No NHL team currently owns a team at the ECHL level, but apparently that is about to change.
Edmonton Sun columnist Terry Jones broke the news late Tuesday night that the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers were poised to purchase the Bakersfield Condors.
The Condors play in the ECHL, the AA-level of hockey, and became affiliated with the Oilers this season. The Oilers currently have six players assigned to the Condors, three under NHL contracts, three under American Hockey League contracts. The rest of the players on the Condors are under ECHL contracts with the Condors.
Condors President Matthew Riley met with Bakersfield media Wednesday morning, but would not confirm or deny the report.
“The Condors, as you know, are owned by Jonathan Fleisig,” he said. “Obviously, I'm not Jonathan Fleisig and therefore really can’t speculate on any potential ownership change that may take place. But how 'bout that win last night, huh?”
Pushed further, Riley was unyielding.
“I can’t speculate or comment on anything having to do with an ownership change. I'm not the owner,” he said.
Riley did, though, say that the Condors affiliation with Edmonton was a positive for the roster.
“I think any time you’re talking about a major league, regardless of the sport, it’s always exciting to be affiliated with them just like we’re an affiliate now,” he said. “Any association with an NHL team is a good thing.”
Fleisig, a Wall Street trader who lives in New York, has been the principal owner of the Condors for all 16 years of their existence, purchasing the then-West Coast Hockey League franchise Bakersfield Fog and changing the name when the team moved into a new arena in the fall of 1998. The Condors joined the ECHL in 2003.
Fleisig did not respond to repeated emails asking for comment.
Riley said any change of ownership must be approved by the ECHL’s Board of Directors, which is holding its annual winter meeting Wednesday in Philadelphia.
Also, any change to the lease agreement the Condors have with the city of Bakersfield, such as a new ownership group, has to be approved by the Bakersfield City Council. The next council meeting is Wednesday. The city owns Rabobank Arena, where the Condors play, which is operated by AEG.
Edmonton Oilers director of public relations Tim Shipton said it is a policy of the organization not to comment on speculation on business matters.
“We certainly value our association with Bakersfield,” he said. “It’s been a great experience from an affiliate perspective.”
The Condors struggled on the ice the past two seasons, failing to make the playoffs, and Fleisig totally revamped the hockey operations department in the model of the AHL: There is a general manager, head coach, assistant coach and a part-time assistant coach.
That platform helped the Condors, who had no NHL affiliation the previous two seasons, secure an affiliation with the Oilers. Edmonton previously was affiliated with Stockton at the ECHL level.
Jones, the columnist, has been covering a World Curling Federation event in Las Vegas and made a side trip to Bakersfield from Sunday through mid-day Tuesday. He wanted to do stories on the two assigned goaltenders — Laurent Brossoit and Tyler Bunz — as well on the zany promotions that have garnered the Condors worldwide attention.
Jones said it It was during research for his articles (before he left for Vegas) that he caught wind of the intent of the Oilers to purchase the Condors.
Jones speculated in his article that the Oilers would like to add to their developmental pool of players beyond NHL and AHL contracts (NHL teams are limited to 50 NHL or AHL contracted players) and control that development.
“I think (the Oilers) like the business model in Bakersfield; it’s really solid,” Jones said when reached in Las Vegas on Wednesday.
“They’ve created a passionate fan base and the players have some energy provided by the crowd. They have no intention to move the team or anything like that.”
Bakersfield averages 5,058 fans per game, seventh best in the ECHL.
The Los Angeles Kings are partial owners of the Ontario Reign of the ECHL but no NHL team has had sole ownership of an ECHL team since the New Jersey Devils purchased the Trenton, N.J., Titans in 2007 and changed the nickname to Devils.
The Devils held ownership through the 2011 season, during their ownership the team made the playoffs once and in the last season was the second worst team in the league.
The team, under new ownership, changed the name back to Titans the following season but folded in April 2013.