The name of Adam Oates is almost sure to come up when the conversation comes around to one-sided deals in the NHL. Near the beginning of his pro career, the hard-working centre from Weston, Ontario (born August 27, 1962) was at the heart of a trade that is often remembered as one of the biggest steals in league history. After the 1988-89 season, Oates and his Detroit Red Wings' teammate Paul MacLean were traded to the St. Louis Blues for Bernie Federko and Tony McKegney.
Within a year Federko had retired and McKegney had been traded away again. In St. Louis, however, Oates' fortunes took a completely different turn. Playing on a line with Brett Hull, he quickly gained the reputation as one of the NHL's premier passing centres and established himself as the number-one setup man for his high-scoring linemate.
Maybe it was the hype that surrounded Oates during his time with the Wings that made the eventual trade seem so odd. In 1985, just out of college where he had been a star with NCAA champion Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Wings general manager Jim Devellano and team owner Mike Ilitch, who personally worked out the deal over the summer of 1985, had signed him. Oates was 23 when he signed with the Wings, and despite his college success, he was still an unproven rookie. The fact that he signed the richest rookie contract in league history at the time -- $1 million over four years -- did not endear him to his teammates and opponents.
A hard worker without a lot of flash who was good on defence and at making plays, the young Oates was one of the few NHL stars never to have been chosen in the draft, and was slotted into the Detroit lineup as a second-line centre behind Steve Yzerman.
Oates split that rookie year between Detroit and Adirondack of the AHL. His Detroit tenure was short-lived, and it was only within the freer offensive system in place in St. Louis that he was able to come into his own as a playmaking centre. After establishing his game there, Oates was traded again, this time to Boston in 1992. Oates spent parts of six seasons with the Bruins where he established a career-high 45 goals and 97 assists for 142 points in 1992-93. He joined the Washington Capitals in the late stages of the 1996-97 season and, upon arriving, was instrumental in leading the Caps to their first Stanley Cup Final in 1998.
Following parts of six seasons with the Capitals, Oates was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers at the March trading deadline in 2002. However, Oates's tenure with the Flyers would last but 14 games as he became a free agent during the off-season and signed with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Even though he was hampered by injuries during the 2002-03 season, he still managed to reach 1,400 points and ranked sixth all-time in career assists with 1,063 at the end of that season.
Oates topped the 2002-03 campaign by leading his Ducks to the Stanley Cup Final, only to lose to the New Jersey Devils in a hard-fought seven game series. He finished with a team-high 13 playoff points.
After Anaheim opted not to re-sign the veteran centreman, the Edmonton Oilers signed the free agent in November 2003. Oates struggled offensively with the Oilers that season as the Oilers failed to qualify for the playoffs. In April 2004, Adam Oates officially announced his retirement from the game of hockey.
Through nineteen NHL seasons, Adam Oates scored 341 goals and contributed a staggering 1,079 assists for a total of 1,420 points in 1,337 regular season NHL games. He also scored 42 goals and 114 assists for 156 points in 163 playoff contests.
In 2012, the outstanding playmaking skills of Adam Oates were recognized when he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.