10 Points: Oklahoma, the lockout, and John Muckler

Jonathan Willis
October 08 2012 12:13PM

After the jump: thoughts on the latest moves in Oklahoma City, wondering how long the lockout will last, and getting John Muckler's views on being an NHL general manager.

1. Philippe Cornet sent to Stockton. This was a big surprise for me, particularly given some of the other players left in training camp. Cornet rode a hot shooting percentage to 24 goals and a 2-game NHL call-up last season; now he’ll play in the ECHL. As surprising as the move was, though, I’m not confident it’s one I can disagree with – Cornet’s not in my view a guy with long-term NHL upside, and while I’m skeptical about some of the other players kept if the Oilers are more bullish on them, they may as well get the opportunity.

2. Toni Rajala and Teigan Zahn sent to Stockton. No surprises here. I liked the Rajala selection when it was made but the tiny Finn simply hasn’t put up the necessary offence and is all but a write-off at this point. Zahn’s simply a victim of a strong AHL roster.

3. Ryan Martindale survives. Lowetide’s been writing about Ryan Martindale’s exceptional performance in the pre-season, and it’s looking like it might just pay off. Martindale picked up 15 points in 34 ECHL games a year ago in a season that decimated his status as a prospect. Now, he’s making noise and has outlasted a pretty good AHL’er in Cornet – it’s still a very long-shot, but a good season here could help save his career, a la Liam Reddox in 2007-08.

4. Kristians Pelss survives. Pelss is, in some ways, the most interesting prospect in the organization because he keeps getting pushes despite less than ideal size and some miserable offensive numbers. Toni Rajala, demoted today, was a better offensive player in the WHL at 18 than Pelss was at 19. The same can be said for Cornet. Drew Czerwonka had highly comparable numbers but wasn’t offered a pro contract by Edmonton.

Everybody loves Pelss’ total game, but his offence is so low at this juncture that it’s hard to imagine him ever scoring enough to stick in the majors. If he makes the Barons this year, it will be a huge win for the player.

5. Oklahoma’s lines. Jason Gregor’s post this morning is terrific and has coach Todd Nelson spelling out his plans. Here’s what we know, based on Nelson’s words and the cuts this morning:

That leaves six forward slots (four wing position, two spares) for eight forwards. It’s all but certain that Dane Byers will get one of those slots. That leaves five spots for Mark Arcobello, Curtis Hamilton, Ryan Martindale, Tanner House, Antti Tyrvainen, Kristians Pelss and Cameron Abney. Antti Tyrvainen is on the shelf right now, though it’s unclear whether he’s day-to-day or worse.

My guess is that Pelss and Abney are eventually sent out, but then I wasn’t expecting Cornet to go so anything could happen. 

Update: Todd Nelson says the team will hang on to 16 forwards - including Tyrvainen for now. Interesting.

6. I don’t see a full-season lockout. The question I get the most is, ‘when will the lockout end?’ I’m still betting that the NHL is playing hockey by January 2013 – it simply doesn’t make financial sense for the owners to hold out all year, even if they get the CBA they want, and it doesn’t make sense for the players unless the salary cap disappears (which won’t happen).

7. Games from other leagues. The KHL has been running for some time now, as have other European leagues. The AHL gets under way this week. It’s time for the Canadian sports channels to start showing hockey again. TSN has been showing classic games – they have another one this week – but other than that there’s been precious little to see. Given the talent in the minors and overseas, I can’t help but think there’d be a pretty good audience for the Barons, the Marlies and all the rest.

8. Constituencies. Last week’s Adam Proteau interview with Donald Fehr was interesting in a lot of ways. This exchange in particular caught my eye:

THN: With the scope of the clawbacks and the initial attempt to tie down player movement, if you had agreed to their demands, would we be looking at dragging the NHLPA back to the pre-Ted-Lindsay days? DF: Not quite that far, but if I had agreed to it in theory, I suspect it would have been the last thing I would have done and been promptly repudiated, so we wouldn’t be worried about Don. Don would be back home trying to clean the house and spend some time in Arizona.

Both Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr ultimately hold their positions only by the grace of their respective constituencies. Much has been made of the way it takes a majority of owners to shut down Bettman, and how Donald Fehr’s time re-writing the NHLPA constitution has ensconced him in the top job. Ultimately, however, if Bettman’s moves don’t meet with the approval of the majority of ownership, he will be ousted. Ditto for Fehr and the players.

In short: this lockout isn’t the work of two men, or even the combined dozens of negotiators on each side. It is instead the creation of dozens of owners and hundreds of players.

9. Evgeni Malkin’s still getting it done. I was happy to see this goal on television this morning:

10. The courage of your convictions. From Behind the Moves, this is long-time executive John Muckler talking about his management philosophy:

I always felt that any job I went into – I learned this from Emile [Francis] – I was going to do what I thought was best. Because there was going to be a time when you’re going to get fired one way or the other, and you want to be able to walk out from that organization and say, ‘I did it my way. I thought it was the best way. I’m not sorry for what I did.’ … If you don’t do it your way and you end up behind the eight ball, then you feel you haven’t done your job. I was never going to let that happen to me. At the same time, I also realized that the owner is the owner. I’m working for him. He has the right to come and tell me his way that we should do certain things. I accept that. I accept that … but I still do it my way. If I think [something] is going to hurt the organization, I won’t do it. I’ve always put the team before everything. That’s my responsibility. That’s the general manager’s responsibility.

At the end of the day, the person in the position of responsibility owns the record. Steve Tambellini is the general manager of the Edmonton Oilers – if he’s letting someone else drive the organization, he’s only hurting himself, because he owns the record. It’s the same thing for the head scout, or the head coach, or whatever. The guy making the decisions isn’t doing himself any favours in the long-run if he does something poorly at the behest of the man above him on the food chain.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, 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 LOPEZ99
October 08 2012, 12:22PM
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FIST

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#4 The Soup Fascist
October 08 2012, 01:21PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Also of interest: the Nelson interview on the Oilers' site suggests that Hartikainen's spot is going to Martindale, at least to start.

Hartikainen's always been a slow starter.

A habit he may want to break down the road, if he ever wants to make the Oilers out of camp.

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#5 Trufflepig
October 08 2012, 01:50PM
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In regards to the Cornet move.

In Gregors article on Nelson, the coach says that they have to figure out what the best situation is for individual players. Whether that is to send them down to the ECHL so that they can get top minute playing time, and confidence, or play every second game in the A. In Cornets case, I think that the top 6 minutes are too crowded right now, and most likely Cornet was sent down because he did have a good season last year, and needs to keep getting minutes in order to continue his growth. That most likely wont happen in the A with the top line being oilers, and the second line being borderline oilers.

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#6 Giant Squid Overlord
October 08 2012, 02:19PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Also of interest: the Nelson interview on the Oilers' site suggests that Hartikainen's spot is going to Martindale, at least to start.

Hartikainen's always been a slow starter.

Harti seemed to allude to his training this summer as what sounded to me as "business as usual" when you always want to hear about players stepping it up or focusing on certain elements in the offseason. For a traditionally slow starter it is more disheartening.

Yet from the sounds of his preseason game, he brought it, combining for success with Martindale, so perhaps he's raring to go.

Either way, I think this move to put Martindale on line 2 has more to do with Martindale than having anything to do with Hartikainen.

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#7 David
October 08 2012, 04:15PM
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From watching many Oil Kings playoff games last year I was impressed every game with Pelss. He'll never be more than a third to fourth line energy guy in the NHL but he's fast, fairly defensively responsible, great work ethic and scored some goals. At this point in his career, his first pro year, I couldn't care less whether he's in the ECHL or the AHL but I think he could become one of the key depth players on a NHL team needed to win the Stanley Cup. I really liked what I saw from him in the playoffs.

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#8 RexLibris
October 08 2012, 05:54PM
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I'm happy about the Cornet and Rajala moves, to be honest. I felt that neither had shown the necessary push since finishing their junior careers to be given AHL ice-time, a scarcity this fall.

I'm not surprised about Pelss. I think I managed to convince Steve, Ralph and Todd the other day that he belongs on the roster. ;-)

Seriously though, these moves signal to me that the organization is serious about rewarding what players are doing today, not where they were drafted or how they performed last season. I guess we'll see how that works out in the long run, but from here it sounds like a meritocracy.

I'm not sure about the season. Part of me feels that January is the more likely, but then another part of me reads about their failed meetings and the battle of egos and thinks this relationship is a long way from thawing.

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#9 Dog Train
October 08 2012, 08:06PM
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The big story to me out of Barons' camp is the play of Martindale. He has an offensive pedigree and some size so I like that Nelson is giving him an opportunity right away to catch fire in the top six. Cornet likely needed to crack the top six because guys like Hamilton and Byers seem penciled in to the bottom six on the wings.

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