes what people have to give and has to put it in his own words, which I knew he would. And he’s comfortable in his own skin and that’s very important.
Adam has talked a lot about building some of the same things you have in New Jersey. What is it that works so well? Can you put that into words?
That’s a tough question. We have a philosophy; we believe in it. Some people call it a culture. And we don’t deviate from it. You certainly make tweaks and make adjustments with the personnel you have, but everybody’s on the same page. It has to be within the team atmosphere. The team is more important than any one individual no matter what their talents are. We’ve been very fortunate to have those type of people who are also Hall of Famers, whether it’s Scott Stevens , Scott Niedermayer, Marty Brodeur, Patrik Elias, Randy McKay, Bobby Holik. Everybody felt comfortable with what it’s about because they understood winning takes a conscientious effort to be interchangeable and more important, that they need each other. Once you establish that there becomes a trust. And then somebody has to make a decision if someone gets out of that role or model. We have to make decisions from my seat that they can’t be a part of it. Not everybody can be a Devil.
So it’s all about accountability?
Exactly. It’s accountability. And respect for each other. We have a different expression. You have to be willing to give up your own identity for the success of the people around you. Winning breeds success. People get recognized more from being on a winning team than anything else. There’s nothing better than someone having the Cup next to their name. If you ask any of the people in the room that have had that experience they’ll tell you that. Philosophically, we also believe in having people who work to keep people accountable. In the locker room, three of them played for us – Scotty Stevens, Dave Barr, Chris Terrieri. It’ something that’s important. They believe it and they express it to people on a different level as far as the accountability goes.
Can you appreciate what Adam is trying to do here in Washington and the time it takes to build what he’s trying to build?
First of all, I can appreciate any time there is a coaching change, of what has to transpire because everybody has different agendas. The most important thing is that there is only one conductor. I have an expression: Your team is like an orchestra. If you want the music to sound good everybody better accept their instrument. When they try to play the drums when they’re a violinist, boy, you’re in trouble.