The Oilers were part of a major announcement involving the American Hockey League on Thursday in San Jose, CA. As part of a “monumental shift in geography” five teams well relocate to California, forming a Pacific Division.
Anaheim will purchase the Norfolk Admirals AHL franchise and move them to San Diego. Calgary’s affiliate will move from Glens Falls, NY to Stockton. The Los Angeles Kings will relocate Manchester to Ontario, CA while the Sharks will bring Worcester home to San Jose. The Oilers will move their Oklahoma City franchise to Bakersfield.
Having all five teams geographically close to one another makes for easier travel and development gains, according to Vice Chair of Oilers Entertainment Group Kevin Lowe.
“We’re really excited,” Lowe said. “It’s been a few years coming. From a development standpoint, we had a good experience in Oklahoma City. Great city, great people. Not as many went to the game as we would have liked, but in terms of the location of Bakersfield it has the potential to be a great hockey market, a great American Hockey League market. It already has had great success in the ECHL. The geography of it and where it’s located, relative to the other franchises, is a big plus for us.”
Development is the primary objective, and it’s something Lowe feels will benefit under this new arrangement.
“It’s really going to enhance our development,” Lowe said. “The Canadian teams are a little further away. We won’t have the luxury of driving down the coast to see our American League team but we know that the players are really going to benefit from the proximity of the teams. Presently, we’re in Oklahoma City and it’s a wonderful city and we really enjoyed being there but our closest opponent was a six-hour bus ride away and the rest of the teams were pretty much a flight away so this is really going to enhance development for our players. The big thing in development in hockey, and I guess it’s the same in other sports, is to have practice time. When you’re flying around all the time across the country, you eliminate practice days. We anticipate possibly somewhere between 20-25 extra practice days, and in a season that’s roughly 180 days that’s a big percentage of time for the development of these young players.”
The Oilers organization feels they’ve build a solid foundation for development in OKC. They say their emphasis on that part of hockey operations remains firm in Bakersfield.
“I think the same recipe with a little extra spice,” Lowe said. “There’s no question we firmly believe drafting and developing will be our lifeblood and we really feel things have gone well in Oklahoma City in terms of the development part of it. We’re working on the drafting part. Simply the geography, at this point, we anticipate the players will have perhaps as many as 25 additional practice days that they didn’t have in Oklahoma City. That in itself is a huge bonus for the hockey club.”
Lowe told me there haven’t been additional hirings or moves involving personnel in Bakersfield or for development as of now.
“We’re just sorting all that out,” Lowe said. “It’s been in discussion for a long time in terms of us formally making a statement that we wouldn’t be going back to Oklahoma City. That just happened recently so now we’ve got to sort of get everything aligned. We have to find a place for our east coast team. We have ECHL coaches, American Hockey League coaches and staff so we have to figure all that out in the next little while.”