Current Record: 13-27-3 (29 points) Tenth Place
Times are tough in Tulsa right now. The once proud franchise who has been in the Central Hockey League since it’s inception in 1992, is now at an all time low. They are struggling for wins, struggling at the gate, and Head Coach Bruce Ramsay is on the hot seat. More than half way through the season the team has 13 wins and is hoping to eclipse their worst record from 08-09 campaign where they only had 18 wins. So what is the problem in Tulsa?
While this article has not started off on a high note for the faithful in Tulsa, the problem I believe does not lie on the ice. I do believe Bruce Ramsay is one of the better coaches in the CHL. I believe he has done his best to put the best product on the ice for the once proud fans of Tulsa. However lack of ownership support is something that is failing in Tulsa. Horn Chen, a Chicago based businessman, currently owns the team. Chen, at one time, owned a stake in every team in the Central Hockey League. Most recently the Wichita Thunder parted ways with Chen for local ownership.
If Tulsa wants to build back up the fan base they once had in their prime, selling out the Tulsa Convention Center under then coach Gary Unger, they need to find an owner who cares as much about Tulsa and the Oilers as they do their own bottom line. Minor league sports thrive on few things. Fan support, mainly season ticket sales, a decent place to play, and ownership that cares for the success of the team. Right now Tulsa has one of those three things. The BOK Center is one of the nicest arenas in minor league hockey. However, with 17,000 seats open for hockey, and only 4,000 showing up to the gate, it leaves for an empty rink. Lastly it’s hard for a team to succeed when your owner is close to 700 miles away, there is no accountability for team performance.
So you may be asking, isn’t this a trade deadline preview? While yes, it is. However after watching Central Hockey League action for 21 years now, my heart goes out to the amazing fans in Tulsa. With that being said, I think I’ve made it quite clear how to dramatically improve the team after this season, so what does Bruce Ramsay need to do to improve this season?
It starts with the defense. Tulsa’s defensive corp as a whole is a +/- rating of -87 on the season. That stat is counting the seven current and active defensemen on the roster. Compare that stat to their forwards who are a combined -90 with only two more skaters. Defensemen average a -12.4 compared to forwards averaging a -9. Tulsa is the third worst team in goals for, but are the worst team in goals against. The next closest team in the goals against category is 24 goals behind Tulsa, that team being Bloomington.
The one criticism I have of Bruce Ramsay, was the release of David-Alexandre Beauregard and Ian Keserich. Both of those players brought a veteran presence to the locker room and on the ice that few in this league can match. Keserich was not having his best statistical year, but through one more game than current starter Shane Maldolora, had two more goals against. So the Oilers are letting in the same amount of goals against, and that’s where you begin to look at the defense and whether or not they are leaving their goalie out to dry. If this was the case, why wouldn’t you keep Keserich, bring back Maldolora and have a better tandem goalie crew? Beauregard on the other hand was in his 17th professional season and brought miles of experience under his belt for a very young Tulsa team. Beauregard had 16 points through 26 games including a game winning goal.
If Ramsay can find a couple of young college or free agent defensemen who can play smarter in front of his goalies that would improve the team greatly. They have scoring from Ryan Menei, Ben Gordon, and Michel Beausoleil. Sean Erickson is Tulsa’s highest scoring defensemen with 21 points, but also has the highest +/- on the team at -30. The veteran defensive corp has not been beneficial either to the Oilers. Tyler Fleck and Gio Flamminio have been less than impressive this year for Tulsa. Fleck has four assists through 36 games and is a -19. Flamminio has two goals and three assists through 43 games and is a -15. Those two are both capable of much more contributions than that.
Until improvements are made defensively, I don’t see the Oilers climbing out of the cellar. If Ramsay can make a trade or a free agent signing in the next week or so, they have time to make the playoffs, any much longer and I’m afraid the well may run dry for the Oilers.
What do you think needs to happen to improve Tulsa this season, and in the future? Leave you comments here or via Twitter and Facebook and let your voice be heard!