Minor League RFA’s: Stay Or Go?

Edmonton Oilers v Buffalo Sabres

Given the dearth of Edmonton Oilers news at this point in the summer, this seems as good a time as any to look at a group that gets ignored a lot: AHL players with new contracts coming up.

One of the items Steve Tambellini has pointed to as a priority for this summer is rebuilding the Oilers’ development system, and he’s already taken some steps toward that goal. The Oilers have reactivated their AHL affiliate, which will start next season in Oklahoma City, ending the team’s affiliation with the Springfield Falcons. Additionally, Kevin Prendergast, the man responsible for the Oilers’ disappointing AHL team the last few years, has been fired by the club. Although we’ve had some hints as to who his replacement might be, the Oilers haven’t named one yet.

Whoever ends up with the job has to decide what to do about a group of ‘tweeners whose two-way contracts expire this summer. Let’s take a quick look through that group.

Ryan O’Marra – O’Marra was once a highly touted prospect; he was a key role player for Canada at the World Juniors and was a first round pick of the Islanders in 2005. He was a captain in junior and regarded as a character player; Islanders G.M. once Mike Milbury bragged about how well O’Marra had done on the Islanders’ psych tests. O’Marra struggled with some injuries before being acquired by the Oilers in the Ryan Smyth trade. He has spent most of his professional career in the Oilers development system but the results have been disappointing; O’Marra has had stints in the ECHL and has struggled to put up offence. He played a checking role for Springfield this season, recording 12 goals and six assists, and got his first NHL cup of coffee, playing three games and recording one assist with the Oilers (I covered his first game, shift-by-shift, here). I suspect the Oilers will keep him around another season, but I think he’s a long-shot to ever play in the NHL and it won’t bother me at all if the Oilers cut him loose.

Bryan Lerg – Lerg was an undrafted free agent who the Oilers signed out of Michigan State, but he’s been an unmitigated disaster in the AHL. He’s struggled to get into the line-up, shown no offensive talent, and it is probably in the best interests of both the Oilers and Lerg if he’s shown the door. I’d bet heavy money he isn’t brought back, even on an AHL-only contract.

Vyacheslav Trukhno – Trukhno was a good gamble by the Oilers in the fourth round back in 2005; he played a two-way game and put up some impressive point totals in the QMJHL before turning pro. Unfortunately, returns have diminished in the AHL; he sunk to just 26 points this season and hasn’t topped 35 points in three seasons with the Falcons. The Oilers will almost certainly let him walk this summer.

Geoff Paukovich – I’ll admit that I’ve never been a fan of Paukovich, for reasons elaborated on here, and after an eight point season with the Falcons (his first full AHL season) I think it’s clear the Oilers blew a second round pick back in 2004 when they drafted him, hoping he might add size to their NHL line-up. He’s an AHL depth player and if he’s retained it should be on an AHL-only contract.

Liam Reddox – Reddox is the one player I’d argue is worth retaining on a two-way deal. He’s never going to turn into a scorer, but as he is right now he’s a guy who can step into a bottom-six role at the NHL level and not hurt his team. That has value; those kinds of players are needed in the AHL. He had his struggles this season, but didn’t look bad at the NHL level prior to a Clarke MacArthur hit that derailed a good chunk of the middle of his season:

Reddox was much better after the new year. It won’t be a big deal if the Oilers let him go, but I think he could be useful in a depth role and as a potential call-up. He’s also the kind of player who gives it his all on the ice, and that can’t be a bad influence to have around newly minted professionals.

  • I’m certainly on board with keeping Reddox. I wouldn’t want to see him in the NHL lineup every night but if he was needed to fill in for an injury he’s at least solid enough to not hurt the club.

    O’Marra probably stays because the Oilers are still hoping that maybe he can capture some of the potential that saw him taken in the first round. That seems doubtful at this point but you never know I guess. Beyond that I don’t see much value in the Oilers retaining any of the rest.

  • Bucknuck

    “Islanders G.M. once Mike Milbury bragged about how well O’Marra had done on the Islanders’ psych tests”

    This is why we know Ryan will never pan out.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Keep O’Marra and Reddox, with the intention of them playing in the AHL. The other three have no potential and add very little, even at an AHL level.

  • Someone has to take their spots in the AHL. I’d like to see Lander and Omark play in Oklahoma next season.

    Reddox definitely seems like a decent prospect as a 3rd line guy. Maybe O’Marra can pull it together too, but I doubt it.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      I thought Lander said he is staying in Sweden another year?

      As for the goaile comment below, I think Gregor had a good idea with getting a journeyman AHL goalie that hasn’t been given the chance at the NHL level. To a 27-31 year old you would think the scenario in Edmonton might be a very appealing situation. Allows us to get a solid goalie and it gives the person in question a good chance to get into the NHL with all the injuries we have.

      • Yeah. I’m not sure what the status of our Euro prospects are, but I want to see them play in the AHL. Not only are they better (IMO) off playing on North American ice, but they’re only 1 injury away from playing in the NHL. That would be my key selling point.

        • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

          From what I remember reading Lander said he needs to work on his foot speed before coming to NA. I’d have to look and see what the contract situation is, but I thought he was going to spend at least one more year in Sweden.

          • 24 or 26 was enough. Not only is there not enough talent to support 2 more teams, there arent enough cities that can support 2 more clubs plus the other 4-6 that are in financial peril.

            As it stands hockey is so watered down that it sliped out of the big 4 in the US. Hockey used to matter. Now we have to consider changing the rules to allow this shallow talent pool the opportunity just to score.

            Sorry. Expansion will only create a less talented league with teams placed in more questionable locations.

          • Chris.

            I’m pretty sure, whether you or I agree or not, on a long enough timeline: the league will eventually expand. The symmatry of a 32 team league is too compelling, not to mention the hundreds of millions of expansion dollars to be had in under serviced markets in southern Ontario and Quebec. There have always been troubled franchises, and the current economy isn’t great, but the NHL is doing well in the new media, and it’s brand will continue to grow.

            As for talent, since 1979 the number of minor amatuer hockey players has more than doubled worldwide… So, in essence, there were 21 NHL franchises drawing from less than half the talent pool available to the 30 teams today. I remember watching the Oilers beat the Cannucks 11-2 in a playoff game back in the 80’s… IMO, there has never been more parity or talent in the league than right now.

            Personally, I’d like to see some franchises move to more natural hockey markets before exansion occurs; and I bet some do.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            I don’t know, the players to draw from has increased rapidly as well.

            In the 80’s the vast majority of players were from Canada, now theirs a healthy dose of US/Russian/Euro’s in the league.

          • Bucknuck

            I don’t understand why they need to “shed Horcoff’s contract”. To get what exactly? Everyone on here is pretty decided that you need to build a team through the draft. So if they are doing that then they only need to sign a handful of free agents to plug holes on the roster and the Oil have enough room to do that.

            If you shed HOrcoff’s salary then all of the pressure is put on the young kids to play and that is not the way to develop properly.

            Keep Horcoff for at least two more years so the younguns can develop, and hopefully he has a bounce back year.

            I would take Horc at a 2 million over pay (he is a 3.5 million player) and hope he performs like he did 2006 and 2008 in which case he is a valuable member of the team.

          • I’m more of a believer that being in the AHL is the most direct route to the NHL. The quality of competition isnt really in question, I think most people compare the KHL to the AHL and everything else somewhere below those two to varying degrees.

            For me, its arguably the 2nd best league in the world and the players there can go to the NHL at any point. If you play anywhere else you have to play out that whole season.

            If I was a legit prospect, it would be a no-brainer for me.

          • Ball Buster

            Has someone out in Internet Land done an analysis comparing those who make the jump straight from the European professional leagues and those who put in some time in the AHL?

            Are the former mostly superstar-types that could dominate anywhere they played and the latter mostly journeymen that have long but mostly unheralded careers?

          • Most NHLers arent superstars. They need to develop somewhere, I’m only thinking selfishly that as a prospect I might only have to do 2 months of time in the AHL before a call up gives me the opportunity to play in the NHL whereas in the KHL I have to wait a full year to get my chance at playing in the bigs.

          • Ball Buster

            Continuing along that strain, I think a player who believes he can quickly make the jump to the NHL after only a couple of months in a “lesser” league would ensure that an out-clause was in his KHL contract. Not that KHL teams hand those out a lot.

            My question was more about the MPS scenario, for example. Drafted, plays in the SEL and then a lot of people think he can go straight to the NHL. Never seen him play so maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t.

            Without any numbers to back it up, I do agree with your original premise: AHL development time > time in other non-NHL leagues.

            The question is, why doesn’t every Euro prospect rush at the chance to play in the AHL as soon as they’re drafted?

          • My understanding is MPS has, at the same age in the same league, surpassed Kopitar’s records. I know there are vairables that need to be taken into consideration but that statement alone makes me think that he can play in the NHL. How much time did Kopitar play in the AHL befor the jump to the Kings.
            And does anyone know if MPS has signed an Oiler contract yet?

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            I think one legit reason would be that the AHL game is more similar to the NHL then say the Swedish elite league.

            So for Euros, their may be benifit in adapting to the NHL style at a lower level, before actually moving to the NHL.

          • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

            From a team standpoint would you think waiting one more year so we don’t burn up a year of his RFA status be worth the wait? Considering we do have others coming up as well.

          • Ball Buster

            CBA limitations aside, my hunch is that it is a lot easier to create strong NHL-development teams in Oklahoma and Stockton (to a lesser degree) if your draft picks play in them.

            Having Oiler prospects (and perhaps an important one in MPS) toil away in a far away team that isn’t even part of the organization’s overarching coaching and playing style (am I assuming too much here on the Oilers’ ability to have a consistent approach?) may lead to Euro picks being put in a position to underwhelm when (if) they finally arrive in the big show.

            Unless, like I said before, they are elite level talents. I’m talking about the Selanne’s and Alfredsson’s (purposefully leaving out Russians and their KHL).

  • Ducey

    They also need to decide on UFA’s Minard, Linglet, Arsene and Macdonald.

    They ought to keep Reddox and Arsene. Linglet and Minard could be kept to school Eberle/ MPS/ Omark. Potulny would be on the farm too, if I had my way.

    O’Marra could be kept depending upon his attitude (it seems that it was problem for a year or two) to play third line minutes.

    Macdonald also has not panned out offensively. I guess they could keep him around for another year in a defensive role.

    Biggest Priority? They need to get the goaltending on the farm bolstered bigtime. Its clear than once Dubnyk got called up this was a massive problem and you can’t have young players trying to develop with brutal goaltending.

    • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

      NHL would block him in a nano-second if hamilton is his plan.

      now, on the other hand, ballsillie comes in with an offer to move to winnipeg? now that i could see getting interesting.

      as someone mentioned earlier, the NHL could get a TON of money for an expansion team in southern ontario. no way they let anyone get in there for the 200ish mil ballsillie was tossing around before…

    • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

      Sportsnet is a little slow on this one. The City of Glendale voted unanimously last night to allow their city manager authority to secure the funds the NHL requires as a guarantee in the event that the deals with Reinsdorf and Ice Edge Holdings fall through. If they do, the NHL will either sell the team to someone who will relocate or continue operating the team in the desert, with the funds from the city covering their losses.

      Winnipeg is only a possibility right now if…

      1) The city can’t secure funds (they’re already operating at a ~17MM deficit);

      2) Both Reinsdorf and Ice Edge back out for good

      OR

      3) Count Bettman has a change of heart and decides Thomson would be the best prospective owner.

      It’s interesting because Bettman’s support from the BoG is waning when it comes to keeping the team in Glendale. Last night, reports started to surface that Jeremy Jacobs, the owner of the Boston Bruins, is furious with the result of the vote and is getting sick of the fact that they’re still pushing for an owner that would keep the team in Glendale.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Balsillie wants to move the team to Hamilton. The NHL doesnt want to move a team to Hamilton, they want to expand to Hamilton. There is almost a half billion dollars worth of instant expansion revenue there if they hold out and wait. Plus the fact that Copps isnt NHL ready according to those on the inside. It would do Jim no good to come out with this move now.

      • Ball Buster

        Its still more than at Copps, and apparantly Winnipeg has luxury boxes which are a big part of revenue. But it appears this is a non-issue for the time being. Although I wont count Winnipeg dead until June 30th, anything can happen in the meantime.

        • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

          Winnipeg isn’t dead after June 30th, either. If the NHL is still the owner at that point (with neither of the offers on the table being accepted), they’ll either operate it for a year in Phoenix and get Glendale to eat the losses, or sell it to someone who will move it.

  • Well, the issue is more sponsorship than seats. 15000 full seats > 20000 half empty ones. Sponsors though, club seats, boxes, thats what is missing. Perhaps if the good Coyotes come to town it would convince Winnipeg to build a proper barn. They could call it, “The Hangar”, no, I kid, I kid.
    Reddox might just make old Pisser expendable methinks, doppleganger if ever there was one. Love that Pisani though. Love him. Kills penalties, good defensively, scores sometimes, excellent veteran presence, its exactly what this team needs and will be shopping for in the offseason. So of course we will let him walk, right JW?

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    There was something in the air that night, the sky was bright, Fernando…game 5, overtime, on the penalty kill. Priceless. Greatest Oiler moment in 15 years. If he can get a clean bill of health, 800K won’t kill us for a 3rd liner.
    Either that or I wouldn’t mind having Johnson and Struds (or someone better than Struds) as our 7th and 8th d-men. If this years playoffs has taught us one thing, its that you can never have too many nhl ready d-men around the org.

  • Mike Modano's Dog

    Nice story, Jonathan, it’s nice to get a read on the seldom-mentioned players like these!

    I agree on Reddox, and iffy on O’Marra. I wish we could get Salmelainen back – I loved that guy, for the AHL team now, though.

    Question: Do you think we could use a Lot More Scoring on the farm for next year? On the surface you want to scream out ‘yes’ to that question but when you look at some of the young guys that will be signed for next year, if they don’t make it to the NHL, there is some of our scoring added right there.

    • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

      maybe they should make the green guys captains next year. at least those guys put some effort in to make sure they show up to every game…

      luongo wasnt great, but the team in front of him was brutal as well. from having a d-man with an exploded nut, to pinkie and the brain disappearing, the canucks fans had all sorts of reasons to boo.

      and i loved every second of it

  • Devon

    It’s a real shame to see Trukhno failing so miserably. I remember him from his QMJHL days. When he was playing for my home Province (at the time)the P.E.I. Rocket. He was about the only good thing about the team at that point well was the only good thing after Alain Vigneault left to coach the Manitoba Moose, a real shame he hasn’t been able to translate his game to the next level. As for the rest their seems to be a lot of people to get rid of not only with the big club but with the farm team as well. Well what can you expect though when both suck so horribly. (hopefully I’m not mixing him up with another Trukhno ha..)

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    I keep hearing that the reason Luo looks so bad is because of his bad defense. Isn’t that the reason why they have an elite goalie making big bucks, because they need someone that is a little bit better?

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    What is this movie ? Ground Hog Days or Austin Powers “give me a friggin break here “! We keep canning people with no clear exit strategy, and we leave a less than adequate environment (tools) , players , etc. under which to move forward or even assess correctly . Where is the light at the end of this tunnel ? Crap , show the Oiler fans something of value to show your on ice product is not going to be even worse than last years product . Right now it looks like this years ice product is going to be even worse than last years , especially if more veterans are going – as it appears to be . We need to see upgrades , not more fill in downgrades and elevated AHL’ers struggling in the AHL . We need a “janitor ” to clean up the mess left by upper management . Things just keep snowballing and getting worse with this present management team ! The crap is turning into a severe case of diahrea . I’d almost forgotten how rotten we’ve become after watching some very good teams playing in the playoffs. Wow ,it seems so many years ago that we actually had a team worth watching ,or paying to go see play !

  • Dyckster

    A couple of memorable interview moments from last night’s Chi-Van game.

    2nd Intermission (interview with Bettman) – In response to a question about the lack of attendance at Coyote games GB starts yapping about how some of the teams who had a small fan base when they were crappy have turned their attendance woes around by icing a competitive team. He mentions teams such as Chicago, Wash, Pitt, and then EDMONTON? Last I checked we weren’t very competitive. He’s a dufus.

    Post game (Luongo) – Mr. Captain states (paraphrasing again) that he’s not going to hang his head. He went down with a fight. Then he goes on to state, I inproved over last years final game, at least I didn’t give up 7 goals this time. WHAT KIND OF CAPTAIN SAYS THAT RIGHT AFTER HIS TEAM IS ELIMINATED?

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      I think he was talking about the early to mid 90’s? and then people started to show up again when we were a middle of the pack team again (competitive I guess)

      I was just a kid then, but wasn’t the attendance pretty bad in Etown between 90 – 95ish?

      • Dyckster

        Ya, you may be right, I wasn’t living in Edmonton at the time so I wouldn’t know. I guess the way he lumped us in with those other teams made it sound like it was all from the same era…..He’s (Bettman) still a dufus though.

      • Ball Buster

        Re: attendance in Edmonton in the ’90s.

        It was definitely from 1993 to 1995 that the attendance troubles occurred. In 1991 and 1992, the Oilers went to the Conference Finals, first with Messier and then the infamous messiah, Bernie Nicholls.

        If I’m not mistaken, the Oilers traded away Bernie to the NJD and picked up Kevin Todd(?) to be our #1 centreman. The rest is foggy.

        My memory is that when it became apparent that Doug Weight was a player (during the 1996 season), broken ankles healed, and the jumpers came back to the bandwagon.

  • Re: Expansion

    Its all about the benjamins and the near half billion dollars the league would recieve in expansion fees from a potential owner. Theyll take that money to the bank and hope to deal with the consequences after.

  • Ducey

    Arch,

    Not sure how old you are man, but there have always been plenty of prospects, suspects, knuckle draggers, “character” guys, and talented underachievers in the league – even in the original 6 years. The watered down talent argument won’t cut it – especially in a salary cap era where teams have to share talent. You could put together a pretty good team with the players sitting on teams prospect lists, their AHL teams, and in Europe.

    There are likely a few places hockey might be able to expand to. Toronto is an obvious one. Las Vegas, Seattle, Portland, Hamilton, Winnipeg, all might work with the right setup.

    The real question is whether the teams that are losing money right now ( I am guessing: PHX, Florida, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Nashville), are really viable. If they cannot be, then they should likely move before expansion occurs.

      • Bucknuck

        There is no need for two teams in Florida, There is a need for two teams in Toronto.

        The Coyotes should move back to Winnipeg

        That should be good for a little while. Having said that, I do think the limit is 32 teams, not 30. I have always thought they would move to a four division league with half the teams making it to the playoffs.

        I don’t see two more teams as the end of the world. More than that is ridiculous.

        • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

          So besides just shuffling teams where do you put two new franchises? Only way I see expansion is if Bettman does the Europe thing and I still don’t see how that is ever going to work.

          • Bucknuck

            I don’t think they need to add them. i just figure that it is inevitable, and that the league will be just fine with 32. There are lots of areas though could handle a team. Kansas City, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Quebec City, and Seattle all come to mind.

            I would prefer it stay at a 30 team league, I just won’t be all mad if they add two teams.

          • smiliegirl15

            Sheesh – players whine about the EDMONTON travel schedule (Mike Peca anyone?), I cannot see those super spoiled east coast boys wanting to make a trip to Dusseldorf for a game.

            Florida does not need two teams; it barely needs one team. Atlanta and Phoenix could move too any hardly anyone would notice. Phoenix did have some good crowds this season though. American fans are more fickle than Canadian fans for the most part, unless you are talking about NFL, then it’s to the death.

          • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

            I really don’t know how Bettman plans on doing that. Only thing I could see is if he had a NA and a Europe conference that had the teams meeting only in the final. Even then it doesn’t make much sense to me. You’ll end up with NA players only in NA and Euros in Europe. Not sure that is a good idea.

          • Ender

            It wouldn’t be all that terrible to add Europe to the NHL; people would just have to accept that not every team in the NHL would be able to play each other. Right now, a team like Boston usually gets 1 bad road trip all the way across the continent to hit San Jose, LA, and Anaheim. That flight is 5.25 hours in the air. To go the other way and play in London is 6.5 hours in the air, and instead of hitting 3 cities on the road trip maybe you hit half-a-dozen.

            To be sure, it would be unlikely to see the Canucks playing a regular season game against Berlin but I’m sure some kind of schedule could be arranged that would still see European teams playing in North America and visa-versa.

          • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

            The issue I see is if you draft a Euro and there is a team in his hometown. I think there will be lots of picking and choosing. Even North American players, how many guys with families want to play in a totally different time zone and such?

        • I think if the NHL cant find good ownership groups locally for the money losing franchises then they need to move them. Once those teams are relocated to better hockey markets that will leave few other good hockey towns to expand into.

          Part of me, though, really wants to see a contraction draft.

  • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

    I think if you do have European teams, you would need 6-8 of them, because to Ender’s point, youd have teams goto Europe and play an extended road trip. Also you would need to shorten the amount of games in a season to give everyone involved more rest during the season.

    I dont see either happening to be honest.