For me, the best thing to come out of Oklahoma (in my lifetime) is Leon Russell. Russell aside, the Oklahoma City Barons rank second on the list of good things out of the Sooner State. 

Alberta and Oklahoma have a lot in common. Both count oil, gas, agriculture and technology as central to the economy. The population of Alberta (3.65M according to 2011 Census) compares to Oklahoma (3.8M, 2012 estimate) and they became province (1905) and state (1907) at about the same time. Oklahoma City and Edmonton are about the same size in terms of population.

Here’s something I didn’t know in 2010 when the Oilers settled on OK City as their farm team: Oklahoma has rabid hockey fans, and they love their Barons. The club boasts a beautiful arena, a world class play by play man in Jim Byers and a color commentator (Doug Sauter) from our neck of the woods who has found a home in Oklahoma.


For many Oiler fans, the Barons were an early-season Godsend: with the NHL locked out, the Barons offered an opportunity to watch the top end (Hall, Ebs, Nuge, Schultz the younger) and the trending prospects (Lander, Hartikainen, Paajarvi) down on the farm.

When the lockout ended, attention turned to the NHL team, but the final Oiler regular season game allowed followers to once again look south and enjoy a rebuilt Barons club during a strong finish to the regular season and a deep ride into the playoffs (which ended this week).

Most important, the development of young prospects on the farm reached its peak during the AHL playoffs, as reflected by the sheer number of prospected who played regularly and impacted the post-season:

Of the 18 regulars listed here, I count 9 (Arcobello, Rajala, Hartikainen, Cornet, Lander, Marincin, Fedun, Pitlick, Davidson) as legit prospects. A year ago, the prospects who played regular shifts for the Barons during the post-season run counted only 6, with only Paajarvi and Hartikainen playing feature roles.

A brilliant article by Michael Baldwin in the Oklahoman (here) breaks down the roster and where they may be headed this fall. He projects Hartikainen, Lander and Ben Eager onto the NHL roster next season and has several other interesting items in the piece.


History tells us that very few of the 9 players who helped the Barons into the final 4 this spring will have NHL careers that count beyond 200 games. If we guess two (I’ll say Marincin and Hartikainen) we’re probably either correct or wrong by one either way; however, for this moment in time–and after some severe struggles for some of these prospects–the sun is shining.

Thanks OKC. For the support, for the memories and for the future Oilers who learned their trade in your city. See you in the fall when it starts all over again! (OKC photos by Rob Ferguson, all rights reserved)

  • EasyOil

    LT: How long do you think it will be before Todd Nelson gets a crack at an NHL top job, if at all? He seems happy down there, so I don’t think the organisation is in any immediate danger of losing him just yet, but if he keeps up what he’s doing then he has to draw some attention. Reminds me of a Dallas Eakins type situation, the guy is happy where he is, successful team and good organisation, and in no real rush to make the big leagues unless the right situation comes along.

    Also, do you think Jim gets the call someday for an NHL gig? Again, if he wants it.

    • Lowetide

      I don’t know if there’s ever been ANYBODY who is having success in “A” ball, who wouldn’t jump at a chance at The Show.

      I do think Nelson is working on building up a resume for a future head coaching job in the NHL. With the success he’s had with this ragtag Baron’s club, you can bet NHL GM’s have noticed.

      I doubt he would leave OKC to be an NHL Assistant coach, but if a big league team comes along with a head coach contract in hand. I’m pretty sure he’d be gone.

      As far as Byers goes, I’m pretty sure the NHL pay for a pbp man, is significantly higher than in the AHL. Can’t see why he would be that attached to OKC.

  • EasyOil

    It’s amazing that Tony Rajala is doing as well as he is, given he was playing in the ECHL just a few months ago.

    Should someone want a small highly skilled players in the NHL, he should be able to garner a second round pick? Is that expecting too much?

    The idea of trading our two second round picks and adding another by trading Rajala should give Mac T more than enough ammunition for the up coming draft.

    • RexLibris

      I don’t get it, why trade Rajala?

      If he can lead OKC next year and give us some much-needed secondary scoring on the 4th line when needed, who cares about his size?

      Second rounders are still a crapshoot, so why trade a player who can help at some point next year for supposedly bigger and younger players who may never help.

      • RexLibris

        Judging by the way Rajala shoots the puck,we need to give him a look. He is very aware when he is close in with the puck,I will say he is already above NHL average in this department,he is looking like a creative patient scorer to me.

        This guy uses every type of shot in his arsenal and doesnt overpower goaltenders he outthinks them.He looks like a potential NHL PP specialist for sure.

        I am ok with anyone as long as we see the immediate performance and production the coaches ask for.

        Our development happens on the Farm team,when guys come up they are expected to step in and produce immediatly,after all the opportunity may not come twice for some of them,if our developmentel priority is system acumen then we will not be wasting opportunitys for these men when they are up to bat.And if one of them shows they are ready by stepping in and up,then we are sure the decision to move another man out will be properly supported.

        Ideally a coach can use his roster-Rolodex as often as he wants with confidence,inserting farm or Big team names as needed,confident they are all on the same page for him already.Bringing a player up doesnt have to be an emergency option,it can be a developmentel or motivational decision as well.In the past possibly for for contractual and other reasons only the Emergency option was used consistantly.

        Sorry Coach Nelson but you are your own worst enemy,your sucess has made you invaluable where you are and created a glass ceiling for now,ha ha,those are the rewards of sucess,job security,ha ha haha.Thank you for the great job you and all the OKC coaches do for us,and thanks to your players who have been incredible to watch the last two years.

        As Above,So Below.

  • Lowetide

    EasyOil: I think it’s curious that the Oilers have interviewed Eakins and not Nelson (although maybe the did, or maybe they will).

    Nelson’s already been an assistant coach in the NHL, I expect he wants a head coaching job. As for how long they have, well there’s work to do in OKC and if he makes a final I’d say that’s probably the time he’ll get a shot.

    Byers imo is clearly qualified to be an NHL pbp. He’s outstanding.

  • Lowetide

    The bloodbath that is going to occur this off season will have huge repercussions on the Barons lineup come fall. Eager? Unless someone takes a flyer on him he is stuck in OKC till his contract runs out. Hordi? Done.Plante? Hamilton? Done.The Oilers roster and the Barons roster will probably see a combined 15 personnel changes. Or more. Guys like Ewanyk and Moroz. Pitlick and Gernat will see the heavy minutes moving forward. MacT’s focus on development will be key to the long term health of this club. As when Tambo came in 4 years ago this organization is flush with dead weight that needs to be culled. MacT will put his stamp on the organization beginning June 30th in Jersey. Looking forward to the changes.

    • Lowetide

      I know the coaching staff was renewed, didn’t know term. Still, I doubt they’d stand in his way if another team wanted to interview and hire him. They didn’t stand in Claude Julien’s way back in the day.

  • Lowetide


    Where is Oklahoma hiding all these rabid hockey fans? I had the AHL TV feed earlier in the season and it looked like the average attendance was about 34 people, including the single cheerleader and band, located 54 empty rows above the benches.

    It must be depressing as hell to play in front of a way more than half empty building night after night.

    The Roadrunners had much bigger crowds in Edmonton. Why not relocate OKC in a real hockey market? They must be losing tons of money?

    Hope their playoff crowds were much better.

    • Lowetide

      Absolutely, the Roadrunners iirc had a tremendous attendance. Of course, that was 04-05, a lockout season in a Canadian market.

      And the Barons attendance has been poor, no doubt. However, the fans who do attend are very passionate, and love their team.

      Two examples:



      The team is three years old. And they DO have passionate fans, and I suspect many more after the events of this spring.

      • Lowetide

        Really? They went to the final 4 last year and started the season with a handful of bonafide NHL stars. Wouldn’t this have been the year for attendance to go up?

  • Lowetide

    It’ll be interesting to see if Eager can work his way back to the NHL. Clearly, concussions have been his story since he arrived in Edm., but his combination of size, skating and experience would be a boon to the 4th line if he can recover his game.

  • Lowetide

    “The team is three years old. And they DO have passionate fans, and I suspect many more after the events of this spring.”

    OKC regular season attendance has dropped every year, and is now last in the league.

    OKC playoff attendance is also last in the league, 29% below the next-worst team.

    The remaining fans may be passionate, but there are fewer of them than in any other AHL city. And making the conference finals didn’t help last year. If the trend continues, you have to think next year will be their last.

    Btw, it looks AHL teams consistently draw smaller crowds in the postseason. What’s up with that?


    • Lowetide

      From what I can gather reading the blogs I linked to, OKC has football deep into the fall and also basketball plus plus. There’s a lot to do and of course it’s a new AHL market.

  • It sure would be interesting to have so much money that you wouldn’t bat an eye over how much you would lose by putting a hockey team in Oklahoma.

    On the positive side, I like the play by play team they have working the games, especially Doug Sauter. At first blush he seems unpolished (always laughed when he constantly called Magnus “Pavari”) but when you listen it’s clear that he really knows hockey.

  • RexLibris

    I think the OKC audience is a bit like the fans in Phoenix or Carolina (although to a smaller scale) where there are a handful of really die-hard fans who have embraced the team fully and contribute to a small, but vocal online, following.

    Not surprising given that OKC is steeped in a U.S. culture where sports serve as religion-by-proxy.

    Unfortunately it comes down to quantity of fans, not quality.

  • RexLibris

    Nelson is doing a good job where he is.

    As Mac-T has already eliminated the gap between farm team focus and Oilers needs,we need to let that solid base be the catalyst Neslon and Mac-T need to bring the two teams system presentation in line.

    Nelson is more important than ever where he is right now to the Organization.He needs this new focus to evolve his own abilitys as well,just as the players need to be indoctrinated to step into the exact jobs we need them to do so does coach Nelson,he needs to elevate his preparation and presentation to NHL levels to the best of his abilitys.His win/loss record is secondary to his Professional readiness to step into the NHL.

    I like what Nelson has been doing and how we have seen players finding the right resources to make the adjustments the NHL staff request,this is evidence of the high level of professionalism we are recieving from the coaching staff in OKC.

    I have to say that Arco has impressed me totally and I hope he is rewarded in some way for his efforts, he is a natural leader, he reminds me of Sam Gagner a lot.

  • Lowetide

    New Age: Agree on Arcobello. I was not a fan in any way, but he won me over. The guy has skated miles and done good things since he arrived in the organization.

  • RexLibris

    It’s a totally different market down south , dominated by baseball , football, basketball and 12 other sports preferred before hockey . Hockey ranks 15th down there . Huge Afro American and Spanish base that simply do not understand the game and have little interest in it to begin with . Lack of media coverage doesn’t help either – appalling to be honest . We generally snowbird in Arizona and once in Houston area . Snowbirds will talk hockey but you can forget anyone else basically – they don’t know and they don’t care . Their entertainment dollars go elsewhere .

    Sort of like pro soccer here as compared to Europe , only about 10 times worse . Would you pay 2000.00 for a soccer season package here ? Doubt it and they are unlikelyto do it down there . Your almost guaranteed they prefer and know more about high school football , baseball , basketball , tennis and golf than they care to know about professional hockey .

  • Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate

    What? Did I see that??

    A New Age post that wasn’t

    a FREAKING novel?

    EDIT: The Haiku was referencing NAS post #17, but at #20 I can see he is back to his old tricks…and to think I was going to prop him for the shortness(compared to usual) of his post #17

    • OilersBrass

      That’s what I was most impressed with about the Barons this year, they were able to pull together as a team and string together enough wins to make the playoffs. There was also a couple times in the playoffs where they came back from huge deficits and won the games.

      Kudos to the management there for bringing in decent leadership players for this team, and driving the winning attitude into these kids heads.

  • OilersBrass

    Would a game between Edmonton and Calgary draw any better in OKC? I don’t think so. Between the Sooners and the Thunder the sports market in OKC is pretty much leftovers for everyone else. The market the Oilers should be in is in Pheonix. Once the Yotes are finally put out of their misery the Oilers should be in their like bacon on a pig. Why is the NHL so reluctant to announce expansion plans? they obviously need to expand. Some say contract. But given the thirst of many arena owners to have a full time tenant the desire for an NHL team is at a premium. The NBA will not expand. Arena Football is and was a fad.Indoor soccer is done. Lacrosse? As niche a sport as you’ll see. When the NHL decides to expand there will be 8-10 markets lined up with deposit cheques in hand. The Winnipeg model where fans buy in for 3 years seems to be the new standard.How many of those Jet fans are not renewing their seasons considering their move to the WC this upcoming season.None.
    QC.Portland.Seattle. Markham.Hartford. KC. Houston. The list goes on. Does the NHL ignore the billions to be made because if it does someone else will step in. Bettman created this monster and he’ll need to address the issue sooner or later. The Cable TV market is dying for more NHL games. Its cheap to produce and you don’t have to pay actors or writers and the other industry sycophants. The thirst for more NHL product is there.
    And having Boston playing either Chicago or LA in the final won’t hurt the NHL’s TV numbers at all this spring. Boston Strong equals lots of viewers.

  • YFC Prez

    I always wonder why there isn’t an AHL team in Saskatchewan, you’d have to think that Regina or Saskatoon would be great markets to have a farm team and the travel would be much closer too..Saskatoon Barons.

  • YFC Prez

    The quality of hockey would go down considerably if there were that many new teams in the NHL..could make for some high scoring games though..or more hardcore trapping teams since it would be the only way for alot of teams to win any games at all..

    I say instead of expanding the NHL should do what Europe does with soccer..they have different levels of leagues..if you finish in the bottom spots in the first league the team gets demoted to a lower tier and the top teams from the lower tier move up to the top league.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    This Leon Russell affiliation LT, was it meant to be tongue in cheek?

    Don’t see much entertainment value in that video, and i’m pretty sure I remember seeing him play at the old Drake Hotel in Beverly in the late 70’s.

    Were you there too, perhaps?

    The last gif on the article, I just keep staring at it, can’t figure out why. The subliminal humor here is second to none.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    New alignment has West with just 14 clubs and East with 16 . How many East clubs might fold and move to say Seattle or Portland ? Mind you , if Phoenix relocates it should be out West .

  • OilersBrass

    I’m more than a little mystified about the attendance for the Barons. I lived in OKC in the mid-90s and my memory is that the CHL Blazers used to draw 8000+ fans regularly (and sometimes even 10,000) – and the hockey wasn’t nearly as good as the AHL. The people I saw seemed to have a real passion for the game.

    But now, even after the Thunder were eliminated from the NBA playoffs, Barons attendance barely got over 2000.

    Where have all the hockey fans gone? It’s a real head-scratcher.