Moving In Different Directions: Minor League Teams

Jonathan Willis
February 09 2009 11:30AM

springfield-falcons

The Oilers have two minor-league affiliates: the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL, and the Springfield Falcons of the AHL. Back at the end of December, both teams were struggling; the Falcons had lost six games in a row, while the Thunder had lost three games in three nights and were winless in five games. Here are both teams records as of December 29th, and please keep in mind that the ECHL doesn’t have a “loser point”, so Stockton’s third column represents a tie, while in Springfield it represents an overtime loss.

Stockton Thunder: 10-20-1 Springfield Falcons: 12-16-5

If we view the teams solely from a win/loss perspective, Stockton is 10/20, and Springfield 12/21. The records were similar, and both teams were in the middle of slumps. The management on the two teams reacted differently, however. In Stockton, the ownership dismissed head coach Chris Cichocki (incidentally, Stockton president Dan Chapman issued one of the classiest coach-firing quotes I’ve ever seen), replacing him with Matt Thomas, the young but highly successful ex-coach of the Fresno Falcons. Additionally, the team brought in five players from the collapsed Falcons team, all of whom are decent but not outstanding ECHL players.

Springfield made changes as well. Early in January, team President Bruce Landon publicly complained about the lack of changes made by the Oilers’ hierarchy; despite his title as President and General Manager, Landon has very little say in personnel decisions, as the Edmonton Oilers (chiefly Kevin Prendergast) have the final say on all roster moves. Within the next week, the Oilers brought in free agent Shane Willis, traded for Ryan Stone, and offered Patrick Bordeleau a professional tryout. They chose not to make any coaching changes.

Here are the teams’ records after December 29th:

Stockton Thunder: 13-3-1 Springfield Falcons: 4-11-2

In terms of straight wins/losses, that’s 13/3 to 4/13; records that are almost precisely opposite each other. Now, some may argue that Springfield has suffered from call-up issues, but consider for a moment that Stockton was forced to sign a defenseman who hadn’t played a competitive game in two seasons, and dress two forwards as defensemen because injuries and call-ups have reduced their roster to 14 skaters. Stockton hasn’t been any luckier than Springfield; in point of fact they’ve faced far greater adversity in terms of injuries and call-ups.

Let’s consider, for a moment, the career numbers of the forwards with one or more previous AHL seasons who are currently in Springfield, because there’s an interesting and rather disturbing pattern. Percentage Change reflects the percentage change in the player’s points-per-game from last year, and I’ve ignored all players with small sample sizes (Brule, Stone, Spurgeon, Reddox, etc.)

Ryan Potulny

2006-07: 30GP – 12G – 14A – 26 PTS 2007-08: 58GP – 21G – 26A – 47 PTS 2008-09: 41GP – 22G – 14A – 36 PTS Percentage Change: +8 %

Rob Schremp

2006-07: 69GP – 17G – 36A – 53 PTS 2007-08: 78GP – 23G – 53A – 76 PTS 2008-09: 39GP – 5G- 23A – 28 PTS Percentage Change: -26 %

Carl Corazzini

2006-07: 68GP – 28G – 29A – 57 PTS 2007-08: 80GP – 24G – 36A – 60 PTS 2008-09: 50GP – 7G – 12A – 19 PTS Percentage Change: -49 %

Vyacheslav Trukhno

2007-08: 64GP – 14G – 21A – 35 PTS 2008-09: 32GP – 3G – 14A – 17 PTS Percentage Change: -3 %

Colin McDonald

2007-08: 73GP – 12G – 11A – 23 PTS 2008-09: 47GP – 4G – 5A – 9 PTS Percentage Change: -39 %

Ryan O’Marra

2007-08: 31GP – 2G – 7A – 9 PTS 2008-09: 37GP – 1G – 4A – 5 PTS Percentage Change: -53 %

Tim Sestito

2007-08: 77GP – 7G – 10A – 17 PTS 2008-09: 37GP – 3G – 1A – 4 PTS Percentage Change: -51 %

On average, these players have lost just over 30% of their offense from last season. That number is even worse when you consider that aside from Corazzini, these players are all in the upswing of their career; in other words, even a 0% change would not be a neutral score, as these players should be improving offensively.

Still, let’s look beyond the individual scoring numbers and compare the team’s ability as a whole to score and prevent goals to last season. Last season the Falcons scored 214 goals and allowed 257 over 80 games, meaning they scored 2.68 goals per game on average while allowing 3.21 goals against (apparently Kelly Buchberger is a big fan of fire-wagon hockey). This year, they’ve score 112 goals and allowed 153 through 50 games, numbers which average out to 2.24 goals for and 3.06 goals against per game. That means that Jeff Truitt has this team scoring .42 goals less per game, while allowing .15 goals less against – the upshot of which is that for every goal that isn’t scored on the Falcons this season, they score three less.

Combine all of this with some funny personnel decisions – demoting players like Cody Wild and to the ECHL while Bryan Young and Mathieu Roy remain with the team, for example – and there’s a pretty compelling case for the removal of Jeff Truitt as head coach of the Springfield Falcons.

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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 rindog
February 09 2009, 11:50AM
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It could be just me????

But it seems as though there might be a hidden message in this article that relates to team not called the "Springfielsd Falcons".

I wonder????

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#2 Bruce
February 09 2009, 11:53AM
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Outstanding post, Jonathan. Potulny seems to be the only finisher on the squad, but it's a sad situation when he has more Goals than Schremp, Trukhno, McDonald, O'Marra and Corazzini combined. Egads.

It's not hard to conclude Jeff Truitt isn't exactly the next coming of Claude Julien. And it shouldn't be a hard decision to conclude Jeff Truitt.

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#3 Colin
February 09 2009, 12:04PM
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Wow. The new guy in Stockton seems to be quite good, maybe he can replace Truit?

But yeah when everyone's numbers in springfield are down (Potulny being the exception to prove the rule) so drastically It pretty well has to be coaching.

Then again it's not like this management team(including coaches) seem to take responsibility for it's mistakes anyway. Mediocrity enough for the farm and big team.

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#4 Matt N
February 09 2009, 12:04PM
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There are only two types of players that should be on an AHL roster.

1- Developing prospects with an upside. Think Peckham or Schremp. Young guys who have the potential to be NHL roster players, and are in the AHL to work on improving their games.

2- Proven Veterans who can contribute. Think Jake Taylor or Carl Corazzini. These guys are there to get your team to the playoffs and show the group 1 guys the way it should be done. The problem is that these guys cost money.

There is a 3rd group that Springfield has to many of

3- Prospects that have crossed the line to suspects and are just filler on the roster. No hope of going to the show and not really driving the team in the A. Think Guillaume Lefebvre or Mike Gabinet. The only thing that is valuable about these guys to the organization is that they are cheap roster fillers.

I think that the affiliation between the Oilers and the Falcons will end this year, by mutual agreement. They will end up with an AHL franchise somewhere in the west / Midwest. Hopefully, they will be willing to support the new franchise better and create a winning atmosphere. In the meantime, we have to hope that the lost season in the A doesn't do some irreparable damage to some of our prospects.

@ Jonathon:

It used to be common to have dual affiliations in the minors, where 2 NHL clubs kept the shelves stocked with prospects and shared expenses. Why does that not happen any more? It seems like a very smart way to run an AHL team.

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#5 Colin
February 09 2009, 12:08PM
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From the Stockton press release jonathon linked to about the coaching change:

"We haven't been able to perform at a level our fans deserve so we felt now was the time to make this change in hopes of signifcantly improving our hockey team."

The Oilers management could learn from that, you'd think, specifically the 10th to 12th words.

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#6 I Am The Law
February 09 2009, 12:09PM
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@ Matt N

Jonathon probably has a better answer than I, but I believe part of the reason for moving away from dual-affiliations is that the parent club will be able to develop players better. One of the reasons cited for the Oilers' goaltending-development woes is because the Montreal Canadiens (when we shared Hamilton), played their goalies in front of ours, and ours didn't get any time. The way it's done now, the parent club calls the shots, can send down or call up whoever they need, and can develop as they see fit.

@ Jonathon

This is an incredibly insightful article. Sounds like I'm sucking-up (for what purpose, though?), but I just wanted to give huge props for looking into this. I think it sends a variety of messages that should be heeded by the Oilers organization as a whole.

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#7 Colin
February 09 2009, 12:14PM
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Matt N wrote:

@ Jonathon: It used to be common to have dual affiliations in the minors, where 2 NHL clubs kept the shelves stocked with prospects and shared expenses. Why does that not happen any more? It seems like a very smart way to run an AHL team.

Playing time. Both teams will likely have several guys that they want to have top six/top pairing minutes as well as a goaltender(or two). Not enough minutes to go around.

The Oilers did this for awhile and I think it'd be fair to say; it really hurt the development of some of the young prospects.

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#8 Jonathan Willis
February 09 2009, 12:20PM
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RE: Dual affiliations. I Am The Law pretty much nailed it; Jeff Deslauriers (as an example) had a few years of screwy development because he couldn't get any games in at the AHL level. One team always seems to own the AHL affiliate, and thus their players get the priority. Imagine, again as an example, what any team sharing Edmonton's AHL affiliate would think if Taylor Chorney and his green jacket got to play ahead of their top defense prospect. Another consideration is that with a good AHL team you can groom your organizational people for more responsibility.

With that said, teams short on cash might be well-advised to consider it, because it is a fair bit of money to run one, but a team with a rich owner (ie Edmonton) really doesn't have an excuse not to have thier own famr team, in my opinion.

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#9 oilerdago
February 09 2009, 01:12PM
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@ Jonathan,

Great stuff as always Jonathan. To me, the wasted asset in the Oilers organization right now is Rob Daum. The man has proved himself on a number of levels with the organization and at the U of A and Jeff Truitt has not.

One thing that I'm wondering is that while the Oilers will spend money, they are not willing to "cut their losses". Management may couch it in terms of "patience", but my sense is that Oiler management says - "this is how much money" you have and if you want to make a change, you'll pay for it yourself. Stockton had the ability to force a change.

And since Springfield's obviously not making any money, their President/GM may not have the financial latitude to can the coach.

I'm not saying, but it would not surprise me.

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#10 Jonathan Willis
February 09 2009, 03:02PM
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@ oilerdago:

Well, Truitt's been coaching in the WHL and AJHL for 15 years, so it in't like he hasn't done his time at the junior level. That said, the results this year have been brutal, and it's difficult not to place some of the blame on the coach.

Given that the Oilers are willing to pay Mathieu Roy his NHL contract in Springfield (rather than buying him out) I'd suggest it probably isn't about money, although I can't be sure.

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#11 oilerdago
February 09 2009, 05:27PM
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@Jonathan:

Thanks for the background on Truitt. Did not realize his coaching pedigree. But with that said (and with Daum in the fold), why do you go out and add him in the first place - unless you don't see Daum as a future coach? And frankly that's a mistake (as we've see with the cluster-you-know-what in Springfield).

Also, let me clarify my money argument. Katz is a smart businessman. You don't become as wealthy as he has by just throwing money around with no plan. You have a budget, you live within it and you live with the consequences.

There was nothing he could do about Roy's contract as know one in the league was interested in picking him up when he was assigned to the AHL back last fall. So Lowe and Tambo are stuck with a diminished asset that they have to overpay on.

While he's willing to get a superstar (because Lowe tells him that's what will put us over the top), he's not willing to go MLSE and do buy-outs. Maybe he'll hold be accountable for results at the end of the day across the entire organization instead of allowing it only at the ECHL level.

But I'm waiting to see him walk the walk.

So far, I don't think anyone has seen any accountability yet (except at the ECHL level) so we can only wonder what's going on behind the scenes.

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#12 Oilersordeath
February 09 2009, 05:29PM
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Our future looks very bleek boys, not liking the direction its heading. I'm jumping ship Im now afficialy a Kings fan.

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#13 Chris
February 09 2009, 05:30PM
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It's okay. Peckham, who is arguably the best defenceman on the Sprinfield roster, is back to save Sprinfield after another brutal and disappointing NHL appearance. Peckam has been billed as a Matt Green type D-Man: big, aggressive, and defensively responsible. Peckham, unlike Green, looked completely out of place given the opportunity to strut his stuff in the big show. Peckham looked, slow, tentative, and completely outclassed. He was a minus two in extremely limited ice-time. (9 shifts averaging 49 seconds) I know it was the Red Wings. I know the whole team played poorly... But if that is your best effort... Forget the show kid! You are miles away from being ready. Demoted after only 9 shifts. Don't most AHL'ers have at least two or three descent games in them from just sheer adrenalin when called up? Don't like our depth at D on the farm at all...

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#14 Jonathan Willis
February 09 2009, 08:08PM
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Chris wrote:

Peckham, unlike Green, looked completely out of place given the opportunity to strut his stuff in the big show. Peckham looked, slow, tentative, and completely outclassed.

Isn't that pretty much a word for word description of Matt Greene from the 2005-06 playoffs? Cory Cross, but more inclined to take stupid penalties?

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#15 Matt N
February 09 2009, 09:20PM
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Why is it that when we have someone here the fans hate him (Greene, Lupul, Pitkanen, etc.) then when they leave town they are suddenly looked upon by fans with rose colored "remember-when" glasses.

I will be the first to admit that Greene is playing at a level with the Kings that I didn't think he had, but when he was here he was considered barely serviceable for the 3rd pairing.

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#16 Jonathan Willis
February 09 2009, 09:39PM
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@ Matt N:

I don't get it either. All of a sudden, people are mad that the Oilers traded Stoll/Greene for Lubomir Visnovsky.

Oh how I wish I were making that up.

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#17 Antony Ta
February 09 2009, 10:11PM
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Would Craig Hartsburg be too pricey for Springfield? I think changes on our AHL farm team will need to be drastic.

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#18 Jonathan Willis
February 09 2009, 10:23PM
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Antony Ta wrote:

Would Craig Hartsburg be too pricey for Springfield? I think changes on our AHL farm team will need to be drastic.

Probably not if you whisper to him that whoever coaches Springfield for the rest of the year may have a shot at MacTavish's job.

Anthony, did you see my comment on your blog about that cullen article?

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#19 Jonathan Willis
February 10 2009, 09:06AM
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They've replaced Truitt with Daum. Holy cow.

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#20 I Am The Law
February 10 2009, 09:16AM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

Damn Willis! You got some pull it seems!!

Now, if only they weren't 90 miles away from me, I'd go and see some Falcons games to see the improvement! (I have no car because I'm a poor student...)

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