Something's wrong in Springfield

Jonathan Willis
January 16 2009 08:49AM

So, as I generally do when I miss a game, I watched the highlights this morning and read through the game-day threads here at OilersNation and over at Lowetide. Anyways, with the exception of Sheldon Souray’s fight, which was just about the greatest thing ever, it looks like I picked a great game to miss. So I’m not going to write about it this morning. Except to say that for everybody pining for Brule, I understand your love but given his penchant for taking asinine penalties I wouldn’t play him all that much either (I have a similar theory on Moreau, by the way).

Instead, I thought I’d comment on a link that somebody was nice enough to point out in Lowetide’s game-day thread. That link takes you to an open letter to Springfield fans from team President/GM/part-owner Bruce Landon. It’s a must-read. For example, there’s this paragraph:

Hershey has significant revenues. They are able to offer their parent club additional dollars over and above their affiliation payment to sign certain veteran players they target in the off-season. Chicago and Winnipeg can do the same. Teams like Springfield, Syracuse, Binghamton, Albany etc, do not have that luxury and basically are at the mercy of our NHL team to provide us with the best team they can, within the confines of the budget they have to work with. You have teams in our League who are owned by an NHL team and therefore have an interest in every fan that goes through the turnstile. It makes sense for these NHL teams to do the very best they can, to make sure their AHL owned team has success and therefore can draw well.

The bolding in the above quote was done by me, but doesn’t it sound like Landon is implying that the Oilers don’t really care about the fans in Springfield? When the Oilers were looking for an AHL team, the brass were very specific about finding a team with local owners; that really makes sense if they didn’t expect their minor-league team to turn a profit.

Here are a couple of other excerpts:

As an independent ownership group, we have very little input into our on ice product that eventually affects our bottom line. We also have to understand that our choices are limited, as to who is available as an NHL partner if Edmonton and Springfield were to end their agreement.

Someone on MassLive made the comment, that if we don’t have the resources to sign players and make the team competitive, than we should sell to someone who can. All I can say to that is, if you know of someone who is interested please have them give me a call. Perhaps the best case scenario for hockey in Springfield would be to find an NHL team that is willing to own and operate the franchise.

Landon’s been pretty classy in his public statements as rumours swirl that the Oilers do not intend to renew their affiliation with Springfield. He’s basically said that the Oilers have been up-front with him, and they have the right to look at other options. Still, he’s obviously frustrated with the player choices that the Oilers have made, and with the continued losses, both on-ice and financial.

I do know this: for Landon to publicly speculate on a different NHL partner, he must be near the end of his patience.

Finally, for the one person who said I should demand that Edmonton makes changes, I assure you that Edmonton is well aware of our on ice problems over the past several weeks. I speak to Kevin Prendergast from Edmonton almost on a daily basis. They are disappointed about the position of the team. Kevin has spoken to every team in the NHL about a possible trade. Offers have been made. As they say, it takes two to tango. So far nothing has happened, but that does not mean they are not trying.

I work closely with Kevin in providing him with possible names of players who may be available, either for a PTO (pro try-out agreement) or an AHL contract. I do this through-out the summer when free agency begins and all season long. Kevin runs the names through his scouting department and then a decision is made as to whether or not the player is deemed worthy of an offer. However, all final decisions on players are made in Edmonton.

Kevin Prendergast, although not officially the GM of the Falcons, is the man primarily responsible for roster makeup on the AHL team. Landon says that Prendergast is trying, but trades are difficult to make; that seems nonsensical to me. That excuse has been floated again and again in Edmonton, while we’ve watched other teams pull off mid-season trades for whatever they needed. With Sanford and Luongo both injured, Canucks GM Mike Gillis burned a 7th round pick to get Jason Labarbera. When the goalies returned, he waived Sanford. It isn’t exactly maximizing his assets, but there’s a pretty simple equation that Gillis seems to get:

7th-round pick < competent goaltending over three or four games

There isn’t always a perfect deal to be made, and sometimes teams need to make trades strictly with the short-term in mind. Competent goaltending over three or four games can be the difference between playoffs/no playoffs, or between a first round date with the Sharks or the Flames.

But, you ask, why should Oilers fans worry about Springfield? Maybe it’s just me, but I firmly believe that a developmental system should have a winning track record. Prospects should be developed in a culture that doesn’t tolerate losing, and they should experience the feeling of being the team other teams are gunning for. They should need to go through a tough playoff series at the minor-league level.

Maybe Prendergast got the message from Landon. This morning, the Falcons signed Shane Willis to a professional tryout. Willis (no relation) was once a promising NHL’er, scoring 20 goals and 44 points in 2000-01. That year, Carolina played New Jersey in the first round of the playoffs, and two games in, Willis met Scott Stevens. He’s had injury troubles off and on for most of his career, managing just one game last season because of a neck injury. He is, however, a former Falcons captain and if he can stay healthy he should add some needed offensive punch, as Oilers prospects Rob Schremp, Vyacheslav Trukhno and Bryan Lerg have been inconsistent, while other top AHL players (Reddox, Brule, Potulny) have been recalled to the NHL.

The bottom line is that the Falcons have a ton of ground to make up, and with the management and coaching staff continually making questionable decisions, it’s unlikely that they’ll do it. The Oilers have not done a good job this season in providing a stable farm team, and while Falcons fans have to suffer through that now, I’d imagine the ramifications will be felt down the road as prospects fail to take the next step.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Mike Krushelnyski
January 16 2009, 12:28PM
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Interesting read, good on Landon for being so blunt.

I think it speaks to the arrogance of Oilers upper management. "It's our team and we'll mismanage it however we damn well please!"

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#2 shakey
January 16 2009, 12:37PM
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See what happens when you take Toby Reddox out of a line-up? Mac T knows what he's doing up here...just you watch.

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#3 Dennis
January 16 2009, 02:24PM
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50 contracts!

50 Contracts!!

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#4 raged
January 16 2009, 02:44PM
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Nice article, if you penned it during the game you chose a much more productive usage of time than I did. For the record I thought that penalty on Brule at the end of the game was a joke. Brule was chasing the puck through a small crowd, and his skate blade took out another guys skate, inadvertently. Maybe still a penalty, although harsh, but nothing in Moreaus realm of ridiculousness. I think Brule should be on this team to stay

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#5 Greg MC
January 16 2009, 03:48PM
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Very interesting article, thanks Jonathan!

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#6 The Zamboni Driver
January 16 2009, 04:04PM
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That is 50 NHL contracts my friend, not 50 contracts total. There are players playing for Springfield that only have AHL contracts.

http://www.nhlnumbers.com/overview.php?team=EDM&season=0809

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#7 Wanye Gretz
January 16 2009, 04:41PM
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Fantastic article Willis you cad. Now if Shane Willis isn't relation I am assuming Bruce Willis is right?

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#8 Oilersordeath
January 16 2009, 05:06PM
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I agree with raged, Brule has played very well. I think he should stay, could possibly develope chemistry with someone like a Hemsky if given a chance. He has the shoot first mentality thats for sure.@ raged:

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#9 Chris
January 16 2009, 05:38PM
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All this speaks to my theory that Predergast and Oiler scouting in general simply isn't that great.

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#10 Dennis
January 16 2009, 05:44PM
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Zam: I Know that, I just didn't know how many other people know that and if the Oilers are gonna throw that up as an excuse if someone snoops around.

I'm not saying the Oilers are slashing-and-burning in SF but if they are pretty sure they won't be there again come the 2010 season then they're probably not gonna kill themselves trying to get the team into the playoffs, either.

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#11 Jonathan Willis
January 16 2009, 06:00PM
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Wanye Gretz wrote:

Fantastic article Willis you cad. Now if Shane Willis isn’t relation I am assuming Bruce Willis is right?

Cousin Bruce? Absolutely!

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#12 Chris
January 16 2009, 07:58PM
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The Falcons are doing a wonderful job preparing our prospects to be Oilers. The Falcons are in the bottom of their division...The Oilers are tied with the injury riddled Avalanche for the bottom of the North-West. Should be an easy jump. What really gets me is that The Providence Bruins are first in the Eastern Conference Atlantic Division; The Grand Rapids Griffins (Red Wing Affiliate) are tops of the West Conference North Division; and even The San Jose affiliate Steel Hounds are a solid team: only 6 points back of Providence with three games in hand... The Falcons are not only bad- They ARE AWFUL! Practically in last place in a 29 team league. Pregergast clearly cannot find or stock an AHL team with talent. Why is he our head scout? Lowe made fun of Burke for leaving Nonnis with bare cupboards, called out Bobby Ryan etc... Well last time I looked the Manitoba Moose were chasing the Griffens for top spot in the competative North Division, and Bobby Ryan is a big bad point a game guy in the NHL. What, with their unique perspective on things, Lowe And Predergast make a good team... TOO BAD NEITHER CAN BUILD ONE!

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#13 Jonathan Willis
January 17 2009, 01:56AM
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Chris wrote:

Pregergast clearly cannot find or stock an AHL team with talent. Why is he our head scout?

I'm nitpicking, but the Oilers' head scout is Stu MacGregor.

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#14 Chris
January 17 2009, 11:17AM
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@ Jonathan Willis: Sorry. I knew that. And the Oilers are now only a few points out of fifth in the west. I was in full scale rant mode... The continued woe's of the Oiler farm system is a source of great concern and aggravation to me... Draft and development: the mantra of a successful franchise. I tend to pick on our draft record; maybe it's time to take a hard critical look at the development aspect.

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#15 Mike
January 17 2009, 11:49AM
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Chris wrote:

I tend to pick on our draft record; maybe it’s time to take a hard critical look at the development aspect.

From the 2003 draft on up, the Oilers have drafted or acquired Pouliot, Nilsson, Brodziak, Stortini, Potulny, Reddox, Cogliano, Gagner, Brule, Smid.

ALL of them are currently with the Oilers. No wonder Springfield has no skill! But it's tough to say Springfield is doing a bad job of developing our prospects when they're running McDonald and Lerg as a top line.

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#16 Chris
January 17 2009, 12:10PM
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I know we have pushed many of our young prospects into action at the NHL level to the detriment of the Falcons. I'm not asking our farm team to dominate or be number one: that is what I expect of the Oilers after twenty years of rebuilding... But what is happpening in Sprinfield is an embarassment.

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#17 car insurance
February 07 2009, 06:51PM
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good site!

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