Stirring the Pot – Looking at the relative success of the Heat and Barons


Keeping the Dream Rivalry Alive

The Abbotsford Heat sit atop their AHL conference while the Barons are struggling to stay in the playoff picture

In Calgary this is greeted with great joy, dancing in the streets, and various acts of nefarious merriment with barnyard animals*. In Edmonton, well, that isn’t really our thing.

*This may or may not be true.

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So based on the cackling voices about the Barons poor performance, and by extension the Oilers rebuilding efforts, being thus revealed as a futile effort that will inevitably end in ignominy, I decided to dig a little deeper into the status of the two AHL teams and their success thus far.

Here is what I found.

I began by taking a look at goaltending. This has been an area of great strength for the Heat this season. In fact, Barry Brust and Danny Taylor sit 1st and 2nd in the AHL goaltender statistical categories, whereas Yann Danis is a meager 22nd, and Olivier Roy doesn’t even rate due to the limited number of games he has played.

Advantage appears to go to the Heat there. More on that in a minute.

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Now let’s have a look at the point producers for each team. Here is a breakdown of the players for both teams based on their number of points and where they sit out of the top 400 in the AHL. (numbers taken from effective December 17th)

Rank Barons Heat Points
1st Eberle   38
2nd Schultz   38
20th Hall   23
41st Nugent-Hopkins   20
44th Arcobello   20
53rd Hartikainen   19
56th   Street 19
61st   Horak 18
77th   Baertschi 17
80th   Walter 17
81st Paajarvi   17
144th   Brodie 14
163rd Marincin   13
178th   Sylvester* 12
2124th   Olson* 11
248th   McCarthy* 10
255th   Kolanos 9
262nd   Laing* 9
347th   Byron 7
360th Fedun   7
369th Vande Velde   7
394th   Bancks 6
1st   Brust*  
2nd   Taylor*  
22nd Danis    

Baertschi has played only 17 games due to a neck/concussion injury, so his points total is likely slightly lower than it ought to be. By the same token, Hall has played only 18 games this season and Nugent-Hopkins is currently away at the World Juniors after only 19 games. The point totals of all three players are not entirely representative.

Now, taking the list of players above, I have italicized those who are AHL rookies. Players in bold are those who were acquired as free agents – in other words not through draft or trade. An asterisk sits next to the players who are employed not by the NHL parent club, but by the AHL team itself, and therefore are not property of the NHL team.

A quick glance tells you a few things:

– First is that Eberle and Schultz are taking this league to the woodshed.

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– Second might be the narrow margin between 20th and 80th place on the points standings.

But aside from that, the Oilers farm team is being dominated by their core players in Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, and apparently Schultz. As well, the Oilers have an organizational stake in every one of their leading players, as well as a number of others spinning their wheels, but more on them in a minute.

The Heat, meanwhile, are getting yeoman’s work from their players, including Street and Walter, both AHL veterans. Baertschi appears to be, when healthy, coming along at a reasonable rate in his development. However, the Heat are being dominated by, and indeed dominating the AHL with, their goaltenders, both of whom have no contract with the Flames themselves. Meanwhile, the goaltender with an actual Flames pedigree, Leland Irving, is sitting out most games. More on him in a moment, too.

Now for the bad news (with baby animals)

The Barons are suffering from the lack of complementary play from some of their depth. It may not stand out, but what ought to be noticeable, and rather unsettling, is the complete omission of players like Anton Lander, Curtis Hamilton and Tyler Pitlick from this list at all. I went through the top 400 players in the AHL, and they are nowhere to be found.

When the lockout occurred, and the Oilers trio were sent to OKC, I had anticipated that players like Pitlick might suffer from the reduced playing time and role. I hadn’t anticipated this. Jonathan Willis has a great article on this very topic up at OilersNation right now.

Things might change, but right now the future, at least of the bottom six, is looking decidedly less-bright. As the old saying goes, this too shall pass.

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As for the Heat…

I’d start by taking a look at who the best players are on the team, how they came to be with the Heat and what relationship they have to the Flames organization. That isn’t a good sign. The best performers, outside of Horak and Baertschi, are AHL free agents who combined have a single NHL goal between them. In terms of how the Heat’s performance-to-date might translate to the NHL, the answer is likely not very much at all. Irving is well down the pecking order as a third string in the final year of his contract and at a time when he needs to be pushing for an NHL job. Troy Ward, who thus far has made a fair name for himself as a development coach, isn’t even going to Irving as a backup. That speaks volumes.

The future for the Flames isn’t in the AHL right now, outside of Baertschi, so that is understandable. However, it does speak to the amount of work ahead. Also, and this is a part that may really ruffle some feathers, but when analyzing and anticipating the eventual influx of talent that the Flames are currently fostering in place like the NCAA, keep in mind the drop off and early-season disappointment that the Oilers are experiencing with their talented depth prospects. It isn’t like it couldn’t happen to the Flames in a few years’ time, either.

For the time being, the Heat will continue to be able to look down their nose (and standings) on the farm team of their despised northern rivals. At the same time, the Barons will continue to dazzle fans with their NHL-ready talent sitting in purgatory at the Cox Convention center while Oilers fans repeat the mantra “education” and “development”.

  • The only Heat players that I hold hope for making a significant impact for the Flames in the future are Baertschi, Horak and Brodie (dissapointed you didn’t mention him, as I feel he has been one of the best players on the Heat).

    I also hold hope Aliu, Rienhart, Bouma, Ferland and Irving (looking bleak) will find roles with the team. Thats the one good thing about Sutter era drafting: our bottow six prospects are a plenty.

    I think the Heat play a different style than the Barons which lowers output from Baertschi, Brodie and Horak’s numbers.

    The Barons also have 3 first line NHLer’s on their team while we arguably only have one. So its not surprising they dominate the leagues leaderboard.

    Heres hoping Guadreau out performs Hopkins in the tourney and shows we may have diamonds in the rough down the line.

    • The Barons also have 3 first line NHLer’s on their team while we arguably only have one. So its not surprising they dominate the leagues leaderboard.

      That’s good point…not only are Schultz et al playing below their weight class in the AHL, they’re all playing together, which likely gooses their output a tad.

      • RexLibris

        I hope I haven’t implied that that was overlooked. I tried to address that, to some extent, by saying that the core of the Oilers future is playing together in the AHL and that the team is fortunate that many of the players in whom they have invested their hopes are performing as well as expected or better.

        The Heat, though performing well, are accomplishing this on the backs of some players in whom the Flames organization has little or no investment. The success is nice, but as Kent has often pointed out, the Flames desperately need to add some elite-level players. Baertschi’s injury isn’t doing him any favours either. I’d rather he be healthy and playing in the AHL so he could be moving forward with his career.

        One point though, nobody, I believe, thought that Schultz would do this well in the AHL. He is obviously outclassing his opposition right now, but the time in the AHL is absolutely necessary for him, in my opinion. Even if the NHL were running, I would be sorely tempted to leave him in the AHL and develop his defensive game for another month more.

  • RexLibris

    This was posted over at ON earlier and there is a decent thread of comments available there, if anyone is interested.

    As for Brodie, I didn’t mention him mostly on account of space.

    My take on Brodie is that in four years’ time he might become something akin to Tom Gilbert. I like him as a prospect, and his ceiling is probably between a really good 3rd pairing or decent 2nd pairing puck-mover.

    The problem is that, depending on Wotherspoon’s development between now (WJ) and his first few seasons in the AHL, the Flames have almost nothing developing on defense outside of Brodie. Sieloff is still a long way’s off.

      • RexLibris

        Yeah, I thought that was part of it. Not that I’m complaining. I just love getting Flames and Oilers fans together for discussion.

        At least I didn’t have to update the points totals for the Heat after the game today. ;P

    • RexLibris

      Very true. The more exciting prospects the Flames have are mostly at forward, with guys like Baertschi and Gaudreau. If you exclude Brodie from the mix, since he’s already an everyday NHLer, you’ve got a very thin blueline in terms of prospects that can play an offensive game. Guys like Kulak, Sieloff, Culkin, etc. are still years away from contending for pro jobs, and the guys who will soon be playing in the AHL, Wotherspoon and Ramage, are more shutdown type guys. It’s tough to see how one of the Flames’ chief rivals got Justin Schultz, a true blue-chip puck moving defenseman, something that the Flames prospect corps at the pro level has precious little of.

      • RexLibris

        “something that the Flames prospect corps at the pro level has precious little of.”

        or at any level, for that matter.

        Just think, if they had somehow managed to coerce (I don’t see it happening honestly) Schultz into signing with the Flames, they might never have signed Wideman!

  • RexLibris

    The lockout worked out for the oilers and Shultz’s development cause the foursome, that is the organizations foundation, is able to play together against lesser talent. They have clearly dominated offensively because of it

  • RexLibris

    I only hope future battle of Alberta matches will be as epic as back in the 80’s, only this time the Flames come out more on top 🙂

    But, with 3 first overall picks and a free agent phenom, along with Eberle all in the mix for the oilers, I wont hold my breath.

    • RexLibris

      The timing doesn’t favour it, based on what I believe to be the approximate timeline it would take to see the Flames acquire and develop enough talent to become a playoff contender again.

      Please note though, I’m not saying anything about expectations of the Oilers in that statement. The Flames have been whupping the Oil for a few years now and “my” team still has a lot to prove. The talent is there, but unless it can coalesce into a functional roster, it will all be for naught.

      Then Oilers and Flames fans could battle over who gets to be “Not The Worst Team of Alberta”. yay.