No American Hockey League team will lose star power like the Barons following reports the NHL lockout will end this week.
Four potential future NHL All-Stars are among as many as 10 players that might be invited to Edmonton's training camp later this week, although some will return to Oklahoma City after the Oilers make final cuts before opening a shortened NHL season.
Young stars Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall played with Edmonton last season and are the Oilers foundation for the future. Rookie defenseman Justin Schultz, who has dazzled in his pro debut, also will be a cornerstone building block.
Evidence a new collective bargaining agreement is imminent: Eberle, Hall and Schultz were held out of the Barons' road game Sunday afternoon at Chicago. Nugent-Hopkins will return to Edmonton from Russia, where he was captain for Team Canada's bronze medalist at the world junior championships.
“All season it's been: ‘Are the guys going to go or are they going to stay?'” said Barons general manager Bill Scott. “We enjoyed having them, that's for sure. More than anything this gives us some stability.”
Other Barons expected to be invited to Edmonton's training camp include: forwards Teemu Hartikainen, Magnus Paajarvi and Chris VandeVelde and defenseman Colten Teubert. Forwards Mark Arcobello and Anton Lander might be invited.
In addition to the Fab Four, Hartikainen, possibly Teubert, might stick with Edmonton when the Oilers open the regular season.
To fill roster spots, the Barons are expected to recall forwards Tony Rajala, Philippe Cornet and Ryan Martindale from Stockton in the ECHL, possibly defenseman Taylor Zahn, who has played in OKC this season.
Scott also will try to sign a few free agents, whether it's players that sign two-way contracts with Edmonton/Oklahoma City or sign AHL-only deals.
“We've had our eyes on a lot of different guys in the ECHL and Central Hockey League as well as guys over in Europe,” Scott said. “We're going to do everything we can to find the best players still available to maintain and upgrade our defense.”
Whoever the Barons sign won't match the Fab Four's offensive production.
Eberle (51 points, 29 goals) and Schultz (48 points) lead the AHL in scoring. Hall (34 points) is among the AHL's top scorers despite joining the Barons two weeks into the season following rehabilitation for a shoulder injury. Nugent-Hopkins scored 20 points in 19 games.
Before Sunday's 6-3 loss at Chicago, Eberle, Hall and Schultz accounted for 20 of the Barons' previous 24 goals.
Despite having the AHL's most dynamic No. 1 line, players featured on the cover of The Hockey News, the Barons didn't dominate as some speculated.
Oklahoma City, though, is among 10 teams within a few standings points of each other in the Western Conference.
“Would we have liked to have had a few more wins? Absolutely,” Scott said. “But as good as Justin was, we had a lot of young defensemen on the back end. We knew that would be a spot we'd probably have some ups and downs early in the year.”
Veteran goaltender Yann Danis was asked how losing four stars and a few other teammates might impact the Barons.
“I think everyone was prepared for it,” Danis said. “I don't think anyone expected it to be a forever thing. Everyone knew it would end eventually. It's a big loss losing those guys. But we have some depth. We managed to do well last year. One reason for our success was it didn't matter who was in the lineup.”
The Barons reached the Western Conference finals last year despite not having one player in the top 50 in scoring. In fact, veteran Ryan Keller was the only Baron in the top 80 in scoring.
“We're kind of back to square one, but every team is in the same boat,” Scott said. “It was a fun ride with the talent level we had here the past three months. But we still have some talented players. We're excited with what's to come and make a good run in the playoffs.”
With the NHL lockout reportedly coming to an end, the Barons roster will undergo some shuffling.
RW *Jordan Eberle
C *Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
LW *Taylor Hall
D *Justin Schultz
LW *Teemu Hartikainen
D Colten Teubert
LW Magnus Paajarvi
C Chris VandeVelde
C Mark Arcobello
C Anton Lander
RW Tony Rajala
C Ryan Martindale
LW Philippe Cornet
unsigned free agents
*projected to make Edmonton's final roster.