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.