• “I’m terrible at what matters…but I’m good at something else”

    by  • January 27, 2012 • Hockey • 24 Comments

    So, um, does anyone else kind of have the sense that the Oilers are pushing local media to highlight how awesome the Oklahoma City Barons are doing? Mark Spector’s piece on Tambo and Renney needing extensions indicates that he contacted the team and that it was unwilling to discuss the futures of Renney and Tambo but he did mention this in defending Tambo:

    The farm team: Traditionally a sore spot in this organization, the Oklahoma City Barons have sat atop the American Hockey League standings for much of the season, despite the constant phone calls for replacements from Edmonton.

    Terry Jones managed to get an unnamed source to talk to him about the likelihood of Renney and Tambo returning. The source, who you’d have to think ranks above Tambellini in the Oilers management structure and whose name might possibly rhyme with Levin Kowe, tells him that Tambo will be back and Renney’s future is up in the air. In highlighting what Tambo has done well, Jones comes up with this:

    And there’s also the so-far successful steering of the new organizational development plan featuring the AHL-leading Oklahoma City Barons.

    Yesterday, Jones has a column in which a man whose name rhymes with Levin Kowe IS a named source. And, shock, he’s talking about the successful steering of the new organizational development plan featuring the AHL-leading Oklahoma City Barons. Jones, who is a big fish with Sun Media – I believe I heard something about him being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, which isn’t actually true, no matter what Chris Jones says, but he did win a major award. The man covers Super Bowls and Olympics and is now spending a week in Oklahoma City. This is the first time I can recall an Edmonton journalist actually covering the AHL team outside of the lockout year, let alone spending a week with it.

    In any event, this is exciting stuff: the Oilers have a new organizational development plan?

    Most Edmonton fans don’t really understand what the Oilers are attempting to put together with their development. And the team hasn’t gone out of its way to completely outline it because of how they hope to make it something beyond what has existed to this point in hockey.

    Having a concept is one thing. But until you build it, there’s not much percentage in telling the world about it.

    Oooh! It’s a secret new organizational development plan! They can’t really tell you anything but it’s new and secret and awesome! And who’s one of the key guys here?

    But there’s a bigger picture and that’s where the bigger picture man — Billy Moores — comes into play.

    Three years ago, the Oilers hired former NHLer Mike Sillinger for the traditional role of director of player development. Last year, they quietly added former U of A Golden Bears coach and New York Ranger and Oiler assistant coach Billy Moores as senior director of player development, running the entire evolving project.

    Well, nothing says renewal like shuffling a guy who’s been with the organization for twelve years into a different role. Of course, the Oilers’ relationship with prospects has been so bad in the past that simply having a guy that they can talk to might be a real step forward. It’s basically impossible to evaluate this plan – because it’s secret – but what Jones does give us doesn’t sound mindblowing.

    Eventually the Oilers want to have their own ECHL club, preferably somewhere near OKC. Currently they share a working agreement in Stockton with the San Jose Sharks.

    The idea is to have constant pressure from below, with players competing for ice time and moving themselves upward in the organization. While you can only have 50 players on NHL contracts there is no limit to how many you can have on AHL contracts. With a new downtown arena, they’ll have the money.

    With a new downtown arena, they’ll have the money. I guess Jones hasn’t heard that the Oilers are rolling in dough – must be tough covering the Oilers in Edmonton, what with most of the news breaking in Toronto media outlets that aren’t as readily accessible. (Note that Spector credits Nick Kypreos with the story on contracts for Tambo and Renney; thank god for the Toronto media).

    Perhaps more to the point, I’m not sure what this pressure from below will do precisely. So there’s no limit to how many guys you can have on AHL contracts. How, exactly, does that help the Oilers? You know what happens when a guy on an AHL contract has his contract expire? He’s free to sign anywhere else. You can’t call him up during the season. This sounds like what is possibly a decent plan to make sure that OKC is good but other than that? I’m not sure.

    Here’s the real point: I don’t care if OKC wins Calder Cups from now until the end of time. I don’t live in Oklahoma City, I don’t follow the Barons and I care about them only insofar as they serve as a helpful place to develop talent for the Oilers. If offered a choice between OKC winning every Calder Cup from now until the end of time and the Oilers not winning another playoff game in my lifetime, or OKC never making the playoffs again and the Oilers winning a single playoff game in my lifetime, I would take the latter. A single Oilers’ playoff game win would make me happier than 50 Calder Cups. I suspect my view is shared by most Oilers’ fans.

    In order for OKC’s performance to have any meaning to me, AHL performance has to be some sort of a leading indicator on future Oilers’ performances. Is it? Well, the five best teams in the AHL in 2001-02 were the affliates of the Islanders, Blue Jackets, Hurricanes, Rangers and Red Wings. Guys under the age of 25 who played at least half a season with those teams and were ultimately noteworthy? Mike Mottau, Jamie Lundmark, Joel Kwiatkowski, Mike Zigomanis, Byron Ritchie, Raffi Torres, Rick DiPietro, Branislav Mezei, Trent Hunter, Mathieu Darche and Duvie Westcott. You will appreciate that I’m setting the bar for noteworthy at an exceedingly low level. By and large, the key guys on those teams were guys between the ages of 25 and 30 with little name recognition.

    The five worst teams in the AHL that season? Affiliates of the Devils, Penguins, Sharks, Coyotes/Lightning and Predators. Jonathan Cheechoo, Vesa Toskala, Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi all came out of those teams and probably provided more value than the entire list of “prospects” on the teams that were awesome.

    I don’t think that this will surprise anyone who pays attention to the AHL. You give me a team full of the best 20-22 year olds in the world who aren’t NHL players to play against the best 26-28 year olds in the world who aren’t NHL players, and I’ll win more often than not.

    If you look at the Oilers’ situation in particular, the 2008-09 Springfield Falcons, who were awful, had 18 players play more than 40 games. 11 of those were 22 or younger and, as we now know, they weren’t particularly chock full of great prospects.

    The 2009-10 Falcons were basically two different teams: an averagish one when Devan Dubnyk was in net (13-12-7 in games in which Dubnyk got the decision; Dubnyk had a .915 save percentage) and a horrible one when one of JP Levasseur (coming off a season in which he posted an .890 in the AHL), Aaron Sorochan (fresh from CIS and splitting the season between AHL/ECHL), Andrew Perugini (splitting season between ECHL/AHL), Bryan Pitton (splitting season between ECHL/AHL), Olivier Roy (a few games after his QMJHL season ended) and Andrew Penner (splitting season between AHL and Central Hockey League). When NotDD was in net, the Falcons went 12-27-9, with an .881 save percentage. We’re talking the difference between an 83 point pace with Dubnyk in net versus a 55 point pace with NotDD. So a big part of the equation was this: “Don’t play cartoonishly bad goaltenders.” As we’ve seen at the NHL level for the past few years, this hasn’t exactly been intuitive for Oilers’ management.

    Fast forward to today. The goaltending duo on the Falcons is now Yann Danis and David LeNeveu. Both have spent time in the NHL and Danis got 31 games in the KHL last year. They’re no longer messing around with guys who have no real track record on which you’d think they might be able to handle the AHL – last year’s duo was basically JDD (an AHL/NHL guy) and Martin Gerber, who had a long track record of adequacy in the NHL and was coming off time in the KHL. That’s a big piece of improvement right there for them.

    Look at the skaters who are doing the job for the Barons. Of the top 14 scorers on the team, there might be one actual prospect, in Teemu Hartikainen, maybe two or three if you feel optimistic about Phillipe Cornet (20 goals! But shooting 31%!) or Alex Plante, which I don’t. This team is not doing well because of the prospects. I know that some people are excited about Curtis Hamilton and Tyler Pitlick but neither is anywhere near the “point a game at age 20″ I kind of apply to separate wheat from chaff at the AHL level.

    It seems to me that the onus in proviing that something matters is on those who assert that it does. There’s lots and lots of reason to think that your AHL team’s record has little to do with whether you’ll be a good team down the road or whether you’ll develop players effectively – I’ve only scratched the surface above. If people like Spector and Jones want to make the case that Tambellini should be praised for turning into the Barons into a powerhouse, it seems to me that they should explain why I should give the slightest damn as an Oilers’ fan. As far as I can tell, it’s irrelevant, or close to it. Unless, of course, you’re a hockey team desperate to draw the eye away from the flaming wreckage of another season and distract minds from questions about why you’re still employed. In that case, a good AHL team is probably incredibly relevant to you. It’s a justification for further employment that people who don’t dig into things might accept.

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    24 Responses to “I’m terrible at what matters…but I’m good at something else”

    1. Mike W
      January 27, 2012 at

      This might be the most depressing post I’ve ever read on an Oilers blog. Everything about the last 5 years in a nutshell: delusional management backed by a feckless local press that can barely rewrite Oilers talking points, the long-destroyed myth of a small market, the inexplicable arena as pancea for shitty management, and the all but confirmed fact that the GM will be locked in for years to come.

      The team is so bad that I wonder if the city would be better without it.

    2. January 27, 2012 at

      What an awful misunderstanding of how important development is to the NHL. Columbus fans and management took this view, as well, and look where that got them. Understanding development, and the AHL’s role in it, is crucial now to winning NHL teams. Calder Cup winners in the AHL go on to be fantastic leaders and players in the NHL. It’s very sad to see such a view taken by anyone who professes to love their hockey team.

      • RiversQ
        January 28, 2012 at

        Wow, I think you’re way off base here. I think it’s very hard to refute Tyler’s central argument that the key contributors to AHL success are overwhelmingly likely to only aspire to bit parts on NHL rosters. I think it’s important for most if not all players to spend some time in the AHL, but truthfully NHL difference makers don’t spend much time down there.

        Let’s start by listing Calder Cup winners that played significant roles (top six forwards or top four dmen by EV TOI) on quality NHL clubs. We can define quality as teams making the playoffs even though that’s not perfect either. Go ahead, let’s see them.

        • January 28, 2012 at

          I don’t know that it proves anything either way since there are plenty of good players who emerge from poor AHL teams, but there are a quite a few guys like this over the last six years (although I admit to having discarded the playoffs criterion and am probably too generous with the forwards as well). The best dozen guys over the last six years are probably Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Carey Price, Bryan Little, Mikhail Grabovski, Mike Green, Matt D’Agostini, Ryan O’Byrne, Brooks Laich, and Tomas Fleischmann, Ondrej Pavelec, and Jared Cowen.

          • RiversQ
            January 28, 2012 at

            Thanks. I think that list effectively supports the argument. The argument is AHL success leads to NHL success. The fact that this is the best list you could come up with AND you ignored the criteria necessary to the argument is pretty telling.

            • January 28, 2012 at

              Well, if you’re restricted to the CC winners, it really limits your options since Hershey (Washington) has won the Calder Cup in three of the last six years. That club actually seems to have developed a lot of talent for the Caps. The other three CC winners, not so much.

    3. January 28, 2012 at

      I’m a little bit more invested in the Barons than you are (I’ll see them live more than the Oilers this season), but agree that the guys who are playing the biggest parts in helping the team win are generally not going to be helping the Oilers (though I’d add Colten Teubert to the list of guys who have a reasonable shot). But it does make me a little bit more hopeful if Tambellini is in our future that Steve Tambellini and Co. have built a winner there because many of the lessons are transferable. The Oilers would, after all, have been much better coming into this season with reasonable goaltending, players in their prime for important roles and quality depth. I can only hope those lessons are applied for next year.

      • RiversQ
        January 28, 2012 at

        Scott, I’m pretty sure Teubert’s a bust. He’s got that 1st round pick slash WJC sense of entitlement that we know so well. He needed to lose it at least a year ago in order to learn anything. He’s got major limitations already (foot speed, not a gifted puck handler or passer) so I think he’s probably doomed.

        • January 28, 2012 at

          Could well be that he’s a bust, but he’s only 21, and this is just his second pro season. I don’t think there’s much hope of him becoming a great all-arounder, but he’s done well in OKC this season. I’m not prepared to write him off at this stage.

    4. RiversQ
      January 28, 2012 at

      Is it age 20 or 21 for PPG in the AHL? I always thought it was 21. Anyway, both players lack glittering resumes to date, so I think the point has merit. I’ve been hammering away on this point for awhile – MacGregor doesn’t seem like a total buffoon, but other than that it’s hard to factor out the huge opportunity he has been given.

      As far as the rest of the post, it was excellent and I’m with Mike on the depressing nature of it all. It’s just astounding that Edmonton doesn’t have a single MSM person with any backbone. As crazy as towns like Toronto and Boston are, you have to appreciate that at least someone starts from a critical perspective sometimes. They tend to be doing it for ratings (and it works no doubt), so are somewhat disingenuous, but at least there’s someone to counteract the cheerleaders with which the teams have curried favour.

    5. David Staples
      January 28, 2012 at

      As for Billy Moores, he was one of Canada’s best university coaches, he’s coached in other countries, and helped coach the Oilers.

      As the old saying goes, Moores has forgotten more about hockey than most of us will ever know.

      Any NHL organization would be lucky to have such a respected veteran coach working in player development.

      P.S. Agree with RiversQ on Teubert. The puck sense isn’t there. Maybe in four or five years . . . but it’s going to take a lot of time, effort.

      • Tyler Dellow
        January 30, 2012 at

        Sure David but he’s also been with the Oilers for twelve years. Have they not bothered to pick his brain before? What makes adding him now so genius? What new ideas does he have that he hasn’t had for the previous decade?

        • Bruce McCurdy
          January 30, 2012 at

          Uhhh … “Coordinator of Player Development” has a very different job description from “Assistant Coach”.

          • Tyler Dellow
            January 30, 2012 at

            Sure. At the same time, I doubt that nobody thought to ask BIlly Moores about developing hockey players until 2010.

    6. Triumph
      January 28, 2012 at

      Re: The Oilers’ ECHL plan – the Devils owned their ECHL affiliate for several years, and besides guys that got cups of coffee both in the ECHL and NHL, it never provided any sort of value to the NHL squad. That ECHL team also recently folded and came back under new ownership. Yeah, there’s a few guys who’ve played in the ECHL and become solid NHLers – Alex Burrows comes to mind – but for the most part, any non-goalie who plays in the ECHL at any point in their careers is going to be around the value of a replacement-level player in the NHL.

      • Doogie2K
        January 29, 2012 at

        Scott Gomez (Alaska) is the only other one that springs to mind.

        • Triumph
          January 29, 2012 at

          Gomez only played there during the lockout – I wasn’t counting those players.

          • Doogie2K
            January 30, 2012 at

            Really? I thought he’d played there before starting in the NHL, too.

    7. Jonathan Willis
      January 28, 2012 at

      Test

    8. Jonathan Willis
      January 28, 2012 at

      Not sure what’s happening – my posts keep getting eaten – but anyway I’m going to boil a long comment down to something short. Success at the AHL level is possible with a lot of key, NHL-bound youngsters in important roles – Hershey did in 2005-06 and Hamilton did it in 2006-07, to name two recent examples.

      However, AHL success does not necessarily indicate a thriving developmental system – the Chicago Wolves won in 2007-08, with only Pavelec and Little prospects of note. Unfortunately, Oklahoma looks a lot more like Chicago than Hershey.

    9. January 28, 2012 at

      Wow what a load of crap this is. As if the Oilers are going to win a playoff game in our lifetime.

      TOTAL FANTASY TYLER!!

    10. Tom Benjamin
      January 29, 2012 at

      Far be it for me to defend Oiler management – I don’t think Lowe is very competent and everything else flows from that – and I certainly don’t think the OKC record says anything. However…

      1) Winning organizations do (or try to do) everything well from scouting to player development to marketing to community involvement. It takes a quality organization to win and a good minor league operation is part of a quality organization.

      2) The objective for the AHL franchise is not to win. The objective is to produce NHL players. Sometimes these objectives are in conflict. The minor league team should be evaluated by players produced, not wins.

      3) Most stars pass by the AHL, but that doesn’t mean a team can’t develop useful pieces and even second tier stars. Any time an organization develops a player better than replacement level, its a win.

      4) The Canucks would not be where they are today without getting good results from their AHL affiliate. I have no idea how well the AHL team has done in the win column, but the Canucks have invested heavily in the AHL since Pat Quinn. On the current roster Burrows, Hansen, Raymond, Hodgson, Bieksa, Edler and Schneider are Moose alumni. (So is Kesler but only because of the lockout.) Chris Tanev is next – he’s ready to play at the NHL level.

      I don’t think it is wrong for the Oilers to spend time and money on the OKC team. I do think it is crazy to give Tambo credit for building a winner there. I’d credit him when the system starts coughing up useful players.

      • Tyler Dellow
        January 30, 2012 at

        Tom -

        Your last paragraph pretty much agrees with what I think is the consensus amongst sane Oilers observers.

    11. beingbobbyorr
      January 30, 2012 at

      You give me a team full of the best 20-22 year olds in the world who aren’t NHL players to play against the best 26-28 year olds in the world who aren’t NHL players, and I’ll win more often than not.

      I’d think that the best (crafty, wily) 26+ y.o. AHL vets (who are no longer on anyone’s radar) would beat the best <22 y.o. NHL prospects, but who cares? To the parent NHL team, only one group has room to get better.

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