by PuckStopsHere on 06/28/12 at 01:42 PM ET
After the Hall of Fame announcements, like to post my take on the Hall of Fame case for each of the players inducted. Yesterday I posted the case for Pavel Bure. Today I follow up with Adam Oates. In the future I will do Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin.
I use the Keltner List a series of qualitative questions that are borrowed from baseball that do a good job of capturing what should be the important points of a Hall of Fame case for any player.
1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?
I don’t think anyone argued Adam Oates was the best player in hockey. He was never among the top players in the MVP race in any season. The answer here is no.
2. Was he the best player on his team?
He definitely was the best player on his team during much of his run with Boston and Washington. I think a few people might argue that he was the best player on his team when he was with St Louis alongside Brett Hull arguing that it was Oates great passing that allowed Hull to be the most prolific scorer in the game. Although I tend to disagree with the idea that he was a better player than Hull, a somewhat logical argument can be made for it.
3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
This question is often unfair to centremen because of the talent in their position. Oates was not the best center in the league at any point. The best argument is probably 1991 when he made Second Team All Star. However when you are a center and your prime comes at the same time as Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux it is a very tough standard to expect a player to be the best at their position. A player of Oates calibre playing wing would have likely been the best player at his position at some point in time.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
Oates never won a Stanley Cup in his career. He did appear in two Stanley Cup finals in 1998 with Washington and in 2003 with Anaheim. He was a core player with the Capitals but was beginning to be past his prime when the Anaheim run occurred. Oates was a solid playoff scorer. He had 156 points in 163 career playoff games. He is the highest career playoff point scorer ever among players who have never won the Stanley Cup. Oates regularly made the playoffs and often went beyond won round but he never had a truly memorable run. It is hard to place the blame on Oates for this based on his individual playoff success.
5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
Yes. He played in the NHL until age 41. He was an All Star contributor through his 30’s. In fact at age 39 he became the oldest player ever to lead the NHL in assists.
6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
After Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin have been inducted it is quite reasonable to argue Oates is the best eligible player who is not in the Hall of Fame. Perhaps Brendan Shanahan would be the strongest argument to that point and I am not certain on which side of that argument i would stand.
7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?
Oates scored 1420 points in his career. Nobody with that many career points who is Hall of Fame eligible has not been inducted. Oates is sixth all time in career assists with 1079. Most people who manage to get that many points in their career are inducted into the Hall of Fame and Oates has that in assists alone.
8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
Yes those numbers are very clearly Hall of Fame calibre.
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
I cannot make a strong case that Oates was better or worse than his statistics indicate. He did play much of his prime in a very high scoring era, so perhaps his numbers moderately overrate him.
10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?
The next best centreman who is eligible and not in the Hall of Fame is likely Eric Lindros. So yes I would call Oates the best eligible centreman and centre is always a tough position with a lot of talent available so this is a significant achievement.
11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
Oates was never a serious MVP candidate. This is despite once having a 142 point season. He was often seen as a complementary player who needed to be lined up with a sniper to get him points with his passing but I don’t think this is valid. Nevertheless he often lost out in the MVP voting to the more prolific scorer he was lined up with in Brett Hull or Cam Neely, though I would argue he was clearly a better player than Neely.
12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go into the Hall of Fame?
Oates played in five All Star Games. He was a ten time point per game or better scorer and I would argue each of those seasons was All Star calibre. He was an often overlooked player because he was the man who set-up the goals instead of being the man who scored them. As a result he was left off of All Star teams that he probably should have made.
13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
I would argue that Oates was good enough that he could have been the best player on a Stanley Cup winner. It never happened but I think that is a case of bad luck more than anything else. The argument against this is that he needed to be paired with a sniper who scored a lot of goals to be effective, however that scorer was often not a better player than Oates was.
14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
Oates was generally an unassuming overlooked player. Perhaps this would not have been the case if he did not play his prime alongside Wayne Gretzky because that made Oates the second best passer in the NHL at the time, when he was a phenomenally talented passer who could possibly be considered the best setup man all time aside from Gretzky. The fact they were contemporaries reduces the impact Oates had on the game. Oates was the center when Brett Hull had the best goal scoring season ever but this is not generally a fact that most hockey fans are aware of.
15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
Definitely he did. Oates was a solid teammate with a strong character. This is part of the reason he has successfully moved into coaching after retiring.
Adam Oates was an unassuming player who put up remarkable point totals. He is one of the best passers of all time. He is sixth in career assists. He is clearly the kind of player who belongs in the Hall of Fame but his unassuming nature made him overlooked for a few years before his induction happened this season.
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