December 19 2012 09:42AM
Dream Rivalry Alive
The Abbotsford Heat sit atop their AHL conference while the Barons are struggling to stay in the playoff picture
In Calgary this is greeted with great joy, dancing in the streets, and various acts of nefarious merriment with barnyard animals*. In Edmonton, well, that isn’t really our thing.
*This may or may not be true.
So based on the cackling voices about the Barons poor performance, and by extension the Oilers rebuilding efforts, being thus revealed as a futile effort that will inevitably end in ignominy, I decided to dig a little deeper into the status of the two AHL teams and their success thus far.
Here is what I found.
I began by taking a look at goaltending. This has been an area of great strength for the Heat this season. In fact, Barry Brust and Danny Taylor sit 1st and 2nd in the AHL goaltender statistical categories, whereas Yann Danis is a meager 22nd, and Olivier Roy doesn’t even rate due to the limited number of games he has played.
Advantage appears to go to the Heat there. More on that in a minute.
Now let’s have a look at the point producers for each team. Here is a breakdown of the players for both teams based on their number of points and where they sit out of the top 400 in the AHL. (numbers taken from AHL.com effective December 17th)
Baertschi has played only 17 games due to a neck/concussion injury, so his points total is likely slightly lower than it ought to be. By the same token, Hall has played only 18 games this season and Nugent-Hopkins is currently away at the World Juniors after only 19 games. The point totals of all three players are not entirely representative.
Now, taking the list of players above, I have italicized those who are AHL rookies. Players in bold are those who were acquired as free agents - in other words not through draft or trade. An asterisk sits next to the players who are employed not by the NHL parent club, but by the AHL team itself, and therefore are not property of the NHL team.
A quick glance tells you a few things.
First is that Eberle and Schultz are taking this league to the woodshed.
Second might be the narrow margin between 20th and 80th place on the points standings.
But aside from that, the Oilers farm team is being dominated by their core players in Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, and apparently Schultz. As well, the Oilers have an organizational stake in every one of their leading players, as well as a number of others spinning their wheels, but more on them in a minute.
The Heat, meanwhile, are getting yeoman’s work from their players, including Street and Walter, both AHL veterans. Baertschi appears to be, when healthy, coming along at a reasonable rate in his development. However, the Heat are being dominated by, and indeed dominating the AHL with, their goaltenders, both of whom have no contract with the Flames themselves. Meanwhile, the goaltender with an actual Flames pedigree, Leland Irving, is sitting out most games. More on him in a moment, too.
Now for the bad news (with baby animals)
The Barons are suffering from the lack of complementary play from some of their depth. It may not stand out, but what ought to be noticeable, and rather unsettling, is the complete omission of players like Anton Lander, Curtis Hamilton and Tyler Pitlick from this list at all. I went through the top 400 players in the AHL, and they are nowhere to be found.
When the lockout occurred, and the Oilers trio were sent to OKC, I had anticipated that players like Pitlick might suffer from the reduced playing time and role. I hadn’t anticipated this. Jonathan Willis has a great article on this very topic up at OilersNation right now.
Things might change, but right now the future, at least of the bottom six, is looking decidedly less-bright. As the old saying goes, this too shall pass.
As for the Heat…
I'd start by taking a look at who the best players are on the team, how they came to be with the Heat and what relationship they have to the Flames organization. That isn’t a good sign. The best performers, outside of Horak and Baertschi, are AHL free agents who combined have a single NHL goal between them. In terms of how the Heat’s performance-to-date might translate to the NHL, the answer is likely not very much at all. Irving is well down the pecking order as a third string in the final year of his contract and at a time when he needs to be pushing for an NHL job. Troy Ward, who thus far has made a fair name for himself as a development coach, isn't even going to Irving as a backup. That speaks volumes.
The future for the Flames isn’t in the AHL right now, outside of Baertschi, so that is understandable. However, it does speak to the amount of work ahead. Also, and this is a part that may really ruffle some feathers, but when analyzing and anticipating the eventual influx of talent that the Flames are currently fostering in place like the NCAA, keep in mind the drop off and early-season disappointment that the Oilers are experiencing with their talented depth prospects. It isn’t like it couldn’t happen to the Flames in a few years’ time, either.
For the time being, the Heat will continue to be able to look down their nose (and standings) on the farm team of their despised northern rivals. At the same time, the Barons will continue to dazzle fans with their NHL-ready talent sitting in purgatory at the Cox Convention center while Oilers fans repeat the mantra “education” and “development”.