Tony Borgford, AHL GM’s, & League-Wide Consideration

Tony Borgford seems like a nice fella. Driven by a devotion to the game, the nuts and bolts of it all, the trendy-video-guy approach with a keen eye for diligence – he seems like a keeper. In a recent interview via the Oklahoma City Barons YouTube page, Borgford made several interesting statements that were both direct and ultimately telling in most regards. But before we dive into the quote round-up let’s explore what we already know.

Promoting Bill Scott to an Assistant GM role in Edmonton ushered in a day for the Oklahoma City Barons and the Oilers. The placement of a minor league manager was important to previous NHL org leaders in Edmonton, and it worked very well. Scott high-tailed himself into the daily routine of the OKC Barons, worked alongside the coaching staff, watched, listened, and carefully examined potential signings. His strength wasn’t in managing high drafted prospects or overseas acquisitions, but rather in his ability to find exactly what the team needed at all the right times. Mark the Arcobello being the largest and most successful-to-date find. This worked well in the first seasons of farm play in Oklahoma City. But things changed, and last season we watched a very young team struggle to find their legs, and Scott unable to steady the ship as he had before. Oh he was capable, and likely willing, but the prospect culture emerged (as it should have), and his managerial skills were less about looking outside, and more about finding inside.

Fast forward to this offseason and the hiring of Tony Borgford. We (myself included) assumed that he would be a direct replacement for Rocky Thompson whom, by the way, was a video-analyzer extraordinaire. Borgford is of the same make and model, and thus we assumed his role would be identical to Thompson’s (who was promoted to a video assistant job in Edmonton). This was good news, but Borgford appears to be doing quite a bit more than just watching a flat-screen monitor before, during and after games (and I realize he does more than that, in case you were wondering).

In his recent interview (seen below) he was asked about his role, and he has seemingly expanded his job description to include hockey ops which was 1/2 of Bill Scott’s job while with the Barons. Plane tickets, per diem, travel arrangements, off-ice paperwork filing, and other operational jobs have been floated his way. Basically “all of the administrative work that Bill Scott handled,” to put it in Borgford’s direct terms.

This highlights the changing of the guard, so to speak, in how the NHL Oilers approach their minor league farm team. This is the right move.

When you look at AHL General Managing around the US and Canada, you notice four approaches, one being the most prominent.

The AHL Head Coach/GM is a rarity, but it exists, and it it a throwback to days gone by. In Portland, for example, Ray Edwards serves as GM and Coach, and has done a pretty good job. Again, this is a rare setup but one that does occur.

The next approach is exactly what the Oklahoma City Barons have had for their entire existence. That is a dedicated AHL GM. Like the HC/GM combo, the AHL-only GM is rare. In a place like Hershey, for example, the President of the team is also the GM. This is mainly a result of the independently owned status of the team. Nonetheless, this seems to be a dying breed, and thus an unwanted approach.

The first two are a fraction of the population, but the next two approaches seem to make up the vast majority of the league.

The third approach is the AHL/NHL General Manger in one. In a place like Rochester, Toronto, or Grand Rapids, where proximity to the NHL club isn’t an issue, this tends to be a popular choice. But keep in mind, the NHL GM is likely passing the AHL managing off to an assistant, but with some major oversight. That brings us to the fourth and final approach.

Most AHL managers are considered (and given titles) like “Assistant General Manager”. Considered a part of the NHL coaching rotation, but strategically assigned to the farm team. These are often places where future major league managers are groomed.

Through the re-structuring of the coaching hierarchy in Edmonton, Bill Scott has been named the Assistant General Manager in Edmonton, his day-to-day Barons activities have been passed to new assistant, Tony Borgford, and the Oilers have officially joined the rest of the league.

There is no statement, no press release, or direct source that confirms that Bill Scott will continue to have a hand in managing the Oklahoma City Barons, but I would say that there is a really good chance his days of managing a minor league team is far from over.

Welcome to 2014, Edmonton Oilers. Godspeed.

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