WHEN Adam Oates met with Mikhail Grabovski, the Washington Capitals coach turned into a hassle-free salesman.
"I said to him, 'You should look around,"' said Oates. "'For example, like Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh's a team that obviously likes to score. Well, you like to score, so that would be a team that maybe you would consider if they had room."'
Oates wasn't trying to talk Grabovski into joining the Penguins, his team's biggest rival. Instead, he was trying to explain why he thought the Capitals were the best fit for the 29-year-old centre who was bought out of his previous contract by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Hall of Famer with just one season of head-coaching experience came off as a seasoned veteran. Oates stayed away from specifics, not promising Grabovski any defined role or amount of ice time, instead focusing on the "puzzle" and the benefits of signing with a playoff team featuring reigning MVP Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and others.
"I said, 'You want to go to a team that likes to score, you want to go to a team where you fit in,"' Oates said. "I said, 'The reason I'm here talking to you is because I think we're one of the teams that you should consider."'
Oates' "enthusiasm" was enough to convince Grabovski to sign with the Capitals on a US$3-million, one-year deal, agent Gary Greenstin said. Asked what it was Oates told him that made up his mind, the Belarusian said it was "everything."
It wasn't a "hard sell" according to Oates, who was for the first time making the primary pitch to a highly sought-after free agent. And it wasn't just about the quality of the team and the lure of likely top-six minutes.
Oates pointed to centre Mike Ribeiro, who was a point-a-game performer and a power-play specialist during his lone season in Washington. Ribeiro went from two goals and 13 assists on the power play during his final season in Dallas, when the Stars were ranked last in the league, to six and 21 for the No. 1-ranked unit in the league with the Capitals.
"For a guy who points matter and that helps your juices flow and your game flow, 20, 30 points is a lot. And that's in a 48-game season, so who knows how many that can turn into during an 82-game season?" Oates said. "I said, 'You know Mike. I don't think Mike changed. I think certain variables allowed some of his skills to come out more.' "
-- The Canadian Press