Another year done, another off season for restocking.
Such is often the case in minor-league hockey, in which change is often the most consistent aspect.
And that’s the case for the Bakersfield Condors, who missed the American Hockey League playoffs for the second straight season.
Many of the players who took to the ice for a 3-2 overtime win against San Jose in the season finale Saturday have played their last game for the Condors. Others are solid bets to be back (contracted), while others are likely to be re-signed.
It will take months for it all to play out, and remember, what happens in Edmonton will have an impact in Bakersfield in one form or another.
What’s happening right now with Edmonton is a little thing called the NHL playoffs, in which the resurgent Oilers, making their first appearance in 10 years, are in a first-round dogfight with the San Jose Sharks.
So it’s safe to say the Oilers brass aren’t too concerned about their farm team right at the moment.
But it’s also safe to say the playoffs are a chance to evaluate current Oilers, including many who spent time with the Condors over the past two seasons, on how they handle playoff pressure.
Once the playoff run ends, there’s the matter of getting Connor McDavid to sign on the dotted line for a long-term deal, the NHL expansion draft for the Las Vegas Knights and the NHL draft.
And yes, all three of those will certainly impact the Condors in some manner.
With that said, here are players we can safely bid adieu to:
Leading scorer Anton Lander (55 points in 42 game and a plus-20). He’s a restricted free agent and reportedly headed to the KHL, which will be a far greater payday than an AHL contract.
RFA goaltender Jonas Gustavsson. Faltered this season with the Oilers, which is why he ended up in Bakersfield.
Also, count out Justin Fontaine, Mark Olver, Jaedon Descheneau, Jere Sallinen, Brodie Dupont, Henrik Samuelsson and Joel Rechlicz.
If I were a betting man, I would expect to see Jordan Oesterle, an unrestricted free agent who led Bakersfield D-men in scoring with 32 points in 44 games; veteran D-man Mark Fraser; defenseman Dillon Simpson; and AHL contracted winger Scott Allen all on the “thank-you for your services” list.
And add defenseman Mark Fayne to that list. He still has a year left on a $3.5-million contract with the Oilers. I do not see Edmonton putting him in Bakersfield for another year when clearly he is out of the Oilers picture. Buyout?
Want a sure bet?
Bet on veteran captain Ryan Hamilton being back. He has a year left on his AHL contract and will spend the bulk of his summer in Bakersfield once again.
Condors with a year still left on their Entry Level Contracts are goaltender Nick Ellis, defensemen Ben Betker and forwards Patrick Russell, Greg Chase and Braden Christoffer. Barring trades, they will be back.
And then there is Jesse Puljujarvi, the fourth overall pick in the 2016 draft, who spent the first half of the season with Edmonton and the second half in Bakersfield. The 18-year old (he turns 19 on May 7) certainly did not look NHL-ready at the end of the season, so does that mean he starts next season in Bako? We shall see.
Defenseman Griffin Reinhart is a RFA, but it looks like the Oilers (who have the option to re-sign him) want him back as he (along with Ellis) have been called up to the Oilers for the playoff run.
Also pencil in recent ELC signings of forward Joe Gambardella and defensemen Ziyat Paigin and Ryan Mantha, who all played for the Condors late in the season.
Toss in two highly rated defensive prospects in Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones, who did not join the Condors as they were in junior playoffs.
If you’re counting, that’s four rookie D-men in Bakersfield next season.
Also, the Oilers signed goaltender Shane Starrett to an ELC after two stellar seasons at the Air Force Academy. Right now it looks like he is Bako-bound, but the Oilers might be best served to have an AHL-experienced goalie to back up Ellis with Starrett starting out in the ECHL in the mode of Laurent Brossoit.
Now for Josh Currie and Joey LaLeggia, who had 22 and 20 goals, respectively.
LaLeggia, who was moved from defense to forward midseason and excelled there, is a restricted free agent. I would expect the Oilers to sign him for another years.
As for Currie, who was on an AHL deal, he said after Saturday night’s game that he would like to be back. We’re betting the Condors want him back as well. But if he gets an offer from another team for an NHL/AHL deal he likely will be gone.
The Condors certainly need to find some forwards via free agency (or trickle-down from Edmonton) for next season and another couple of experienced D-men would go a long way toward helping what will be a very young rear guard.
So there you have it.
That’s pretty much the way things stand right now, with a bit of tea-leaf reading tossed in.