BY MIKE GRIFFITH Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Four years into a rebuilding process, things aren't going all that well for the Edmonton Oilers, who are on their way to missing the NHL playoffs for the eighth straight season.
Owner Daryl Katz admitted as much in an open letter to fans on Monday when he reiterated a commitment to rebuilding the organization from top to bottom by supporting player development in AHL Oklahoma City and ECHL Bakersfield.
Condors at Utah
When: 6, tonight
Where: West Valley City, Utah
Radio: KHTY (970 AM)
Condors record: 16-17-1-2
Grizzlies record: 15-16-3-4
Series: Bakersfield is 2-0-0-0
Notes: Tonight's game beings a stretch of three games in three days. The Condors play in Utah again on Saturday night then bus to Boise, Ida., for a Sunday afternoon game against the Steelheads ... "This is a big weekend," Condors coach Troy Mann said. "We're two points behind and have two games in hand (on Utah)." ... Forwards Michael Neal and Chris Collins, who have been out due to injury, are both on the trip. Collins, fourth on the team with 18 points, has missed three straight games. Neal, fifth with 17 points, has missed the past eight games.
On Thursday, the Oilers became owners of the Condors, completing a vertical chain of player development all the way from juniors to the NHL.
Bakersfield had everything the Oilers were looking for -- front office organization, fan base, coaching, arena, practice facility and the community as a whole -- Oilers President and Chief Operating Officer Patrick LaForge said.
"This organization and the city of Bakersfield is now entering into an elite hockey development cyclone," he said during a news conference at Rabobank Arena on Thursday.
The Oilers want to develop players at all levels of hockey, LaForge said, and Bakersfield will play a key role in that process.
With just 50 NHL/AHL contracts available on an annual basis, LaForge said Bakersfield at the ECHL level is the ideal place to develop players they want to take a look at but don't have room for right away at higher levels.
And he points to standout goaltender Laurent Brossoit as an example of what Bakersfield can do for development.
"We've known him since he was 15," LaForge said of Brossoit, who played for the junior Edmonton Oil Kings (owned by Katz) but was drafted by Edmonton's primary rival, Calgary. "We traded a real big asset to get him. We sent him here because this is the right place for him to come, get great ice time, really good coaching, lots of opportunity to see rubber and be ready to challenge at the next level."
While the Oilers have struggled for years, the American Hockey League Oklahoma City Barons have reached the playoffs all three season since the Oilers' dormant franchise was relocated there in 2010. The team reached the semifinals the past two seasons.
LaForge said winning, not just player development, was important in Bakersfield. And that all players buy into what the Oilers, and Condors coach Troy Mann, are selling.
LaForge met with players before they left for Utah on Thursday.
"I said to the players earlier, what we want to provide you is a better opportunity to be the best you can be every day," he said.
And LaForge said there are sure to be player changes.
"Yeah, there's going to be changes because you know what? Not everyone in that room is dedicated," he said. "Not everybody in that room is going to live up to the standard that Troy expects. Troy is going to have more options than he's had in the past to choose the players that will help him win the Kelly Cup. So, yeah, there's going to be changes.
"Only because that's what happens. You give everybody a loaf of bread and some will use it to feed pigeons and other guys use it to feed themselves."
Mann said he thinks the Oilers could help lure undrafted players finishing NCAA or junior careers later this season.
"We'll have to see moving forward how it changes, how it impacts this year's club," he said. " I think it's hard to say, Maybe down the stretch in terms of recruiting there might be a little bit more of a help or a push to get some quality NCAA free agents that normally you might not be able to get that can help us down the stretch drive."
As for next year and subsequent years, LaForge said the Oilers would use all of their resources to bring the best possible players to Bakersfield and give them the opportunity to show they can play at a higher level.
"I think it really has the potential to enhance the hockey side," said Condors General Manager John Olver. "Obviously there's so many resources they can offer, from scouting to coaching, to player development. Just the opportunities to bring players, recruit those players. On so many different areas they can help us, assist us, enhance what we're doing. I'm really excited about the potential."