IN THE NEWS
INSIDE THE LOCKER ROOM PART ONE
By Cassie Gage,
Bill Scott oversees hockey operations for the Edmonton Oilers’ American Hockey League affiliate as the Oklahoma City Barons general manager. It’s a job that requires sometimes difficult, yet always professional, decisions and straight-up honesty.
Scott’s background made him a perfect fit for the Oilers organization. He was director of hockey operations for the AHL and previously manager of operations for the ECHL prior to coming to Oklahoma City. Chances are good if Scott ever wanted a second career, professional organizing would be a natural fit. So how does he handle it?
It’s not easy. In this four-part series, I sat down with Scott and Barons head coach ToddNelson to take a look the management side of Oklahoma City’s roster.
The majority of players on the Barons roster are on a National Hockey League standard player’s contract. They are under contract with the Edmonton Oilers and have been assigned to Oklahoma City. A few players – like Bryan Helmer and Andrew Lord – are on an American Hockey League standard player’s contract. Those players are specifically signed to the Barons and cannot get called up to Edmonton without several hoops to jump through for both organizations.
Depending on the team’s needs, a club may bring in players who have signed a professional tryout contract (PTO) or an amateur tryout contract (ATO). Players signed to a professional tryout contract are typically called up from a team’s ECHL affiliate, other ECHL team, or a team from another league for an opportunity to earn a roster spot. Teams have a 25-game window in which to release the player, sign the player to a standard player’s contract or sign him to another 25-game professional tryout contract for further evaluation.
Players brought in on amateur tryout contracts are typically at the end of their respective seasons in college or the major junior level. Last season, the Barons brought in Tanner House on an ATO from the University of Maine at the end of his collegiate career. Players brought in on amateur tryout contracts can play at any time in the AHL following the clear date deadline, the date which AHL rosters must be set for the rest of the season and playoffs, though clubs are free to add reinforcements whose Canadian major junior or NCAA seasons have ended.
The different types of contracts mean a lot of different moving parts are involved in developing Oklahoma City’s roster. At the end of training camp, the roster put together by Scott and the Barons coaching staff takes into account the players’ development, where he can go, what the team needs and if there is space for him. It can be difficult and stressful because each day at the office typically isn’t like the day before.
What type of contract the player is signed to plays a large role in how that player moves within the organization. Since players on AHL standard player’s contracts can’t be called up to Edmonton, Oklahoma City can count on having that player for the entire year unless the player is traded or injured. For players signed to an NHL standard player’s contract, an injury to the Oilers could mean a shuffle in the Barons’ personnel for an extended amount of time. It’s this uncertainty that makes Scott and Nelson often think on their feet.
“The Oilers were thin the last couple of years and now they’ve built up a lot of depth in the organization,” Scott said. “That’s part of their rebuilding process. It’s a great situation to be in from a management and coaching standpoint, knowing the next player you put in your lineup can play, and he’s ready to go.
“We want guys to get as much ice time as possible, but there’s 60 minutes in a game and five skaters out there at a time. You have to find a way to divide it up evenly and balance development for each individual player as well as winning. If you have the right players and are developing them properly, then development equals winning. That’s our goal and that’s the way our organization is going.”
A great relationship with the parent organization is vitalto any team’s success at the AHL level. In order to achieve the Oilers goal of rebuilding a successful team, the Barons and the Oilers’ ECHL team in Stockton, Calif., have to be on board with the process.The commitment to building a successful organization in Oklahoma City is evident in Edmonton’s support on and off the ice.
Part of that process is constant communication with the parent club. Scott is in daily contact with the Oilers’ management and scouting staff in order to relay important information or receive information pertinent to his team’s success. Scott keeps Kevin Lowe (President, Hockey Operations), Steve Tambellini (General Manager), Rick Olczyk (Assistant General Manager and Director of Hockey Operations) and Morey Gare, the Oilers’ head professional scout on speed dial.
“Edmonton really pays attention to what we do here and how the players are developing,” Scott said.“Sometimes I talk to all four (of those guys) about the same thing if it’s something they all need to know or if it’s important to everyone. Essentially, our daily conversations revolve around where the team is at – who’s playing well, injuries, what our lineup is looking like for the next game. Just giving them an idea of where their players are in development.”
Those conversations are critical to not only the Edmonton Oilers but the Oklahoma City Barons.They give insight into a players’ development – who’s exceeding expectations and who’s not meeting them. If a player’s not meeting expectations, it’s determining how the resources within the organization can help that player get to the level they need to be at. That’s where Billy Moores, the Oilers’ Coordinator of Player Development, and Mike Sillinger, Edmonton’s Director of Player Development come in the picture.
Moores makes several trips a year to Oklahoma City and when he visits, he spends time working with individual players on their development. It’s not just something the duo does at the AHL level – they’re involved all the way down to the Canadian Major Juniors. It’s important for the Oilers to ensure their investments have everything they need to succeed.
The talks between Scott and Oilers management are not vital to a players’ development, but when someone goes down with an injury, those conversations Edmonton has with Scott and Nelson play a role in determining which Baron may get the call-up.
“If they need a defenseman or forward for their next game because there’s an injury, I give the management my recommendation and Todd’s talking to the coaching staff trying to get a feel for what they’re looking for and giving his suggestion,” Scott said. “Sometimes, it’s the same player. Sometimes, it’s different players. The more information they have, they can make a better decision on who to bring up and who will fit into their lineup right away.”
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