Oilers find a home for their own

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

Back in the days of the Edmonton Express, the place became known as Wingy Springy.

It was where some of the most incredible stories of the antics of Springfield Indians owner Eddie Shore (a.k.a the Edmonton Express) made it the No. 1 place you didn't want to end up as a minor leaguer.

Now Edmonton will be expressing their minor leaguers there. And the Oilers are saying it's the No. 1 place to be.

EDMONTON CONNECTION

Shore, who played pro in Edmonton back in the 1920s, married a member of J. Percy Page's legendary Edmonton Grads women's basketball team and went on to become a legend with the Boston Bruins.

But Eddie Shore stories became legend - especially with goaltenders who found themselves tied to the crossbar in practice and put through other humiliations - when he went to Springfield and owned the Indians.

Once again, there's an Edmonton hook to Springfield hockey. Let's hope it's not quite so ... er ... storied.

What's ridiculous for the moment is that this is news.

'Oilers Have Minor League Affiliate' should not be big news.

The fact that an NHL team having a farm club is news, illustrates one of the biggest debacles in the history of the franchise to get itself in this situation in the first place.

The Oilers, after two years without their own minor league outfit, announced a three-year deal with the Springfield Falcons. And despite the Shore history of Springfield being the worst place to be - they've only made the playoffs once in the last seven years, so recent history hasn't been too much fun either - the Oilers did go way out of their way to say it's now the perfect place to be.

"Springfield is probably the best spot for the players," said GM Kevin Lowe in a conference call from Springfield after holding a live presser in the Massachusetts city where 'The Simpsons Movie' is expected to premiere.

You'd think Lowe would simply say, "Hey, we're somewhere.

"Who cares where? We have a farm team again!"

But Lowe sat there yesterday and went just a tad beyond that.

"This is the first step in the Edmonton Oilers' bid to get back to the Stanley Cup finals," he told the Springfield media prior to the conference call back home.

"As many of you know, we have quite a lot of experience on that subject, winning Stanley Cups. This season we had to take a step back in that process after getting to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals last season. We feel and know this step backwards only strengthens our team's future.

"Nobody needs to tell us how critical the AHL is to the success of an organization."

Lowe said it's been a frustrating two years without their own minor league team.

"We looked at 10 or 15 cities which were not the right fit. We didn't want to go to a place where it wasn't going to work. We were in a tough spot with the players we had coming and many more coming the next couple of months. Their development (would be) stunted if we had to go on another year.

"We believe we have a stable of young, talented players that we've acquired. Some through recent trades, some through the past drafts, and also we have three first rounders in this upcoming NHL entry draft."

LOCATION, LOCATION

Oilers' assistant GM Scott Howson, who will be in charge of running the hockey side of the Springfield operation, said the key is location, location, location.

"It is prime location in AHL geography. It allows for more practice time, better development and we're putting a high premium on drafting and development."

That's the thing the Oilers are complaining about in the NHL - that those Eastern Conference teams have first call on all free agent talent because the players can be at home in their own beds at night.

There's only one thing Springfield wanted to hear.

"We have the assets and will acquire more this summer. We're going the extra mile to develop."

Anybody who followed the Edmonton Trappers in Triple-A baseball here knows the major league team you want to be affiliated with is one that grows their own.

In the new NHL, the Edmonton Oilers are definitely going to have to grow their own.


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