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GRIFFITH: Fleming did his job, but never had all the tools needed to succeed


Gerry Fleming coached the Condors during the team's first three years in the American Hockey League.

There are two types of coaches.

Those who have been fired and those who will be fired.

It’s the nature of professional hockey, which can be extremely rewarding at times but comes with the caveat that nothing lasts forever.

Gerry Fleming, who served as head coach of the Condors for the first three years of the team’s existence in the American Hockey League was ousted on Friday and replaced with longtime NHL assistant Jay Woodcroft.

It’s a what-have-you-done-lately-for-me world and, on the surface, it appears that three straight years of not making the playoffs is what doomed Fleming.

But from this vantage point, it is likely that the underperformance in Edmonton (going from a second-round loss in the playoffs last year to not getting close enough to sniff them this season) was the larger culprit.

Changes simply had to be made and Fleming, as well as assistant coach Tony Borgford, were caught in the fallout. In Edmonton, the bloodletting included assistant coaches Jim Johnson and Ian Herbers with head man Todd McLellan, as expected, keeping his job.

The Condors will likely have a far better team to start this upcoming season than they did this past season thanks in part to some highly-touted forward prospects, something the team lacked this season.

Being nothing more than a hack who has covered minor hockey for nearly 25 years, I’m not sure I’m qualified to grade prospects or break down pluses and minus of players to the nth degree.

But I can say without reservation that Leon Draisaitl was far and away the best player to don the Condors jersey in Fleming’s tenure and he was here for just six games early in the 2015-16 season.

Was Fleming a good coach?

Well, not once in the three seasons did the players ever quit on him so that says something.

Did he develop enough players to Edmonton’s liking?

Apparently not.

But did the Oilers stock the Condors with players who had a legitimate chance of being developed into a player who could stick at the NHL level?

Not many.

There have been pundits in Edmonton decrying the lack of development coming from “the farm,” but in reality there were not a lot of top-end prospects (think first and second round) or even many third or fourth-rounders to develop.

The Condors and Fleming were blessed with first-round draft picks in Draisaitl and defenseman Darnell Nurse in 2105-16, but both were gone after six games due to injuries in Edmonton. So no real development there.

As for developed players, count:

- First-rounder Jesse Puljujarvi, who played the second half of his rookie season with the Condors and 10 games early in the just-completed season before being called up. He may not be where the Oilers want him to be, but I doubt that has anything to do with time spent in Bakersfield.

- Sixth-rounder Laurent Brossoit, who was darn good at the AHL level but not good enough at the NHL level.

- Third-rounder Jujhar Khaira, 77 games with Bakersfield over the first two season and 79 with the Oilers over the last two.

- Third-rounder Anton Slepyshev, 59 games with the Condors and 102 with the Oilers.

- Free agent signing Jordan Oesterle. He played 88 games with Bakersfield and 19 with Edmonton in that same time frame. Cut loose, he ended up with the Chicago Blackhawks this season, playing 55 games.

Admittedly, that’s not many.

Here are couple that fall in the bad-on-you Edmonton category:

- Second-round pick David Musil, who turned out to be nothing more than a serviceable AHL player and is now plying his trade in the Czech Republic.

- First round pick Griffin Reinhart, acquired by Edmonton in a costly trade. Picked up by Vegas in the expansion draft, he spent the entire season at the AHL level.

And the not-just-good-enough category:

- Fourth-round pick Kale Kessy. Has spent more time in the ECHL than the AHL the past two seasons.

- Fourth round pick Kyle Platzer. Started the last season of his ELC in the ECHL before being brought up the Condors.

- Fourth round pick Dillon Simpson apparently falls into this category. Good at the AHL level. Not good enough for the NHL.

The top forward “prospect” for the Oilers on the farm this season was second-round reclamation project Ty Rattie, who put up 43 points in 53 games with the Condors before getting his shot late in the season with Edmonton where he had nine points in 14 games. That earned Rattie a new NHL contract for the upcoming season.

The three best players in Bakersfield (other than Rattie) this season from this perspective: Rookie D-man Ethan Bear, a fifth-round pick, who played 18 games with Edmonton at the end of the season; AHL-contracted forward Josh Currie; and fifth-round draft pick Joey LaLeggia.

That Josh Currie was among the top players says a lot about him, and a lot about the lack of prospects in Bakersfield this season.

That will change in the upcoming season as some highly-touted rookie forwards are likely to be here to go with some solid holdovers, including Bear and fellow D-man Caleb Jones. If the goaltending is good (will it be Al Montoya and highly-touted rookie Stuart Skinner?) the Condors could be positioned to finally make that elusive playoff run.

From a personal perspective, I would have liked to see what Fleming and staff could have done with a few more tools in the tool shed.

From a professional standpoint, I understand the move.

Welcome to Bakersfield, Jay.

Mike Griffith can be reached at 661 395-7390. Follow him on Twitter at @MikeGriffith54. 

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