It’s not that the Edmonton Oilers don’t care. One would have to believe that they want the Bakersfield Condors to reach the AHL playoffs.
But the Oilers didn’t do the Condors any favors on Saturday. The big club sent flailing netminder Anders Nilsson to St. Louis and decided that Condors goalie, and the organization’s top prospect, Laurent Brossoit would ride shotgun to Cam Talbot for the rest of the regular season.
Brossoit would be eligible to return to Bakersfield for the AHL playoffs, but the chances that the Condors reach the post-season took a direct hit with their No. 1 goalie’s departure. They still have some quality between the pipes, though very much unproven. Finnish import Eetu Laurikainen has played meaningful games and playoff action with the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos and in the Swedish Elite League, but he’s a rookie at the North American pro level. Ty Rimmer, a good-news story since he’s beaten back testicular cancer, has played playoff hockey in the WHL (Tri-City and Prince George) but only four games at the pro level and that was in the lowly Central League with the Quad City Mallards. Rimmer or newly acquired Niklas Lundstrom will provide backup to “E2.”
The main job of the AHL affiliate is to groom talent for the big club. That’s a job well-done in Brossoit’s case (and medium-well on the part of Jujhar Khaira), but it does leave the possibility that the Oilers will play in a hand in their farm team failing to make the playoffs in their new home town.
With Brossoit, the Condors were in tough but were certainly on upswing heading down the stretch and in position to reach the Pacific Division parade to the Calder Cup with their deepest lineup of the season. Brossoit was amongst the league’s best netminders and earned a spot in the AHL All-Star Game. He left the Condors’ nest standing eighth in the AHL with a .919 save-percentage, top 20 in minutes played, 12th in total saves with 906, and sporting three shutouts.
It hasn’t just been the numbers that have propelled Brossoit’s soaring stock this season. Night after night, he has looked composed even when the six defencemen in front of him have been occasionally chaotic. At the start of the season, Brossoit’s main task was to track the puck better. His focus was bang-on pretty well the entire time.
The Condors lost both games over the weekend and have dipped to fifth in the Pacific. They are at .530 in winning percentage within striking range of San Diego and San Jose. But Brossoit’s departure costs the Condors their backbone and last line of defence. He’s been relied upon and answered the call this season. With a pretty significant question mark (or two) occupying the Bakersfield net, the Condors’ confidence has taken a solid hit.
Monday’s NHL Trade Deadline might cost the Condors more. They’ll know by high noon Bakersfield time.
There’s some belief that Nikita Nikitin might find a spot with a deep playoff-bound team though that might be a bit of a stretch considering the veteran has not looked good in brief stints with the Oilers this year. That said, he has played quite well for the Condors and if looked upon by a contender as nothing more than an emergency reserve, Nikitin might be worth a flyer and cost them little more than a late-round draft pick. Nikitin could also be part of a package, either a throw-in on a deal that could send Nail Yakupov out of Edmonton or in a swap of disastrous contracts.
The rest of the Condors blueliners should remain in Bakersfield. Based on his play and the fact that a lot was given up to get him, underachieving Griffin Reinhart probably has drawn no interest from other teams.
Up front, the Condors have two faces that could move on Monday either out of or back into the Oilers’ picture.
Rob Klinkhammer has been excellent in two stints with the Condors, particularly as a penalty killer with three shorthanded goals. “The Colonel” might be a decent stop-gap on a contender looking for some help on the PK, but he could also be summoned by the Oilers should they ultimately make a last-minute deal before the deadline. Same goes for Luke Gazdic, who like Stella, has found his groove, and he got there simply by getting ice time in Bakersfield.
Gazdic is a fourth-liner at best wherever he goes yet he could potentially be a useful spare part to a playoff team especially in the NHL’s Eastern Conference where there’s bound to be a game or two in, say, New York, Pittsburgh or Boston, that devolves into a wild body-bashing, fist-flying affair. For all his warts, Gazdic is an absolute gamer who will take on anyone anytime.
From the Nest
The Condors dropped a 4-3 outing to San Jose on Friday and then fell 4-3 in overtime to San Antonio on Saturday. The OT win for the Rampage avenged a 3-2 loss to the Condors last Tuesday … The Condors can do themselves a huge favor this coming weekend if they can sweep both games at San Jose.