Many a night at the old Arena and other rinks around the NHL, Brett Hull and Adam Oates performed like automatic Hall of Famers.
For Hull, his enshrinement, much like the instant gratification that came after scoring a goal, happened in his first year of eligibility, 2009. But Oates, the setup man, waited five years since becoming eligible himself in 2007 without hearing a whisper.
Oh, but was the wait ever worth it.
On Tuesday, the other half of the popular duo "Hull and Oates" learned that he will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame's Class of 2012, going in with a group that also features Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin and Pavel Bure. And if the hockey gods were slow to pay Oates his due, they rewarded him by making the announcement on the same day that he was named head coach of the Washington Capitals.
"Obviously, an absolutely fantastic day," Oates said via conference call Tuesday. "I don't know if that's ever happened before. I have to go out and play Lotto, I think. Two huge honors. Obviously, I'm very excited about the coaching job. And to be called for the Hall of Fame, it's just a special, special day for us."
Oates, 49, was confirmed by Washington as its next coach, but an official news conference won't happen until today.
The double celebration comes in Oates' sixth year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame and after three seasons as an NHL assistant coach. He spent the last two years with New Jersey, helping the Devils to the Stanley Cup finals this June.
Even in the aftermath of New Jersey's Stanley Cup run, Oates said the annual Hall of Fame announcement was on his radar.
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't," Oates said. "We all know when the date is. It wasn't as much as in the previous years, but for sure, I knew it was coming around."
Oates, who played with the Blues from 1989 to 1992, finished his 19-year NHL career with 1,420 points, which had been the most of any retired player not selected to the Hall of Fame. Of that total, the center amassed 1,079 assists, sixth most in NHL history.
He played for Detroit, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, Anaheim and Edmonton, but Oates is perhaps best known for his time with the Blues. "Hull and Oates," as they were dubbed, was one of the most fascinating goal-scoring combinations in the history of the league.
In three years with the Blues, covering 195 games, Oates had 286 points, including 228 assists. In 1990-91, Hull had 86 goals and Oates had 90 assists, 41 of which helped set up goals by No. 16.
"At the time, Brett and I took off," Oates said. "The year he scored 86, it was just magical. It was one of those years, wherever we went Brett would score two goals or a hat trick. It was just fantastic. I can't believe we only played together 2½ years because it felt like 10. It was just so special. We just really hit it off as buddies, friends. We played the game the same way; the chemistry was just excellent."
The Hull and Oates era ended abruptly in 1992, when Oates, looking to restructure his contract with the Blues, was traded to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Craig Janney and Stephane Quintal. Oates had continued success; in 1992-93, he had a career-high 97 assists and 142 points with the Bruins.
"Yes, Wayne Gretzky was certainly the best player, the best that's ever played the game," Sakic said. "But I'll tell you what. In my era, it was Wayne and it was Adam Oates for play-making. You remember going into St. Louis and watching Adam and Brett Hull, the magic they had. But it's not just with Brett. If there was a guy that you want on your team to set anybody up, it was Adam Oates…one of the best playmakers of all time."
And now Oates will try to make his mark as a head coach, too, replacing Dale Hunter in Washington.
"We are very pleased to name Adam as the new head coach of the Washington Capitals," GM George McPhee said in a statement. "Adam was a highly intelligent player in the NHL for 19 seasons. He has been an assistant coach in our conference for the past three seasons and is prepared to lead our club as head coach."
After the announcement, Capitals star Alex Ovechkin told reporters, "I just talked to (Oates) briefly, and he seems to be a great person. I'm looking forward to working with him. I'm pretty excited and very happy to hear the Caps signed that kind of guy who likes offense."