The St. Louis Blues renewed their slightly odd affiliation with the Tulsa Oilers of the ECHL. While it is not insanely newsworthy, it does give the Blues further options for their prospects.
The St. Louis Blues announced, on the final day of May, that they were renewing their affiliation with the Tulsa Oilers in 2018-19. Doug Armstrong made the announcement on Thursday morning, with the media having access to both Armstrong and Rob Murray, the current coach and Head of Hockey Operations in Tulsa.
Most fans will shrug at this news. The ECHL is normally so far removed from the NHL that the fans of the parent club have little investment in the players at what amounts to a AA level.
Despite this, the this is an important move for the Blues. What it does is secure the Blues an actual farm system for the 2018-19 season.
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On the surface, some might ask who cares. Having influence, or even control, over two lower-level teams is extremely beneficial, however.
The Blues can send players directly down to San Antonio now that the Rampage are their official AHL affiliate. The Rampage can then send their surplus players to the Oilers.
If rosters are fully healthy, you don’t need to have three or four scratches anymore. Each team can supplement their lower counterpart and everyone will be the better for it.
Additionally, it gives the Blues another option for training or rehabilitation work. If San Antonio has a road game in some far-flung corner of the country, and the Blues are playing Dallas, they could send any of their injured players to Tulsa for a quick rehabilitation start.
Though most were unaware, the Blues already used this affiliation to their advantage in 2017-18. Connor Bleackley had some good promise to him when St. Louis selected him. He was surplus to the Chicago Wolves’ plan when they switched to Vegas, however. The Blues put him with Tulsa and he scored 19 goals and 38 points in 40 games.
Tommy Vannelli also spent the majority of the season in Tulsa. While he has fallen way down the depth chart, the Blues are still hopeful that Vannelli can develop into an NHL-level talent down the road.
With two teams under their umbrella now, the Blues can fully utilize the pipeline. While the rules are somewhat fuzzy, you can usually avoid sending anyone through waivers if you send them directly down to the ECHL. They cannot stay there, as it is only for rehabilitation moves, but it gives you a little more freedom.
This move also gives the Blues flexibility with their goaltenders. While players like Luke Opilka and Evan Fitzpatrick are likely to stay with their junior teams as long as possible, they now have another option.
In 2016-17, the Blues could have used a true affiliation. St. Louis had too many goaltenders in Chicago, so they attempted a “working relationship” with the Missouri Mavericks.
However, the Mavericks were affiliated with the New York Islanders, so Ville Husso was not given preferential treatment as the Blues would have preferred. St. Louis was forced to play three goaltenders with the Wolves for much of the year.
Again, this is not earth-shattering news. Most players that see the ECHL will not play many games in the NHL and vice versa. It is good to have influence and control though.
The Blues had little to none over the last two seasons and now they have a true farm system. These affiliations are always fleeting, but for now, the Blues are in control. It should benefit their prospects and these teams as well.
"“The partnership got off to a great start last season, as the players we received from St. Louis were key to our success,” said Oilers Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations Rob Murray. “We’re excited to continue into next season, especially as the Blues begin their AHL affiliation in San Antonio.”"
The Tulsa Oilers begin their ECHL season on October 13.