Oates spent 19 years playing in the NHL for seven different teams and was widely recognized as one of the slickest skaters and best passers.
After he retired, he served as assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning, as well as co-head coach for the New Jersey Devils and head coach for the Washington Capitals.
Since he’s stepped away from his coaching duties, Oates has been operating the Oates Sports Group, a boutique hockey agency whose mission is to “make players better.”
Which, isn’t as simple as it may seem.
Back in 2015, Oates was watching the NBA finals and heard broadcasters discuss Lebron James’ performance, which they credited in part to his private shooting coach. A lightbulb went off and Oates was inspired to start a similar business for NHL players.
“It got me thinking that there might be some guys that want a little extra attention or extra thoughts, depending on their schedule,” said Oates to the New York Times.
“So I reached out to a couple guys, and every single guy said, ‘Yeah, I’d love that.'”
Apart from reaching out to a few players, Oates never advertises his services and relies purely on word of mouth.
Since then, he’s been sharing his hockey IQ with players like Jonathan Toews, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Steven Stamkos, Max Pacioretty, Josh Morrisey, Zach Parise and Jack Eichel.
And it’s been working. Toews has had arguably one of his best starts ever in the 2018-19 season. And Sheifele has publicly attested to Oates’ advice improving his game play.
“I think that’s one of the biggest things, that he gives you active, constructive things to work on a daily basis [rather] than just going out and skating,” said Scheifele to NBC Sports.
“Skate with a purpose, work on the things that are going to benefit your game.”
Something can be said about the fact that Oates can still play, too. He’s able to relate to the players in a way that their coaches may not be able to.
“He’s one of the best passers of all time. He’s felt it. He knows what it is like to be in certain situations. He can still actually physically do it,” said Scheifele.
“He can watch it and read it at a different pace than everyone else.”
As for the Kings, they’ll be the first NHL team to work with Oates on a contractual basis.
Some, like Scheifele, thought it was a smart play by Los Angeles and are surprised he didn’t sign with a team earlier. Others wondered if it could be a conflict of interest.
“I don’t think what he’s doing with them is going to interfere with what he’s got with all the players,” said Parise to the The Athletic. “He’s got a lot of guys and a lot of guys on different teams. I think he still wants to see his individual guys be successful and at the same time wants the Kings [to win].”
Oates isn’t trying to change systems or give insider advice regarding other players. His advice is simplistic and focuses on marginally improving the basic skills that often get neglected during the busy NHL season.
“The thing I can attest to, personally, from having worked with him, is that it has nothing to do with anything systematically, it’s just little skills and things like that,” said Morrissey.
For example, Oates hugely stresses the importance that players use the proper stick that suits them.
“To the outside, people are probably like, ‘Why does that matter?’ But it’s amazing how many times you see people fumble pucks or people miss plays that they should have, they would have with the proper stick,” said Parise to The Athletic.
“So it’s an interesting conversation to have with him, but he’s really smart with that.”
According to Kings Head Coach Willie Desjardins, Oates will initially work through management and the coaching staff, but his role will adjust depending on how he best fits into the group.
“He’s a real smart guy, he has some real good ideas, he’s worked with lots of other groups and individuals,” said Desjardins. “I haven’t met him, but I’m interested to hear his thoughts. There are some things that I’ve heard that we’ll be able to use.”
Kings President Luc Robitaille and General Manager Rob Blake brought Oates on board mostly due to his unique ability to deliver messages to players. He knows what to say, how to say it, and most of all… the players trust him.
“He has helped a tremendous amount of players in the NHL,” Robitaille said. “He had a bunch of guys who had great years for him last year and he’s just tweaking part of their games that can make them better players and, at the end of the day, those guys help their teams.”
“We want him to be able to communicate with our people about working on a different way to look at what we can do offensively.”
Oates is known as one of the game’s best playmakers, finishing his career with 1,079 assists… and now the Kings are hoping he can set up their offense for years to come.