Capitals make new offer to Oates;

agent says he won't play again in Washington

Rachel Alexander
The Washington Post
July 31, 1997

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals have offered Adam Oates a three-year contract that would pay the 34-year-old center slightly less than $3 million a year but would top $3 million annually if Oates meets certain bonus clauses. This is roughly the contract Oates and his agent, Brian Cook, were seeking in March, but weeks of public disagreement have soured Oates on a deal with Washington, Cook said Tuesday.

He also said Oates has retained Washington litigation firm Miller & Chevalier to "review our documents and evaluate our next move."

Cook, who said he has documents that "indicate" the Capitals have dealt unfairly with Oates, said previously he would take the team to court to get his player released if necessary.

Oates has two years remaining on a contract that pays him $2.15 million annually, but he announced before he was traded to Washington from Boston last March that he wanted to renegotiate.

He held out briefly upon arriving in Washington but then decided to renegotiate this summer. Cook since has said that the Capitals promised Oates $9 million over three years to get him to end his holdout, but after the season the team denied ever having made an offer.

"What they have done proves that players are just better off holding out, because when you take people at their word and a handshake, you get burned," Cook said. "It's nice that they are trying to take the high road right now, but what they have not accepted is that Adam will not be in a Capitals uniform at the season opener. He'll retire before he plays for the Washington Capitals again."

General Manager George McPhee, who was hired June 9, denied that the team made specific monetary promises to Oates in March, and said Tuesday he believed Cook's latest salvo was "just another threat."

"I don't know what (Cook) wants, but we've had nothing but ultimatums and deadlines," he said. "We're basically $100,000 a year apart. That's cab fare for these guys. I'm bewildered."

Team president Dick Patrick, the only person involved in the March discussions who is still with the Capitals (former general manager David Poile was released in May), had refrained from commenting publicly about the situation but flatly denied Cook's statements Tuesday.

"I've seen him say those things but it's not the case," he said. On Monday, "we were getting ready to fax them another proposal, and later we got a call (from Cook) saying not to bother, (Oates) wants to be traded."

"I'd like to see Adam play for Washington. I really like Adam Oates, and I think we've acted completely honorably."

Both sides confirmed that Washington has offered approximately $2.85 million for next season and $2.9 million for each of the following two seasons. All three years have bonus opportunities. But while it is a contract that Oates might have agreed to in March, Cook said, he is no longer ready to accept Washington's offer.

This is in part because the Capitals denied they had negotiated with Oates after Oates thought they had a deal, and in part "because the market's changed. (Free agent) Mark Messier signed with the (Vancouver Canucks Monday) and just got a million more than he was making; Brian Skrudland and Mike Keane just improved their salaries" by signing with the New York Rangers.

The Capitals also had been pursuing Messier, frustrating Oates, who thinks he has not been a priority. Negotiations with winger Peter Bondra could also complicate the situation as training camp nears at the beginning of September.

Bondra has three years remaining on his contract but he also considers himself underpaid. His agent, Rich Winter, spoke to McPhee about a renegotiation as recently as last month, and both sides said they expect talks to continue.