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Thursday, November 24, 2011

"Demotion or Development?"

I can not even count the number of times I hear of "hockey" players acting like being sent to the AHL is some kind of demotion. Granted there are many who do not complain or grumble but at the same time there does tend to be this 'misconception' that playing in the AHL is looked at as being demoted from the big leagues. Is it possible, people (Main Stream Media, Bloggers and Fans) can be misrepresenting the real purpose of the AHL?

The Edmonton Oilers AHL team is the OKC Barons, so let's look at our own views and perceptions as fans alike. There are several reasons for having a team in the AHL and with that, their are several demands that come with setting up a team in a AHL city but 2 stand out clear...
"Winning & Development"

(I took this picture at the 2011 Summer Development Camp)

As these young prospects (from the picture above) wrapped up summer development camp in Sherwood Park, several were sent to OKC in September and a couple to Stocton. While many went back to jr hockey and or college, the remainder prepared for their next step in the AHL and the ECHL.

 In the case of these young players, those who went to the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL or the OKC Barons of the AHL , they were estatic and looking forward to the next step of their hockey development, towards the goal of being a NHL full time player some day.

In fact the purpose of the AHL is defined in WIKIPEDIA:

The American Hockey League (AHL) is a 30-team professional ice hockey league based in the United States and Canada that serves as the primary developmental circuit for the National Hockey League (NHL).[

The ECHL is defined in WIKIPEDIA:

The ECHL (formerly the East Coast Hockey League) is a mid-level professional ice hockey league .. It is generally regarded as a tier below the American Hockey League.
26 of the 30 National Hockey League teams have affiliations with the ECHL,[2] and 469 players have advanced from the ECHL to play in the NHL

So I think that we can all agree, both the ECHL and AHL are considered development leagues. With the fact, that 469 players have graduated from the ECHL to the NHL, I think we can all agree that this league has been serving us hockey fans well also.

This year, due to a over abundance of talent, Stockton has been carrying some higher level talent then in past years. Milan Kytnar has spent time there. Ryan Martindale, Cameron Abney and Olivier Roy have been honing their games in Stockton as well, just to name a few. Dubynk spent some time with the Thunder not long ago and seems to be tracking well with the Oilers as of late.

To say these players have been or were 'Demoted' to a lower league would be inaccurate. These players were sent for a variety of reasons but all the reasons come back to one word. "Development"

Development can appear like a demotion to some, when in fact, it is all about development. Players are not sent to a AHL team or a ECHL team to be buried and just provide local entertainment for their hockey fans. Players can be sent to the AHL or ECHL for the purpose of conditioning, or working on parts of their game that need adjusted and tweeked at the NHL level. To say a player has failed or is no longer NHL calibre because they have been reassigned to a AHL or ECHL team would be inaccurate. Now, if that said player does not develop upon being assigned, there is a good chance they will either be traded or just let go as a free agent.

I know some have been concerned with us sending down to OKC a few of our current players and even some at the end of training camp. Hartikanen was one, many wanted to see stay with the Oilers out of training camp but for his development the Management and coaches felt they wanted to see him play higher minutes rather then play limited time up in Edmonton. Brule was sent down to further develop his game (even though some want to argue it is a demotion for how bad he has played). Truth is, Brule needed to work and develop on area's of his game and that could only be done in the AHL. Petry, Teubert, Plante, Chorney have all been up and down in this crazy phase of development but in some cases it is only for a short stay not a long one.

There are players however who are in the AHL and ECHL who are called veterans. They are the aged wise ones, who teach and mentor the youngers men to this pro level game.They also help the team when it comes to winning. On successful winning AHL teams you will always find Veteran defencemen and goal scorers. On occasion, they need to be given opportunities when injuries arise or their game is steps above everyone else in their team and or league. To say these Veterans are being demoted when they are returned to their AHL team would be inaccurate. If at any time, one of these Veteran or younger prospects in the AHL or ECHL

The problem the AHL and ECHL have is 'Winning' can become secondary to development. In some cases, fan support depends on providing a high quality of talent and not just grabbing the best players and moving them up, just because they are playing good. It's all about 'seasoning' and here is hoping the Oilers organization learns how to 'season' their players with the best of them!

Currently there is discussion if Lander or Paajarvi will see some time in OKC with the Barons. They may, or they may not at all. All I can say is, if they do get sent to OKC, it will be for development not because they are being demoted due to bad play. All players, learn and develop differently. If those two are to play in OKC, I say 'enjoy them Oklahoma', cause they won't be in OKC very long!
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