No disrespect intended, but the Condors not making the playoffs for the third straight season in the American Hockey League should come as no real surprise.
The Condors didn’t have enough blue chip players to get the job done, though they never quit battling to do so.
“The skill level just isn’t at the level it needs to be for us to be a consistent playoff team,” Edmonton Oilers Vice President of Hockey Operations Craig MacTavish said in a meeting with season ticket holders a few weeks before the season ended.
The Condors were pretty much a .500 team, plus or minus a few games either direction, throughout the season.
They were not horrible. They were not great. They never lost more than four straight games in regulation; they never won more than three in a row.
The Condors closed out their season on Saturday night with a 5-1 win over the Ontario Reign at Rabobank Arena. They finished the season with 72 points, right around the same production as the past two seasons.
“It’s frustrating,” Condors coach Gerry Fleming said of not reaching the playoffs once again. “You want to win. You want to win for your city and the people who come to watch you play every night. You want to win for your guys and your guys want to win.”
Not making the playoffs could well cost Fleming and his staff their jobs.
The Edmonton Oilers, who were loaded with talent, did not come close to sniffing the playoffs and Edmonton General Manager Peter Chiarelli, whose job is safe, is evaluating every position under him to determine what changes need to be made.
Rest assured, changes are coming. Just how many and how far reaching remains to be seen.
But unlike the Oilers, who were coming off a second-round loss in the playoffs last year and had the bulk of that team back, the Condors were lacking in too many areas.
Among the ingredients missing: Top prospects, overall skill up front — including a true No. 1 center — and, for much of the season, solid goaltending. Plus, half of the starting six defensemen were rookies, who took some time to adjust to the pro game.
That’s not a winning formula at any level.
As for top NHL prospects, the Condors started the with one — winger Jesse Puljujarvi, who played like he didn’t want to be here (five points in 10 games; minus two) before being recalled to Edmonton on Nov. 10.
As noted in a December article in The Californian, the Condors did not possess the top early-round draft pick prospects that most other Pacific Division teams started the season with. In a league where prospects are key (see Pacific Division leader Tucson), it was a deficiency the Condors could not overcome.
The Oilers tried to make that up by signing eight free agents, six of them new to the Condors (forward Joey LaLeggia and defenseman Dillon Simpson, who were with the Condors the previous two seasons, were the others).
“Flock shooting” is what MacTavish called it.
It’s the same tactic San Antonio took last season when the Rampage had no prospects. The Rampage finished last in the division.
“We signed a lot,” MacTavish said a few weeks before the season ended. “Some of them worked out. Some of them haven’t worked out very well.
“You don’t want to be as short staffed as we were in the forward positions. But you have to try to find ways of dealing with the reality of where we were.”
Of the six free agent forwards signed, just three fell into the “worked out” category.
Injuries always play a role and this year the Condors lost top rookie defenseman Ethan Bear early on for six weeks due to a concussion, team captain Ryan Hamilton to a broken leg 41 games into the season, and rookie D-man Ryan Mantha to a season-ending injury after 41 games.
Then, with the Oilers out of the playoff picture, it was time for Edmonton to do some evaluating and the Condors lost leading scorer (at the time) Ty Rattie and Bear as they were called up in mid-February.
Goaltender Laurent Brossoit, who was sent down from Edmonton in January, had hit his stride by then and the Condors played some of the best hockey down the stretch, going 9-4-2 without Rattie and Bear before being eliminated from playoff contention and sliding back in the final week.
“The sacrifice and the effort the guys give us in undeniable,” Fleming said. “The guys go out and they give what they’ve got every night. They’re not maybe the most skilled bunch of guys this year, but they’re definitely one of the hardest working.”
But the bottom line is the Condors were on the wrong side of the Goals For (2.73) and Goals Against (3.06) ledger and once again Bakersfield fans are left without playoff hockey.