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 centers and established himself as the No. 1 setup man for his high-scoring teammate Brett Hull. The two became friends as well, rooming together on road trips and living close to one another in St. Louis.
Maybe it was the big hype that had 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. So the fact that he signed the richest rookie contract in league history at the time, $1 million over four years did not exactly endear him to his teammates and opponents.
A hard worker without a lot of flash who was good on defense and at making plays, the young Oates one of the few NHL stars never to have been chosen in the draft was slotted into the Detroit lineup as a second-line center 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 center. After establishing his game there, Oates was traded again, this time to Boston in 1992. The Weston, Ontario native 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 before joining the Washington Capitals in the late stages of the 1996-97 season. Upon arriving in Washington, Oates was instrumental in leading the Caps to their first Stanley Cup final in 1998.
Following parts of six seasons with the Caps, Oates was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers at the March trading deadline in 2002. However, Oates tenure with the Flyers would last only 14 games as he became a free agent during the off-season and signed with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Eventhough, 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 the season.
Oates topped the 2002-03 campaign by leading his Ducks to the Stanley Cup finals, 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 of 2004, Oates officially announced his retirement from the game of hockey.
Courtesy of the Hockey Hall of Fame
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