Oklahoma City Barons Season Seat Holder Message

From the season seat holder email sent this afternoon from the Prodigal offices:

Barons season seat holder:

Your support of the Oklahoma City Barons from the team’s humble beginnings in 2010 has been unmatched. Night in and night out, you’ve witnessed many of the best hockey athletes in the world play in our city. Our coaching staff has produced teams that have qualified for the playoffs in each season, twice reaching the Conference Finals. Nearly 40 players and staff members have graduated from Oklahoma City to realize their dream of playing or working for an NHL team.

The success of the franchise from a business perspective however has not been what I anticipated. After extensive negotiation with Edmonton and careful deliberation, we are announcing the 2014-15 season will be the final for the Barons in Oklahoma City. The current economic model presented by the Oilers to operate the franchise does not allow for sustained, long-term success from a business perspective.

Although this is the last season for the Barons in Oklahoma City, that doesn’t mean that the current season is over. The Prodigal staff will support the Oilers players and coaching staff in their quest for a Calder Cup championship.

Thank you to each of you for your support during five great seasons in Oklahoma City.

Edmonton Oilers Choose Not To Renew Agreement With OKC, Barons Hockey Done After 2014-2015

In what comes as no surprise to fans, the Edmonton Oilers have chosen not to renew their AHL affiliation agreement with the Oklahoma City Barons. The Oklahoma City Barons have also chosen to close up shop following the 2014-2015 season.

After five seasons of farm play not only will Edmonton pass on keeping their AHL team in Oklahoma City, but local team owner and manager, Prodigal LLC., has elected to end hockey in this city after the 14-15 season.

The Oklahoma City Barons statement can be read here

A quick primer on how we got here.

The Edmonton Oilers own the rights to their AHL team. That means they can move them from town to town or place to place assuming their contractual obligations with the local team have been terminated or expired. This is a good thing for NHL teams because they can review their situations in short bursts, and have “rule” over their minor league clubs for the most part. On the Oklahoma City end of things, Prodigal LLC, owned by Bob Funk Jr., owns the team name, crest, logos, and also the managerial responsibilities. They also are positioned to earn a lot of money IF their team is successfully drawing crowds, selling gear, etc. With that knowledge in front of us, a couple of thoughts.

Following the 2014-2015 season it is highly likely that the AHL version of the Oilers moves Westward. It has been rumored for two seasons that NHL franchises geographically located in the West would want to move their affiliated franchises that direction. It makes sense for a lot of reasons, but ticket sales is one of them. The other reason seemingly revolves around ownership models that streamline movement of players from one league to another. This seems to be where the prospect-driven role of development comes into the narrative for the Oilers. They want prospects close, treated well, farmed properly, and probably under the watchful eye of Katz. This makes sense.

For the Oklahoma City Barons, Prodgial LLC will retain the rights on the team until their license expires. Is high level hockey officially over in Oklahoma City? Not an easy question to answer. The merging of the CHL and ECHL this offseason (a team resides in Tulsa) means that opportunities are littered across the country for ECHL expansion. Having an Allen, Wichita, OKC, Tulsa ECHL South sounds pleasant (Although personally, I’m not sure how I feel about tickets selling for ECHL better than AHL. Then again, new ownership could do some nice things. That conversation is forthcoming). Prodigal LLC will continue to highlits Energy FC (which began USLPro play this summer), bull riding, and other events pertaining to their market.

The going thought is that Prodigal LLC is wanting to be out of the hockey business. As evidenced by their “business model” talk. That’s sad, but also perhaps the dawning of a new day for hockey in Oklahoma City.

My personal thoughts on this matter aren’t entirely rosy, as you could imagine. Over the next three days we will share our thoughts – personal and professional – about the folding of an organization, and what the future of OKC hockey looks like.

Thanks for five seasons Edmonton Oilers and Oklahoma City Barons!

Kellen & Connor Jones Returned To Bakersfield

Photo by Steven Christy

After a brief, and I mean very brief, stint with the Oklahoma City Barons, the team has moved Kellen and Connor Jones back to Bakersfield of the ECHL. The twins will meet up with the Condors in Alaska.

The call-up was a weird one. One that took place during a tumultuous time for the Oklahoma City Barons and Edmonton Oilers. Todd Nelson would be named the interim head coach of the Oilers, the twins would play a few games, and lost in the shuffle is likely how well they fared in AHL minutes.

Nonethless, Kellen, the Oilers draft pick, would get at least two games (and play once without his brother) while Connor only logged time in one game. Kellen scored a pretty fantastic goal on Tuesday evening, but also had a couple of rough moments on the Barons fourth line.

Now down to just twelve healthy forwards (Lain / Kessy still out) and six healthy defenders, losing the Jones brothers suggests that more movement is imminent from Edmonton. Perhaps someone is coming off the IR for the Oilers, or maybe player swaps are about to take place. Regardless, the Barons need at least an extra healthy skater on each side of the puck. More news to come…

Barons Beat Charlotte 4-1, Richard Bachman Injured & Tyler Bunz Recalled

The Oklahoma City Barons played the Charlotte Checkers on Tuesday evening, and they would soundly defeat them 4-1. The Checkers played a seemingly lifeless game despite the high shot totals and lone goal. They are a team on the brink of crashing and burning or potentially getting better, and on a Tuesday night in North Carolina the Barons found them on the wrong side of that tipping scale.

Richard Bachman would start against Drew MacIntyre at the other end. For “The Biz” the game was near perfection. For MacIntyre it was a struggle early, and that put Charlotte in a hole to begin the matchup. Five shots faced, two goals allowed, and Drew MacIntyre would have to be really solid down the stretch to get his team back into the game.

A second period goal by Brendan Woods pulled them ever so closely to the Barons lead, but Kellen Jones would whistle in a shot (his first of the season in the AHL) to put the OKC lead back to two goals. An empty netter by Jason Williams would be his tenth goal of the season, and it would extend the lead with time winding down.

In the last 6:00 of play Richard Bachman was visibly gimpy – stretching at the net, posturing himself when the puck was at the other end – and Laurent Brossoit would come in to relieve him in the final minutes of the game. Bachman would immediately head down the tunnel, and Brossoit would finish nicely.

In Bachman’s absence, and with no update on his injury at the time of this post, Tyler Bunz has been recalled from Wichita where he has been playing with the Thunder of the ECHL. Our very own, Patricia Teter, has been keeping a close eye on his play, and the Thunder as a whole. You can check out her blog at Artful Puck (read it…DAILY!). Here is her take on how Bunz has played through the first two months (and then some) of the season:

Bunz had a very good November — two shutouts, a 0.920 SV%, with a 4 – 3 – 0 – 1 record. December has been very rough on the entire team with their road trip to Canada, New York, and the return home but he is expected to rebound quickly. Bunz is currently ranked 7th in the ECHL in GAA, and he is tied in 1st with two shutouts.

While they await Bunz in Charlotte, the play-by-play voice of the Checkers, Jason Shaya, suited up this morning as an unofficial Oklahoma City Baron. Photographic proof below:

The PK for the Barons has suddenly become REALLY REALLY good, and has stopped roughly every short-handed chance except for two in about thirty tries. That’s impressive, and something that OKC had been struggling with in the early parts of the season.

Gerry Fleming would earn his first victory as the head coach of the Oklahoma City Barons. Kelly Buchberger was his assistant on the bench for much of the evening while Tony Borgford stayed in the press box for the first forty minutes, but returned to the bench for the third (a typical arrangement even when Nelson was around).

The Barons stay put in Charlotte for another game on Thursday before returning home for a Saturday / Sunday two-for against the Rockford IceHogs.

Oklahoma City Barons Lines & Pairs:

R. Hamilton-Williams-Ford
C. Hamilton-Lander-Pakarinen
Moroz-Yakimov-Miller
K. Jones-Khaira-Ewanyk

Marincin-Gernat
Oesterle-Musil
Simpson-Ludwig

Bachman
Brossoit

Things You Get From A Todd Nelson Coached Team

Less than 24 hours after the announcement of Dallas Eakins’ firing, and the promotion of Todd Nelson to interim Oilers coach, I am still yammering on and on about how much I love “Nelly”. With the nostalgia in the review mirror, let’s focus our attention on the here, the now, and potentially the future.

When a new coach is hired the first thing you want to understand is roster management. How will he move players throughout the lineup? How will he pair defenders? Who gets TOI on the PP? The PK? All legitimate questions that will be answered over time. Yet there are marks of Todd Nelson coached teams, and most importantly Todd Nelson coached teams in the same pipeline as the Oilers.

For much of five seasons Nelson has been dealt different versions of rosters. There was year one through three where the top half of the lineup was padded by scorers. This allowed younger players to mature over time within the farm system, but it also buried their minutes. This was fine and dandy when the Oilers were trying to salvage the fiery bus crash that was their AHL affiliated team, but it ran its course. The introduction of a new GM in Craig MacTavish gave way to a different approach on the farm. Vets were inserted as prospects themselves with ice time going more towards younger, developing players. This was seen particularly on defense where the Barons rarely have kept more than an extra defender on the roster, and sometimes only travelling with six. Forwards too got more ice time. In December of 2014 Todd Nelson was able to find a balance of vet scoring and prospect ice time, and it has worked pretty well.

All five seasons of the Nelson Era in Oklahoma City have given us five different teams (practically), but the playoff berths still happened, the team still peaked at the right times, and in the end were vastly better than when they began play in October.

Needless to say, there are some very important things you get from a Todd Nelson coached team. Let’s explore, shall we.

Reliance On The Goaltender

Gerber. Danis. Bachman. Three #1 goaltenders in five seasons of hockey, and all of them remarkably decent in the minors. The Oilers were in need of good #3 tenders, so these moves make sense. It does, however, point to a bit of a luxury for Todd Nelson and his teams. Defenses in the minors get accosted by shot totals. They aren’t all that much higher than in the NHL, but they come in waves as player transactions happen more frequently (mainly in the call-up department). It wasn’t unusual for a guy like Gerber to face 50 shots against Houston. Or for Danis to battle back from 48 against San Antonio. The fact that all three tenders have found great success is a testament to their abilities, and the Oilers plucking them from elsewhere.

With the Oilers desperately needing defensive prospects to pan out (and quickly) the bulk of the defensive responsibility landed on the goaltenders. This might be a problem with current NHLers Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth struggling through the first two months of the season. Likely a product of a bad defense, Nelson is going to look to the netminders to bail him out from time to time, and that really hasn’t happened in 2014.

Strong 1-3-1 Power Play, Offensive Defender At Top

Todd Nelson loves the 1-3-1 power play formation with two strong, great passing wingers along the left and rights boards with a centerman behind the net. A big bulky body in the middle, and an offensive defender at the top. The problem with this power play formation is the liability. If the puck squirts out of the offensive zone there is one guy that has to wrestle the opponent away. That aside the player in Gretzky’s office usually doesn’t drop low until the puck lands there. This means that there might be two in front of the net, one in the middle, two high until the team gets the puck in deep. So we go from a 1-2-2 to a 1-3-1 rather quickly.

This isn’t something that is an abnormality in the National Hockey League, but it does take the right sort of motivation to accomplish. It also takes a good puck mover at the top (he really liked Brad Hunt or Justin Schultz during lockout). Watch for this to eventually seep into the practice rotation of the team.

Hot vs Cold Defensive Pairings

Defensively speaking, there have been times in OKC where things were grimm. We cringed, we wept, we survived. The team has always prided itself upon the foundational truth that no losing streak is too large. In the minutia of lineup management is the hot vs cold defensive pairings that has saved Barons’ bacon on more than one occasion.

What I mean by this is when he might pair Brandon Davidson with Martin Gernat or Jordan Oesterle with Oscar Klefbom. Beyond the top two pairings he really likes to “make up” for weaknesses of one player by compensating with another. This has worked, especially in recent seasons, but takes a special breed of player that is willing to cover the rump of his partner.

Quiet Responsibility

The Edmonton Oilers like to throw around the word “responsibility” and “accountability” a lot these days, and I think maybe fans (me included) struggle to know exactly what that means at times. For Nelson’s Barons there is grace shown when necessary, but also moments where you really have to take ownership for your mistakes. This might mean that you sit a game. This happens mostly with the forwards where (we will get into this shortly) outside of the top two lines, things can change nightly. He quietly arms players with the ability to take their responsibility and turn it into a ever-gorgeous rose. That takes a cautious hand.

He Likes What He Likes

When forward groups are clicking, he isn’t going to change much. When defenders are playing soundly, movement is unncessary. It usually takes Todd Nelson 6-8 games to select his top two lines. He will stick to it come hell or high water. The third and fourth lines usually consist of players drafted or signed to play there. But those same players will move fluidly throughout the third and fourth lines. Gazdic might play left or right wing, and he might be asked to play third or fourth line, for example.

The defenders don’t change often until the team gets in to the thickness of terrible pudding. But again, he likes what he likes.

In summation, Todd Nelson’s future depends on how well he manages the mess that is the Edmonton Oilers. In the remaining 45+ games it would be an amazing feat if he captured 20 wins. That sounds like a giant task, and I’m hopeful for 25+. He is going to have to be entirely flexible, more so now than ever, if he wants this to work. I think success is attainable, but the mountain is high.

“First I must go earn the players’ respect” – Todd Nelson

Photo by Steven Christy

Mike Baldwin, who writes for The Oklahoman here in Oklahoma City, has the first official comments from Todd Nelson on the recent promotion to the Edmonton Oilers. The quotes deserve attention, and unfortunately are buried under a heavy blanket in the NewsOK rotation of sports news. Let’s dig them out of the buried treasure chest. They are really worth seeing.

The full story can be viewed here.

On the quick change from AHL head coach to NHL interim head coach:

“This is an opportunity of a lifetime,” Nelson said by telephone from Charlotte, where the Barons will play the Checkers at 6 p.m. Tuesday. “I’m really excited, and I’m going to try and seize the moment.”

“Because I’ve coached a lot of them it will make the transition easier,” Nelson said. “Even the handful of players I haven’t coached, some of the free agents they signed, I got to know them during (Edmonton’s) training camp before we started our camp here in Oklahoma City.”

On leaving OKC:

“It’s bitter sweet… I’m obviously extremely happy for the opportunity and I’m really excited about it,” Nelson said. “On the other side, this is a city and a hockey club I grew close to, great guys in the locker (room) and great people of Oklahoma City. My wife and I have really enjoyed it here.”

On his future with the Oilers:

“It’s going to be a big challenge, but I feel I’m ready for it,” Nelson said. “There already are some really good pieces to the puzzle. There are some really talented hockey players on that roster. My focus will be to get the guys to play hard for one another, but first I must go earn the players’ respect.”

On further developing players he has coached before:

“Having already developed relationships with a lot of those players, it will help with communication with certain players,” Nelson said. “What I will tell them is we all need to work together to get this going in the right direction. It won’t happen overnight, but we can build, we can get on the right path moving forward.”

Again, read Mike’s full article. It is worth your time.

The Todd Nelson Legacy Is A Win For The Legit

Photo by Steven Christy

On a cold December afternoon three years ago the Oklahoma City Barons hosted an outdoor skate with fans, coaches, and players where all three groups encouraged to mix and mingle. Prior to this engagement I had met Todd Nelson three times. Once at the time of his hire as the new coach of the Oklahoma City Barons. A second time in a one on one interview. And a third time at season-ending exit interview. He was always a kind, cordial, and honest individual that took each question seriously. However on this particular day I had no desire to speak with him about matters that pertain to this website or any other “professional” reason, so I kept my distance, enjoyed the experience with my family in tow, and had a lovely time. As I skated with my four year old around the rink, Todd approached me. Asked how I was, greeted my family, and went on his way. He wasn’t required to do so, but he did, and for that I’m grateful. I’m not sure he remembered me or even recognized my face or name, but he went out of his way to express his gratitude for my involvement with the event.

Todd Nelson exemplifies Oklahoma like many coaches before him (hockey or otherwise). For years Doug Sauter gave us a mustached ride through CHL games with major success while he collected beautiful horses on the weekend. Just like the old hockey coach before him, Nelson is cordial, respectful, driven to succeed, friendly, unassuming, spirited, laser focused – things championed by the Oklahoma spirit. From a personal perspective he was a successful gem that won’t be easily replaced. He is also a legit Oklahoman that we will claim as one of our own.

In the brief times that I had the privilege of talking with him one-on-one about hockey things he would carefully respond with a half-smile to every answer, shake your hand, look you in the eye, and go back to business when completed. He was always prepared to criticize his own mistakes, while taking blame for the missteps of others. He was the captain of his ship, and was willing to go down at the helm if he had to. Players and peers alike respected this, and it earned him high marks beyond the play on the ice.

I’m not prepared to say that character or integrity earned Todd Nelson the job in Edmonton (if only on an interim basis) because Dallas Eakins was probably a high character / high integrity fella as well. I am, however, prepared to look at the five year span of coaching life that Nelson had in OKC, and lay claim to his professional integrity and his personal integrity being two completely “in sync” things.

If given the freedom to wrangle in young so-called stars, he will do so. He will look to veterans to lead the charge more so behind the scenes than in front of the NHL televised camera lens. Assistants will be asked to encourage appropriate routines. Players will need to shoe-horn their knowledge of “scheme” that the previous coach taught, and tweak the minute things to force betterment. He will lean on his goaltender. Game footage will become the perfect visual script for gauging the good versus the bad. Chemistry will appear overnight. Fans will probably champion him. He will win you over.

I hate reading blog posts like this one that dance finely on the “he’s my brother, he’s my friend” motto, but when such an important, local sports figure graces your presence in a market that will largely ignore his efforts, I’ll demand you read on.

I can’t help but get a tad nostalgic about Todd, his family, his talks at summer youth camps, his friendly demeanor at parties, and most of all his love for the icy surface, pucks, and sticks. Five years. It seems like a blip on the radar of the storied minor ice hockey tradition in Oklahoma City, and indeed it was a fiery five seasons. I’ll assume for now that we’ve seen the last of Mr. Nelson in these parts, but his absence will only be replaced by hope. A hope that we one day might see another hockey coach of the same caliber, with the same eye for demonstrating how to do things right, how to behave like a fully padded soldier, how to take your lumps, rise up, and grind out five more good minutes in a third period.

As perplexed as I a by the firing of Dallas Eakins I’m equally as ecstatic and partially nervous for the future of Todd Nelson. Is he the next scapegoat in a lengthening crowd of previous coaches? Can he actually turn nothing into something? Will the changes he makes be absolute, his own, and supported fully? All things yet to be determined.

For now, we will root our coach on. We will cheer for success knowing that the climb is steep and treacherous. The legacy of Todd Nelson, OKC Barons coach, will be an important one for years to come. I’m just glad I was there to see it. You should be too.

Todd Nelson Named Interim Oilers Coach, MacTavish His “Preparer”

After firing Dallas Eakins as head coach of the Edmonton Oilers, GM Craig MacTavish turned his attention to naming a replacement. Beginning almost immediately Todd Nelson will wear the interim head coaching badge with Craig MacTavish helping him making the transition.

MacTavish says that he will be helping coach the team “and eventually hand the duties over to Todd.” As for Oklahoma City, Gerry Fleming will remain in Oklahoma City, and will serve as the head coach of the Barons at least for the remainder of this season. This moves Tony Borgford to a more permanent assistant coach behind the bench.

With no contract signed or any plans scheduled beyond the 14-15 season, the announcement of Todd Nelson as the new Oilers head coach likely catches no one off guard. And while this might feel like an interview period for Todd Nelson, he certainly could find some goodness from the bottom of the well, do some nice things in a half-season run, and leave the Oilers in the dust. Interview or not, he still has a piece in this chess game worth playing.

When Dallas Eakins was hired over a year and a half ago it felt like Todd Nelson had been passed over by the “sexy pick” from Toronto. Eakins was indeed a good AHL coach, but Todd Nelson was a better one. Thus it made the passing on a guy within the system a strange move by every stretch of the imagination.

Nonetheless, here we are, having come full circle, and Nelson gets a chance to motivate a defeated squad. You will recall that he coached Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz during the lockout season. Add Brandon Davidson, Oscar Klefbom, Keith Aulie, Marc Arcobello etc., etc. to the list, and you realize that Nelson is familiar with the faces in the locker room. He has coached thirteen players active on the Edmonton Oilers roster at the time of his promotion. That’s exciting news, and gives him the leg up on Eakins even before he starts.

More thoughts on Nelson to come, stay tuned.

Oklahoma City Recall C.J. Ludwig, Team With 6 Defenders

Photo by Steven Christy

There were five defenders in the Oklahoma City Barons lineup as of Monday morning with the recent recall of Brad Hunt (and the furthering NHL seasoning of Brandon Davidson and Oscar Klefbom with the Oilers). With games forthcoming it was inevitable that the Barons would need to recall someone from Bakersfield, and indeed they have selected a candidate.

C.J. Ludwig, who has logged ice time on both AHL and ECHL teams in the Oilers organization, is a very capable minor league defender. Todd Nelson’s use of him as a PKer was masterful, and it perhaps pointed to the Texans maturation as a player.

C.J. Ludwig’s stats through December 15th:

2014-2015 GP G A PTS PIM
Oklahoma City Barons AHL 8 1 1 2 13
Bakersfield Condors ECHL 7 1 5 6 2

Dallas Eakins Fired As Head Coach In Edmonton

Update:

I’ve been gone from this site for two weeks, and pick today to make a triumphant return to the “real” world. It just so happens to coincide with the exact date and time that Dallas Eakins is fired as the head coach of the Edmonton Oilers. After less than two and a half seasons, Eakins will ride off in to the sunset (with many years remaining on his contract). No replacement has been named yet although speculation of both Todd Nelson and Craig MacTavish have been mentioned.

In the event that Nelson heads to the NHL there is a great chance that Gerry Flemming becomes your head coach on the farm with Tony Borgford moving more to a bench role (currently doing both video, and bench for third periods)

More updates forthcoming as time marches on.