On Todd Nelson & That Three Year Extension

Photo by Steven Christy

With one year remaining on his current contract (assumed), Oklahoma City Barons head coach Todd Nelson has signed a three-year extension to helm the ship of positivity within the Edmonton Oilers organization.

Rumored to be “in the mix” on a few head coaching spots in the NHL, Nelson did the right thing here. Whether it was the Carolina Hurricanes or any other qualified suitor, the timing just wasn’t right for Todd Nelson despite his increased value over a four year span. It was the right thing for many reasons.

First, he gets job security. He earned it, after all, being the shiny penny of the Edmonton Oilers organization in four seasons as the head coach. Very few AHL teams, historically speaking, have ever accomplished four straight postseason opportunities, and Nelson is now part of an exclusive group. He is arguably one of the best coaches in the minors, and will remain a top candidate for NHL head coaching jobs. For now, he will wait, earn a pay check, and hopefully keep churning out solid teams.

Second, the Oilers get job security. Whether he’s steering the farm team ship towards betterment or simply becoming a back-up plan for the Eakins downfall, Nelson fits well within the current Oilers org-wide plan. The Oilers know that they still have work to do, and in his second season as head coach, Dallas Eakins and company are going to need to move the team up about five notches…or else. Having been through at least three coaches (Renney, Kreuger, now Eakins), Todd Nelson could be available in a pinch, and thus saving the Oilers bacon. Fans like Nelson, even those that aren’t privy to his nightly wizardry behind the bench, and “giving the people what they want” has a tendency to soften the blow of turrbleness. It’s a pipe dream – that Nelson would be the immediate replacement for Eakins – but it isn’t completely ridiculous.

Third, there is value in AHL head coaching jobs. “Atlanta Thrashers Assistant from 08-10” isn’t quite the resume eye catcher it once was, but in the end Nelson chooses AHL head coaching likely over NHL assistant coaching. That speaks volumes about the league that directly feeds into the NHL. For some, including Todd, the opportunities are greater in the back of the theater. There is something admirable about the horse in the Derby that hangs in the back for the majority of the race only to surge on the final quarter leg. That thoroughbred is Todd Nelson. For the moment he sees value in the protective nature of minor league hockey, letting his work speak for himself. I like that, you should too.

I’ve not been more excited (or semi-surprised) by Oklahoma City Barons news in quite some time. With a three-year contract there is wiggle room for the coach we have come to love. He will likely earn his stripes a bit this season, then take the summer to again explore his options. Standard AHL head coaching extensions have “NHL OUT” clauses in them, and don’t think for a moment that this one is any different. Now that he’s been through the offseason coaching vacancy carousel he can better understand the joys of this endeavor with each passing year. I’m surprised he is still in the AHL, and I think we can just sit back, and enjoy another season of good Nelson-sized hockey. Here today, gone tomorrow.

Edmonton Oilers Issue Qualifying Offers (Not To Fedun)

Here is the list of QO’s offered to RFA status players:

The Edmonton Oilers announced today, they have issued qualifying offers to the following players:

Richard Bachman
Luke Gazdic
Curtis Hamilton
Roman Horak
Philip Larsen
Andrew Miller
Jeff Petry
Tyler Pitlick
Justin Schultz

Quick notes. Horak and Larsen are KHL bound, so the Oilers simply retain their oversea rights here. Very few surprises here minus Curtis Hamilton, whom has fought the injury bug for three seasons including the most recent one.

In the end the going thought is that there is no risk in capitalizing on the “warm body” approach to building minor league depth. Gazdic, signed to a two-year contract yesterday, along with Justin Schultz and Jeff Petry are the only NON-Barons level players in terms of how the Oilers define NHL players.

Taylor Fedun, one of the Barons most consistent defenders last season, doesn’t make the cut, and was quickly signed by the San Jose Sharks on a two-way deal. This is interesting. Ultimately, the need for defenders NOW has crippled the Oilers ability to make a guy like Fedun a long-term project. Bummer, man.

We move on…

Taylor Fedun and Free Agency – Restricted or Unrestricted?

Photo copyright Steven Christy Photography, All Rights Reserved.

This Monday will mark the deadline for NHL teams to send out their qualifying offers to their Restricted Free Agents, noting their intentions if they want to hold on to a player, or allow them to go out into free agency. For the Edmonton Oilers, this year includes:

Luke Gazdic
Justin Schultz
Jeff Petry
Philip Larsen
Andrew Miller
Tyler Pitlick
Curtis Hamilton
Roman Horak
Richard Bachman

But should it contain Taylor Fedun? Jason Gregor brought it up earlier today with this tweet:

So after doing some digging in the NHL’s CBA, there are four different groups of unrestricted free agents.  The two that we’ll touch today are Groups Three and Six. Group Three encompasses the players that have played either seven seasons or has turned 27 by June 30th of the year his contract expires.

The other group, Group Six, has quite a list of requirements to qualify for this group. These players who are at the end of their contract, need to be
(a) 25 years or older;
(b) need to have completed three or more professional seasons in either the NHL, a minor league, or overseas (a completed season counts when, as an 18 or 19 year old, 11 professional regular season or playoff games are played – or as a 20 year old or older, one single professional regular season or playoff game is played);
And (c) skaters need to have played in less than 80 NHL (regular season or playoff) games or goaltenders need to have played  in less than 28 NHL (regular season or playoff) games. For goaltenders, a game played would only be counted if they were in net for more than 30 minutes.

Down the checklist for Taylor Fedun. (a) He’s 26 years old. (b) He has been under contract for three seasons, but the wrench comes in from his first season in which he was injured during the preseason. Fedun was out for the entire season, not playing in any regular season or playoff games. Therefore, he’s only completed two seasons per the terms of a Group Six Free Agent. (c) He has only played in four NHL games.

Unless there’s something else that I’m not aware of in the CBA that would allow him to be a UFA this season, which I honestly was under the assumption that he was until today, I do believe that Fedun is an RFA this season and eligible to be qualified by the Oilers. His being injured also slid his waiver eligibility another year as well, meaning he won’t have to pass through waivers next season, which could be quite valuable to have for the Oilers.

Todd Nelson Appears To Be Staying Put, But “Wants To Get Back To NHL”

No news is well, not good news for Todd Nelson, but it is certainly good news for the Edmonton Oilers organization. With the coaching vacancies – both head and assistant – being dwindled down with July approaching quickly, Todd Nelson seems to be staying put with the Oklahoma City Barons.

In a recent talk given to the Hockey Ministries International group (which he does often) he knew the exact number of NHL coaching vacancies, and stated that “I really want to get back”. And by back, he means to the NHL. Watch the video in its entirety, and it gives you a bit of a background on Nelson’s approach to the game, his time in Atlanta, and his days as a player. Very insightful.

It remains apparent that Nelson wants and NHL job soon, and if he didn’t we would all wonder what’s wrong with him. However, the going thought is that five years in the AHL has him rabid for that “next step” after being let go with the Atlanta Thrashers all those years ago. In my mind he would be an excellent NHL coach, as his counterpart Willie Desjardins will be. Yet one more year in the Oilers organization won’t hurt as long as he continues to graduate right-standing prospects as well as win under heavy direst.

Here is the HMI video. Enjoy (oh, and these kids know their stuff):

There Was Ford, Then Winquist & Rimmer

The signings have begun, and with my head stuck in the sand for nearly a week at this point, I’ve darkened the door of the blog to pass along news you already knew about. How’s that for a Harvard-like introduction?

The signing of Matt Ford several weeks ago began the Oklahoma City Barons’ offseason contract rigmarole. It was bound to be interesting – the “who” and “what” of the offseason – but it appears that we have already had a peek behind the Great Oz’s curtain.

Signed this week were forward Josh Winquist and goaltender Ty Rimmer.

These players, like Ford, are young, but familiar to us all.

Having played two games, one in the regular season and one in the postseason, Josh Winquist is very much a work in progress. He does have some nice wrinkles to his game, and per usual I saw him wobbly in game one of the Calder Cup first round against the Texas Stars.

Josh Winquist, slotting in on the top line with Matt Ford scratched, was well over his head in terms of what he saw taking place in front of him. He’s a sharp kid, no doubt, with some upsides that make me really anxious to project his value. However, he was thrown in the deep end of the pool, expected to do really good things, sorta struggled, and in the end was not the champion of the offense we needed him to be. Nelson will adjust, no doubt.

A five year WHL player, Winquist can score, but he has some sharpening to do in the “man’s world” of the AHL. Perhaps some ECHL time prior.

Then there’s Ty Rimmer. Assigned to the Quad City Mallards after playing minutes in only three Barons games, Rimmer found his groove down the CHL stretch. The Central League has had a resurgence of sorts in recent years, and its potency seems more legit than it has in recent memory. Yet…Rimmer’s 39 games played at near 3.0 GAA and a just over .900 SV% doesn’t have me hopeful, then again you really never know with goaltenders that are 22 years old.

The list of goaltending options in the Oilers org is quite interesting. For now, place Laurent Brossoit at the top. From that point you can pick and choose between Tyler Bunz, Frans Tuohimaa, and now Ty Rimmer. There is “some” wiggle room here, but it depends on how the Oilers view their #3 goaltending position.

Bunz and Tuohimaa remain the only two on this list actually drafted by the Oilers. So they’ll watch their properties closely. If the Oilers need a solid #3 tender, the shuffle will go deeper with Brossoit moving to number two on the AHL farm club. What about Bunz? The kid that has not quite panned out in the AHL? Or what about Tuohimaa? The draftee with interest from previous Oilers management? And Rimmer? Why sign him if you will hang on to five underling tenders? Strange summer indeed. But, hey, at least the Oilers are giving themselves options here. That’s nice, I guess.

More signing to come, no doubt. Stay tuned.

USA Hockey Numbers, Oklahoma Drops 32.2% In One Year

United States hockey participation is a fickle beast. Sometimes the year-to-date numbers soar, other times they simply plateau. Nonetheless, they are worth paying attention to especially in states where hockey is supposedly in its “grassroots” stages in 2014.

When football, basketball, baseball, and soccer all trump the attention of the kiddos when it comes to competitive sports, you are never going to assume that sticks and pucks are the dreamiest of sporting endeavors. Yet we always want the number to go up, because like me, we all realize that hockey is an incredible tool for instructing teamwork, hard work, and character building. Iron sharpens iron, and very few sports churn out better team-minded players than hockey.

But something odd has happened in the state I call home. Over the last year, registered participants of U.S. Hockey has dropped sharply – 32.2% to be exact. Chris Peters, in a post yesterday at United States of Hockey mentioned each state, their “plus or minus”, and a bit of commentary. On Oklahoma:

Total Players: 738 (-32.2%)
National Rank: 47
Notes: This was a bit disappointing to see as Oklahoma hasn’t been under 1,000 players in some time. I was wondering if the Oklahoma City Oil Barons would have much impact on growth in the state, but as this shows, the answer is no. OKC is near the bottom in attendance in the AHL as well.

Ouch. He continues:

Only 16 states saw a decline in hockey participation last season, with seven of those seeing a decline of 1 percent or less. Oklahoma had the greatest percentage of decline (-32.2%), while Michigan lost the most players in total (1,344).

In a previous post, here is the five and ten year growth of hockey in Oklahoma:

Oklahoma
2002-03: 623
2008-09: 1,058
2012-13: 1,089
Ten-Year Growth: 466 (74.8%)
Five-Year Growth: 31 (2.93%)

This is a serious problem, and one that sort of catches me off guard. How does a state WITH an AHL team in its largest city somehow manage to lose the greatest percentage of players? A couple of things worth considering.

First, Oklahoma isn’t a huge state. The 28th largest state with a population under 4,000,000 means there aren’t a lot of bodies. When it comes to sports, they are the third smallest metro area that hosts an NBA team. Oklahoma City indeed is the largest city in the state, but it’s metro area posts just over a million. Simply put, this is a small state. But remember we are talking about percentages here, so the population density argument is thrown out the window.

Second, hockey had a niche market before the NBA rolled in to town. Early on in the re-development of downtown Oklahoma City, before Katrina and the eventual nurturing of the Oklahoma City Hornets, the city was pushing for a hockey team. Bound and determined to earn the right to be considered, based on an 8,000 average of CHL games, and the success of hockey for quite some time in the state. The southwest was supposed to be a goldmine. Then the city turned its attention towards the NBA, and the rest is history. What happened was simple. The cornerstone sport of college football still remained (in huge numbers), but a post-Fall / Winter sport emerged that crippled anything even remotely competing. Like, say, a hockey team playing across the street. The timing was awful for the Oklahoma City Barons, and both the attendance numbers, and the hockey participation numbers agree. The niche market of hockey is gone, people are spending their hard earned cash elsewhere, and it seems that AHL hockey is about ten years too late in inserting themselves into the entertainment avenue in Oklahoma.

Third, it is not all doom and gloom. Despite the severity of this drop when compared to last season, there is a glimmer of hope. Hockey is an expensive sport, one of the most expensive in fact . The economic downturn seemed to quietly creep its way into the middle of the U.S. later than the rest of the country. Perhaps the sport just got too expensive, too fast for some people. In addition, the marketability of the Barons hasn’t been highly successful, even ownership has admitted that. The floor hockey program, inserted by the Barons in to schools, rec programs, etc. is one way that the exploration of hockey can continue. Yet it isn’t enough. Kids and adults are still missing the opportunity to enjoy a sport like hockey.

In the end I remain hopeful that this number jumps, but the blowback of a highly successful NBA team with decades upon decades of college football (which is my first love) hardwired to the community has hockey becoming an increasingly tougher sell. Is it really important that the US Hockey numbers go up? I think it is, especially if the state of the NHL is still to grow (and the AHL for that matter). You would think that the Olympics on the horizon would help, and maybe we see rebounded totals in the next reporting year. I hope so. Regardless, this is a setback, and one that still has me scratching my head.

Read Chris Peters full article here

Finnish Dreamin’, Why Hello Iiro!

When I see a player signed, and said player has a double voweled name…I melt. The Finnish world of hockey is right up my alley in every possible way. They are feisty, but undoubtedly understand they can’t be a one-dimensional feisty so they practice. They work on their hands. They skate daily. They eat Hernekeitto and drink Glögi and bathe in the Baltic Sea. The hockey players grown in this neck of the world aren’t superior than any other nation, they just work hard, and force GM’s around the globe to salivate. You want one. They want one. We all want one.

The Edmonton Oilers have had many, and a few recently. They have all been entertaining to watch, and have been incredibly useful in many facets of the game. So, thank you sir, they’ll have another.

This go-round it’s the Florida Panthers 184th pick in 2011, Iiro Pakarinen.

CapGeek broke the news many days ago, and since that time the Oilers have been toiling away to release the details. The signing is fairly simple in terms of contract. A two-way, two-year deal worth $70,000/$792,500 in year one (with the second year up to $842,500). At 23 years of age when the contract is signed, this two year ELC is a fantastic get in my mind.

The Finns take a bit of grooming, however, when it comes to placement in N. America (Teemu Hartikanen, a great example). Yet when they reach their peak, boy how they shine. Iiro Pakarinen’s career details are below, and they are very diligent in terms of time spent in the homeland. Keep in mind, he has had a solid U20 and Team Finland career as well:

Iiro-Paka

I’ve watched the videos, I’ve read the Google-translated blog posts, and I’ve attempted to take off my Finnish colored glasses long enough to see this signing through un-biased eyeballs. Well, I tried…

This kid can skate, hit, and shoot like very few 23 year old players can. He has the confidence of a chiseled Olympian. He is smart. Defensively sound. Quite possibly the full package. I approve.

The going sentiment is that he lands in Oklahoma City, which is wise. The Oilers will keep a very watchful eye on this kid, and pray that he translates to the North American game quickly.

The “grit” and “toughness” angle has slowly crept into the farm team in the last couple of weeks. Steven Pinizzotto and now Iiro Pakarinen makes two types of players that the OKC Barons sorely lacked to start the season in October 2013. I suppose it’s a good thing that they are being addressed earlier as opposed to later, but also keep in mind that the Oilers have built a similar type of team in Edmonton. The mimicry here is pretty obvious, and quite possibly a sound structure (if it works, big IF). Although, grain of salt, because I like the Pakarinen signing way more than I like the Pinizzotto signing. So, there’s that.

In the end, this is good news. Lots of hopeful things to look forward to when October rolls around. Good luck to Iiro! (Love that name).

Why This Very Well Could Be The Barons’ Last Season

With all of the rumors and news regarding the American Hockey League’s expansion towards the West Coast, things in my mind are slowly pointing to this 2014-15 season as the last for the Oklahoma City Barons. There’s a few reasons why, and I’ll go over those, but I’m also hoping to put to rest some misconceptions at the same time.

Keep in mind, a lot of this is just me rambling and explaining some of the thoughts I’ve had about what has been going on lately. Take it for what you feel it’s worth, but I wanted to share some of the thoughts I’ve had and have discussed.

First, the franchise is owned by the Edmonton Oilers and the now-Oilers Entertainment Group. The AHL franchise always has been, but the confusion about Prodigal owning the team probably comes from the fact that Prodigal owns the name and brand, but not the franchise itself. The Oilers paid for many years to keep the franchise dormant within the American Hockey League. Following the 2004-05 lockout, the AHL technically had thirty teams but the 30th team was the dormant Edmonton AHL franchise. This sets up the fact that the Oilers could move the franchise at any time, if they so chose.

Second, the attendance. Let’s face it, the team has never done all that well at the gate. It’s somewhat taboo to talk about, but let’s just call the shovel a shovel. The Barons have broken the 4,000-average mark just once in four seasons, and it was their inaugural season. They’ve barely averaged higher than 2,500 during the playoffs. There’s many things you can chalk it up to, but I’m past the point of laying blame on the Thunder and Oklahoma City being a “basketball town”. There’s just a lack of a solid AHL hockey fanbase in OKC. You can blame the lack of advertising, the former Blazers fans not wanting to support a Bob Funk product, or the inattentiveness of the front office (there’s many season ticket holders that have now become former season ticket holders this season). But it’s time to stop blaming the Thunder. The parking is usually the biggest complaint I hear, but honestly, the parking is not an issue on nights that both the Thunder and the Barons are playing. It’s an inconvenience, but it’s not an issue. There’s plenty of parking at surface lots nearby, some now cheaper than the nearby garages after an increase in their prices this past season.

Next, the lack of an extension by the Oilers with the city. We had heard this past season that an extension on the affiliation deal was sure to be forthcoming, and then it just dropped into nowhere. The last we heard about it was in this article by Mike Baldwin of the Oklahoma on February 13th. The quotes from those involved with the Oilers are very complimentary of the city, and it sounds like they’d really like for the team to stay. However, I think the biggest issue lies with the fact that Prodigal takes all of the losses from the team. All the attendance woes fall on to them. And now, with their USL Pro soccer venture, they seem to be funneling a lot of money towards that. With this upcoming season being the last of their five year deal with Edmonton, Prodigal very well could pull out if they don’t feel they’re making the money they expected to. But for what could be a last hurrah, the Prodigal front office hasn’t done a lot to try and garner any more of a following this offseason, with all of their attention on soccer.

Their social media pages have rarely been updated, save the occasional post about an exit interview that was conducted two months ago, and people probably don’t have much of a interest in at this point. There’s just not a lot for new fans to get interested in and excited about, and for current fans to look forward to. So now with the Oilers buying up the Bakersfield Condors ECHL franchise, it allows for an easy switch to the AHL if they do decide to join the expansion out west along with the California-based NHL teams.

Now, there’s four scenarios that I think could happen, and one very well might if things were to fall into place.

1. If Prodigal pulls out, the Oilers decide to keep the franchise in Oklahoma and put their own front office in place. This very well could happen, as I imagine they would have to do the same thing if they moved out west. It’s just a matter of working out the lease with the city and a few other things.

2. If Prodigal pulls out, the Oilers bring in another management company to replace Prodigal. Not as likely, as I don’t know of any locally that would want to get into the AHL-managing business, but still a possibility.

3. If the Oilers decide to move the franchise, another NHL team decides to bring their franchise to Oklahoma City to replace the Barons. Again, very likely as Oklahoma City has a good reputation, but not sure if it benefits any NHL franchise location-wise more than what they have now.

4. The one I really hope doesn’t happen, OKC is without professional hockey next season.

Obviously, a lot can happen over a year’s time. Situations change, and maybe things happen for the better. Attendance could jump, people may find out they like hockey, and maybe the Oilers become convinced to the keep the team in OKC. But until it happens, I’m concerned about the state of professional hockey in Oklahoma City after this upcoming season.

Go West, Young AHL!

It’s been a topic of great debate among the minor hockey league circles. Can the American Hockey League move west? The league has worked it’s way west-ward in the last five years, but outside of Abbotsford, the league has only made it to some midwestern states in Texas and Oklahoma. Plus, we now know the fate of Abbotsford as they have been moved back to the East to Glens Falls, New York. That move makes the San Antonio Rampage the western-most team in the league by longitude.

However, that’s not far enough west for the California and Arizona-based National Hockey League teams. Here’s a list of the current Pacific Division NHL teams, and their AHL affiliates:

Anaheim Ducks -> Norfolk Admirals (Virginia)
Los Angeles Kings -> Manchester Monarchs (New Hampshire)
San Jose Sharks -> Worcester Sharks (Massachusetts)
Vancouver Canucks -> Utica Comets (New York)
Phoenix(Arizona?) Coyotes -> Portland Pirates (Maine)
Edmonton Oilers -> Oklahoma City Barons (Oklahoma)
Calgary Flames -> Adirondack Flames (New York)

The distances between those teams and cities?

Anaheim -> Norfolk: 2703 miles (4350 km)
LA -> Manchester: 3014 miles (4851 km)
SJ -> Worcester: 3094 miles (4980 km)
Vancouver -> Utica: 2929 miles (4713 km)
Phoenix -> Portland: 2748 miles (4423 km)
Edmonton -> OKC: 1938 miles (3118 km)
Calgary -> Glens Falls: 2506 miles (4033 km)

The talk of teams moving west has picked up a lot of steam lately, with AHL President Dave Andrews having said that there is a strong probability of it happening within the next few years, most recently in an interview with the Marek vs. Wyshynski podcast and saying that it could happen as early as the 2015-16 season.

Bob Rotruck, the broadcaster for the (now) Lehigh Valley Phantoms, has been a great follow on Twitter during all of this, be sure to check out his tweets regarding this. One of them brings me to the next topic of discussion. Who moves?

As much as I hate to put Oklahoma City in there, I have to agree with Bob on this guess. San Jose owns Worcester, LA owns Manchester, Edmonton owns OKC. They’re the three almost guaranteed in my mind. Norfolk and Portland are owned by independent groups, which means Anaheim and the Coyotes would need to find franchises that are either willing to move, or are willing to sell, in order for this to work for them. Especially in the case of Portland, I imagine they still hold an AHL team in the aftermath, but some affiliations change hands in the meantime.

Next to consider, where do the teams move to? The ECHL’s western conference currently consists of seven teams. The Alaska Aces (Anchorage, AK), Bakersfield Condors (California), Colorado Eagles (Loveland, CO), Idaho Steelheads (Boise, ID), Ontario Reign (California), Stockton Thunder (California), and the Utah Grizzlies (Salt Lake City, UT). Dormant this next season will be the Las Vegas Wranglers, plus the San Francisco Bulls suspended operations halfway through the 2013-14 season.

-The AHL had it’s own version of the Grizzlies before the team suspended operations and the ECHL moved in, and I could easily see the AHL making a return there. The Grizzlies were also affiliated with the Ducks this season, which doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme, but could have led to some talks.
-There’s been speculation that a part of the driving force behind the Edmonton Oilers buying the Bakersfield franchise was to make room for an easy transition to move their AHL franchise to California.
-Loveland, Colorado would make a great place for an AHL team, they have a nice building and it’s a great market. But unless it was the Avalanche moving a team there, I don’t know how much sense it would make. It’s possible the Avalanche are considering that, but like Anaheim and the Coyotes, they would need to buy a team. The Lake Erie Monsters are owned by the same owners as the Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA, and I don’t know how willing they would be to sell their franchise.
-Boise is one of my choices and may be somewhat of a longshot, but their attendance has been very good over the last few seasons which tells me that there is quite a market for hockey there.
-The Ontario Reign are owned by the LA Kings ownership group, leading to a pretty sure deal that the Monarchs move there.
-I personally think (with no knowledge of the situation, I’m just throwing it out there) that part of Las Vegas’ decision to go dormant next season, outside of needing to secure a place to play, is maybe trying to finalize the details of moving an AHL franchise there as well, which would fit with the 15-16 timeline.

And not with the ECHL, but the Coyotes have expressed interest with having their franchise in the state of Arizona, specifically Tuscon.

So with the sure-fire five teams and possibly more moving to the west, there are seven or eight locations that they could move to. Two teams I don’t see moving west anytime soon are the Canucks and Flames, as they just moved their teams to New York. Utica will be moving into year two of a six-year lease, and Calgary just moved to Adirondack. Maybe they reconsider in the future, but it won’t be in the initial stages of westward expansion.

Lots of developments still to happen, lots of talks to be had, but it sounds like the AHL West will be happening, it’s just a matter of when and where. Something to keep an eye on over the next couple of seasons as more details are sure to come out.

Steve Pinizzotto Signs One-Year, Two-Way Contract With Oilers

I get it, I get it (said in my best Kid President voice) the Edmonton Oilers, and National Hockey League teams for that matter, “need” players like Steve Pinizzotto. Tough as nails, tip-toeing on the edge, and constantly challenging opponents – players of this bend live throughout the minors and survive in the majors. Pinizzotto, most recently logging minutes with the San Antonio Rampage, the Oklahoma City Barons, and the Edmonton Oilers has signed a one-year contract of the two-way variety, and this is an odd signing.

In a rare moment of inward deep thinking, the Edmonton Oilers looked at the Oklahoma City Barons in 2013-2014, and realized the team immediately needed some things.

First they needed more skill so they prepared themselves to receive Jack Combs. Combs, playing very few minutes with the struggling San Antonio Rampage, was a skillfull fella with great hands, good vision, but unable to stick to the puck like glue. He ended up being fun to watch, but not complete enough to warrant further consideration.

Secondly the team need toughness. In a prospect world, even where Kale Kessy and Travis Ewanyk reside, there is a tendency to reveal a timid heart. Thus the Barons received Steve Pinizzotto with open arms, again from the San Antonio Rampage. In return the Barons sent away Derek Nesbitt and Ryan Martindale.

The skinny on Pinizzotto is that “you get what you get”. You know the type of minutes he’s going to give you. For the Edmonton Oilers they seem prepared to pay the man, get rough and tumble, and backstop their minor league squad with more tenacity.

I’ve written at length about the risk involved with Steve Pinizzotto (here, here, here), and it is a real puzzler as to why the Oilers might consider him even for another season. Let me explain.

Offensively he is a risk taker in the minors. Unafraid to close on the net. Capable of really good stick work, and goal-mouth play. He’s quick, poignant, and the rare minor league player willing to bowl over an opponent. He is helpful in the PK department, strong on the puck, and admirable on the right side of the PP (in small small doses). That sounds great, but that’s only 50% of his outlook.

The remaining 50% is about grit and attitude. As good as he occasionally is he has a tendency to cost his team just as much. 116 penalty minutes in just 30 regular season games, including suspensions, and an armload of game misconducts, he’s probably a bit of a coaches nightmare. The thing is this, he’s a talker, a yapper if you will, and his shenanigans are well known around the AHL. Is he marked by officials? Yes, and rightfully so. I’ve seen enough of his game to be frustrated by the potential, and bothered by the unnecessary penalties.

I’ll assume that new assistant GM with the Oilers, and former Oklahoma City Barons GM Bill Scott, had something to do with this decision as he has seen Pinizzotto play a ton of minutes with his own eyeballs. This makes the decision to sign him even more baffling.

Nonetheless, Steve P will probably be featured in the Oilers call-up rotation as needed, and you will recall that he fared pretty well in six games with Edmonton towards the end of their season. He survived in limit minutes, and certainly didn’t look worse than Luke Gazdic. And at 30 years old, a signing like this makes you wonder why you just didn’t keep Ben Eager around (egads, and maybe they will, egads again) for the same role?

Any way you slice it, this is a tough sell in my eyes. Yes, Pinizzotto has skill and grit, but we don’t see it consistently enough between the agitating moments of goofiness. Fingers crossed that Steve can reel in a successful season, and in the end the guy has a good contract.