The Washington Capitals are getting the band back together.
Oates and Johansson are short on experience behind the bench, but the hope is that they can recapture some chemistry from their playing days and that a 1998 trip to the Stanley Cup Final was not a one-hit wonder.
“The players that come in [as coaches] automatically know the culture, know all the nuances of the franchise, of the organization, of who’s been involved over the years,” Comcast SportsNet analyst and ex-Caps forward Craig Laughlin said. “I think that they bring instant cred; they’ve battled. … They know and understand what the players are going to be going through.”
Having played a franchise-record 983 games with the Caps, few know the deal around here more than Johansson, 45, who also has the most points and assists by a defenseman in team history. He has only has one year of coaching experience, with Frolunda in the Swedish Elite League in 2006-07, but as with Oates the Caps hope his playing career can translate just as well.
Johansson has spent most of his time post-retirement in broadcasting, but he learned an important lesson in limited duty behind the bench.
“I learned that the thing you have to do is be yourself to earn the players’ trust. Don’t think you’re something that you’re not. Don’t think that you can put on a role or a facade or something like that,” Johansson said on a conference call with reporters. “You have to be yourself to earn their trust, and I think that’s the most important thing as a coach. To be able to get through to the guys they got to know that what you’re telling them is the absolute truth.”
The absolute truth is that no one knows how Oates and Johansson will be as coaches, but if chemistry on the ice is worth anything, there shouldn’t be too many issues with miscommunication. Johansson had a desire to get back into coaching, but he did so now because he and Oates “think hockey the same way.”
“It just felt right,” Johansson said. “To me, it was just the perfect situation.”
Oates wanted someone he could trust, too, and it didn’t hurt that he and Johansson played parts of six seasons together in Washington. Familiarity is there even if Johansson’s personality might be a yin to Oates‘ yang.
“I think our styles will complement each other very well. I’m more the talker, he’s more a little bit quiet than I am. I think we’ll fit together well,” the Caps’ coach said. “He’s a good communicator; we used to talk about the game a lot. When we had our interviews, he talked about being able to communicate and still teach even at this level, which is something that I really believe in.”
Going by Johansson’s playing career, it’s tough not to believe in his abilities.
Laughlin described him as an “unassuming, unbelievable talent,” but now Johansson will be tasked with getting even more out of a young defensive corps that features Karl Alzner, John Carlson and Mike Green.
“You look at the defense in Washington today, and it has great potential. To me, when I see them, they play pretty much the same way I did or wanted and tried to,” he said. “They’re great skaters, they’re great two-way defensemen, all of them, and I think there is great potential that they can become easily the best ‘D’ corps in the league.”
That will take some teaching and communication, two things Oates and Johansson are high on. And having the “instant cred” of being in the record books should help bridge the gap, too, and get the players’ attention even quicker.
“You look at key names at the top of the list and you say, ‘Holy cow, Calle Jo’s right up there, Adam Oates is a Hall of Famer. This is pretty cool,’” Laughlin said. “Now, what it always comes down to is the new voice, is the new direction, is the new systems, is the new everything going to lead this team to the promised land? That’s how everybody’s going to be decided on.”
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