The Edmonton Oilers are leaving Oklahoma territory at the end of this season, heading to California in a modern re-telling of the Steinbeck novel. As with all things, the idea is to find a better place and in this case there are some benefits for team, players and possibly fans. Let’s have a look.
Things should be better for the players, as long travel in the Texas League meant long hours of travel and less practice time between games. Oklahoma City is (from what I can tell) a far lovelier city than Bakersfield but there are fewer miles between rinks in California.
A bittersweet day since the #OKCBarons are departing, but I’ve always been an advocate for the western AHL move. It makes sense for the NHL.
— Patricia Teter (@Artful_Puck) January 29, 2015
Let’s have a quick look at travel.
There has been talk, and I’m not sure of the details (because I can’t find them), but the Pacific Division may play fewer games than the rest of the AHL. That’s a big concern because fewer games played may give the Pac-6 an advantage over the rest of the league in the playoffs.
Since taking over as GM, Craig MacTavish has told us that playing kids in the minors is more important than winning games. Oilers fans can look forward to more prospects playing feature roles and fewer minor league vets like Jason Williams, Matt Ford and Yann Danis.
This means youngsters will be forced to ‘sink or swim’ without cover and could mean trips to the ECHL are more frequent. However, it does seem the Oilers have already instituted the concept in OKC this year. Let’s use Detroit as a comparison: here are the new hires in Grand Rapids this season and their numbers:
- Anthony Mantha 30gp, 6-7-13
- Andreas Athanasiou 25gp, 7-9-16
- Martin Frk 9gp, 1-0-1 (and then 22gp, 15-12-27 in ECHL)
Now, let’s look at the 20-year old
- Bogdan Yakimov 38gp, 6-11-17
- Josh Winquist 16gp, 4-4-8 (after going 18gp, 5-18-23 in ECHL)
- Jujhar Khaira 38gp, 5-2-7
- Mitchell Moroz 33gp, 0-3-3
In that group of players, I’d say Moroz is the only guy who can be identified as ‘dying on the vine due to inactivity’ this season.
Another way of looking at this comes from Eric Rodgers and TOI estimates for the Barons. Source
- Jujhar Khaira 11:54 (after 12 games)
- Bogdan Yakimov 10:07 (after 9 games)
- Mitch Moroz 6:44 (after 10 games)
Now these are estimates, and from earlier in the year, but do point to the idea that the new hands on the farm don’t play as much in early days. We may see things change in Bakersfield as the Oilers should have complete control.
One downside: The fine people we’ve gotten to know over these years. The players move on but the fans remain and their attachment to the organization, the players and the stories surrounding the team will live and breathe for decades. There is a certain sadness to the end of a sports franchise, as an Expos fan I can say that with authority.
Jim Byers is one of the best hockey play-by-play men I’ve ever heard, Neal Livingston, Eric Rodgers and Patricia Teter are three of the best bloggers/broadcasters of the game in Oklahoma territory. Rob Ferguson is a brilliant photographer.
God bless all of them. Goodbye Oklahoma, USA.