The Bakersfield Condors are in an uphill climb, or flight if you will, to make the American Hockey playoffs.
But as they enter the second half of the season, they start the chase with perhaps their deepest roster of the season. Two questions arise because of this depth.
First off, is this revamped lineup the best lineup of the season, at least since super-stud prospects Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse made their brief fly-by Bakersfield and headed to Edmonton (both played in only six games with the Condors)?
Secondly, does the influx of experienced players hinder the development of younger prospects which has been a bone of contention for many in-depth Oilers followers over the past few seasons?
The Condors entered this weekend’s action tied for fifth in the Pacific Division with the surprisingly (or not so surprisingly to Oilers fans) underwhelming Dallas Eakins-guided San Diego Gulls. With an unbalanced schedule, it comes down to winning percentage instead of flat-out wins when determining the playoff-bound teams, plus there’s potential for a crossover team from the Central Division.
Entering the weekend games (the first after the All-Star Game break) for the Pacific & Central Divisions:
Locked for Playoff Spots: Rockford (Chicago), Milwaukee (Nashville), Charlotte (Carolina), Ontario (Los Angeles and defending AHL champs as the Manchester Monarchs in 2014-15)
Pretty Well In: Grand Rapids (Detroit), Lake Erie (Columbus), Texas (Dallas), San Jose (San Jose)
On the Bubble: Chicago (St. Louis), Stockton (Calgary), Bakersfield (Edmonton), San Diego (Anaheim)
Done & Done: Iowa (Minnesota), Manitoba (Winnipeg), San Antonio (Colorado)
The Condors wound up splitting their weekend assignments, dropping a 7-3 verdict to Milwaukee and then bouncing back the next night to top Stockton 4-3.
Not long ago, the Condors started using Joey LaLeggia as a swingman between defence and forward with the far better return on the investment coming as a left winger. Now there’s no room left for him as both Rob Klinkhammer and Luke Gazdic drew port side spots on Saturday night.
The Condors kept Kale Kessy in the lineup and they’ll get even more truculent when Mitch Moroz comes off the injured list. When Moroz and Josh Winquist are ready to go, that is really going to create a logjam. Already, Braden Christoffer has been demoted to Norfolk, joining Greg Chase and Alexis Loiseau. Marco Roy and Josh Currie are in the lineup after call-ups from the ECHL and deserve to stay with their effective play but they could be victims of a numbers game.
Therein lays the concern that the Oiler fans have brought up several times as least three prospects, albeit long shots for NHL duty, are ticketed for Double-A instead of getting more opportunities at a level up.
There’s obvious need for a handful of AHL journeymen and minor-league veterans on a team. Coming down the stretch and with a playoff spot potentially in reach, the Condors are looking more like a team aiming for the post-season rather than development.
The argument could be made that there’s little left in Bakersfield to develop other than Laurent Brossoit and Jujhar Khaira. If the bulk of the remaining prospects are middling at best, then challenging for a playoff spot with the most-seasoned lineup available is a good route to go. This direction is always a way of appeasing a brand-new market and fanbase in Bakersfield. Since Nurse and Draisaitl departed, the fans are far more interested in seeing a winner and a potential playoff team rather than a bunch of hopefuls.
That direction will preclude the likes of Christoffer, Loiseau, Chase, and possibly even Roy and Currie from factoring into the end-of-season plans. The defence is less of concern is this approach as only David Musil would have to be considered a relevant prospect.
Some of this could change if the Oilers decide to recall Klinkhammer and/or Gazdic but the young players left here are not highly enough rated to push veterans like Matthew Ford, Andrew Miller, and Phil McRae out of the Condors picture.
All that said, the Condors are going to be in very tough to qualify for the playoffs. It is not of the question that they fend off Stockton and get in the mix with both San Jose and San Diego. However, the chance of the fourth-place team in the Pacific coming out of the regular season in better shape than fifth-place finisher in the Central is very doubtful.
In the nest:
The Condors host Stockton on Tuesday and then hit the road for games in San Diego (Wednesday), Ontario (Friday), and San Jose (Sunday).