Sports Edmonton Oilers' top affiliate Bakersfield Condors wind up another underwhelming season

09:12  16 april  2018
09:12  16 april  2018 Source:   edmontonjournal.com

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The Condors ’ slate wound down on Saturday night in a similar manner as had the Oilers ’ seven days earlier. Jesse Puljujarvi was the highest-profile player to graduate from Bakersfield to Edmonton Codie McLachlan Another that Oilers fans have been waiting for is Anton Slepyshev , like Khaira a

Edmonton Oilers ' top affiliate Bakersfield Condors wind up another underwhelming season . 2017-2018 Oilers Season : You Want it Darker. The Copper & Blue. Palace intrigue at Oilers HQ grows over future of Todd McLellan and others.

What’s the value of a productive farm system? A modern fan of the Edmonton Oilers could be forgiven a terse answer like “I have no idea” or “I can’t recall”, but it actually isn’t all that long since the NHL club had enjoyed a steady pipeline of emerging talent.

No better example than the 2005-06 version of the Oilers that came within a single game of winning the Stanley Cup. Among the playoff regulars who had played at least 25 games on Edmonton’s AHL affiliate (Hamilton Bulldogs, Toronto Roadrunners, Edmonton Roadrunners) included Fernando Pisani, Jarret Stoll, Shawn Horcoff, Raffi Torres, Rem Murray, Georges Laraque, Brad Winchester, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Matt Greene, Ty Conklin. Almost half of the team, several of whom played at least two years in the AHL before finally getting the push. Not a single first-round pick in the lot.

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Edmonton Oilers ' top affiliate Bakersfield Condors wind up another underwhelming season . 2017-2018 Oilers Season : You Want it Darker. The Copper & Blue. Palace intrigue at Oilers HQ grows over future of Todd McLellan and others.

Edmonton Oilers ' top affiliate Bakersfield Condors wind up another underwhelming season .

Ironically it was that same 2005-06 season that the Edmonton Investors Group decided to pull the plug on its minor league operation for a time.  It was an odd thing in that the local club was among the more strident voices arguing for a salary cap to “level the playing field”, only to un-level it for themselves by suspending the franchise of the then-Roadrunners for two years while other NHL teams continued full speed ahead. A fateful decision which had a lasting impact on the club in my view.

In 2007 the org tried to pick up the pieces by taking control of the Springfield Falcons. Three distinct eras have followed as the franchise tracked westward across the lower 48:

For Bakersfield, that’s three years in a row since the move with similar results. 71, 72 and 72 points, respectable but on the wrong side of the playoff cut, all under the tutelage of Gerry Fleming. His clubs were over .500 each year, but actually won under 50% of their games in each — which is the truer indicator in this, the Cockamamie Points System Era. Moreover, all three teams allowed more goals than they scored, with the -18 differential of the just-completed campaign representing the worst of the three.

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Edmonton Oilers ' top affiliate Bakersfield Condors wind up another underwhelming season . 2017-2018 Oilers Season : You Want it Darker. The Copper & Blue.

Edmonton Oilers ' top affiliate Bakersfield Condors wind up another underwhelming season . 2017-2018 Oilers Season : You Want it Darker. The Copper & Blue.

That 2017-18 season wrapped up this weekend. For whatever reason the American Hockey League’s regular schedule runs a week later than that of its parent league, the NHL, despite a slate that runs 6 to 14 fewer games. The Condors’ slate wound down on Saturday night in a similar manner as had the Oilers’ seven days earlier. In both cases, a nice home win to close things out, but out of earshot of a playoff berth in both cases. For the Oilers, 23rd place in a 31-team league; for the Condors, 22nd out of 30. An uninspiring 6th and 7th among the 8 teams in their respective Pacific Divisions.

The Condors are among the six California/Arizona-based teams who have chosen to play just 68 games rather than the 76 played by most AHL clubs, which has a deflating effect on things like boxcar stats. Which goes a bit of the way towards explaining a club that had no forward reach 50 points or any defenceman even make it to 20. Josh Currie, signed to an AHL deal, led the way with 46 points in the full 68 games, which left him outside the top 50 in the league in points, and not even in the top 100 for points-per-game (minimum 20 GP).

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Of course all of this is of secondary if not tertiary importance to the organization as a whole, where the development of young talent takes precedence, and the availability of NHL-ready call-ups to cover off injuries and other exigencies is the next priority. As this long-time follower of the old Edmonton Trappers of the Triple AAA Pacific Coast League can assure you, winning at the minor league level is well down the list. So how did the Condors perform in their primary function?

No fewer than five players closed out the season in Edmonton after starting it in Bako, from Anton Slepyshev at one extreme (1 AHL game for conditioning purposes to open the season followed by 50 in the NHL) to Keegan Lowe at the other (full season in the AHL, called up as an injury fill-in for Edmonton’s last 2 games).

In between were three players who played 10+ games in each city:

Jesse Puljujarvi ended his first North American campaign in Bakersfield and started his second one in the same spot. 49 games in all, 10 of them in 2017-18 during which he scored a less-than-inspiring 1 goal and 5 points. Nonetheless, Oilers’ GM Peter Chiarelli noted considerable improvement in the 19-year-old’s game early in his second NHL stint. His play flattened out in the second half, and his season totals of 12-8-20 in 65 NHL games were promising enough if you’re a glass-half-full type, but didn’t blow anyone’s socks off.

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Edmonton Oilers ' top affiliate Bakersfield Condors wind up another underwhelming season . Jets suffer blowout loss to Wild in Game 3, but still lead series. Share this story.

Edmonton Oilers ' top affiliate Bakersfield Condors wind up another underwhelming season .

Ethan Bear was one young player who exceeded expectations in his first professional season. Called up after the deadline, he made his NHL debut on Mar 01 and played every game but one the rest of the way. He scored his first NHL goal and added 3 helpers in 18 games. He returned to Bakersfield for the final week, notching a pair of assists in the season finale to assume the club lead in blueline scoring with 6-12-18 in just 37 games.  Bear has plenty of rough edges on the defensive side of the puck and is best considered a work-in-progress but early returns are positive.

Ty Rattie was Bakersfield’s leading scorer when he was called up by the Oilers in mid-March, and while he was ultimately passed by Currie his per-game average of 0.81 points led the club. His 21 goals and 157 shots also led the way, not bad considering he missed 15 games along the way. Using the latest translation factors calculated by analytics author Rob Vollman, his AHL totals equate to about 16-16-32 per 82 NHL games. In the bigs he actually did produce at over a 50-point pace in 14 games, though there was a heavy McDavid push in those numbers — consider that of Rattie’s 9 points, McDavid was also involved in 8 of those goals. Nonetheless, he showed enough during his late-season look to earn a one-year extension signed this weekend.

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A trio of other players spent time with both clubs, but in the cases of Eric Gryba and Laurent Brossoit, they were going the wrong way, getting demoted from the NHL club during the season. One other player, Iiro Pakarinen, spent a few weeks in mid-season honing his game before getting another look with the big club. Pakarinen’s scoring exploits — 9 goals in 18 AHL games, but just 2 in 40 at the NHL level — are Exhibit A as to how production rates don’t necessarily “translate” from one level to the next.

Of course the process of graduation from the minor leagues can’t always be easily captured in a single season. Case in point is Jujhar Khaira, who after a late-season trial back in 2013-14 played chunks of the next three seasons in the AHL (133 games in all) while getting a couple of decent trials with the big club. With his waiver exemption no longer in place in 2017-18, the youngster took a significant step forward, playing 69 games between centre and wing with the Oilers, notching 11 goals and 21 points. Still just 23, he’s now six years out from his draft year, a classic long-term project who only now is really starting to pay dividends. With a year to run on a two-year deal that pays him the league minimum, Khaira is an excellent bet to provide value for money next season.

Another that Oilers fans have been waiting for is Anton Slepyshev, like Khaira a 23-year-old former third-round pick. He too had a couple of previous stints in Bakersfield. Despite playing a career high 50 games in 2017-18, he spun his wheels with just 6-6-12. His contract now expired, there are murmurs of him returning to Russia and rejoining the KHL.

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While numerous others on the big club from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to Leon Draisaitl to Darnell Nurse have spent some time in the AHL, all are well below our admittedly artificial threshold of 25 GP in the lower league. Oscar Klefbom did spend a chunk of time down there, all of it in Oklahoma City as he has been a full-time NHLer for the past three years.

Other talent has developed but bled out of the organization. Two success stories are those of Tyler Pitlick and Jordan Oesterle, both lost as Group VI free agents last summer after making strong progress in the Oilers’ system in previous campaigns. Such is the nature of the beast when players take years to develop.

Of course there are a few “futures” at the AHL level, for example Caleb Jones who played his entire first pro season for the Condors this past season. Perhaps his name will appear on a similar post as this one at the end of next season. Other players of interest such as Tyler Benson, Ostap Safin, Cooper Marody, Tyler Vesel, Colin Larkin and Dmitri Samorukov all technically signed amateur tryouts at season’s end and got their first cup of pro coffee. While those early experiences are important — gotta start somewhere — it’s much too soon to consider the AHL performance of such players in anything other than future tense. We’ll be examining each individually in our annual summer prospect series.

Overall, the development of useful players in the AHL system has been decent but hardly overwhelming. One wonders if after 3½ years as the head man, Gerry Fleming might be soon to move on. The former OKC assistant took the reins after Todd Nelson was himself “called up” by the big club midway through the 2014-15 season. Doesn’t seem likely that such a promotion may be in Fleming’s own future, but don’t be surprised if the organization looks to make a change this off-season. Which in the case of Bakersfield Condors, has just started as of today. Stay tuned.

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Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli criticized his players and hinted there will be coaching changes in his year-end press conference. So which coaches will survive here? Which players? And will Chiarelli himself? Which ones should? Which shouldn’t? David Staples and Bruce McCurdy of the Cult of Hockey dig in.

McCURDY: Might Ty Rattie’s one-year extension be a bargain pact for Oilers?

LEAVINS: Changes seem imminent for Oilers’ coaching staff

STAPLES: Palace intrigue grows over Oilers

McCURDY: The Oilers brain trust attempts to chart out the future for fans

LEAVINS: The options for the Oilers on Defence

Follow me on Twitter @BruceMcCurdy

Four-year Oiler Iiro Pakarinen reported heading for KHL .
More changes around the margins of the Edmonton Oilers are in the offing this morning, with word from hockey writer Pekka Jalonen of the Finnish sports website Iltalehti that veteran depth forward Iiro Pakarinen is leaving the Edmonton Oilers for the KHL. Pakarinen spent four seasons in the Edmonton organization, splitting each of them between the […]More changes around the margins of the Edmonton Oilers are in the offing this morning, with word from hockey writer Pekka Jalonen of the Finnish sports website Iltalehti that veteran depth forward Iiro Pakarinen is leaving the Edmonton Oilers for the KHL.

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