Bill Scott is the Oklahoma City Barons' version of Sam Presti.
Like the Thunder general manager, the Barons' GM also got his opportunity at a young age after paying his dues. Wearing black rimmed glasses, Scott even looks a little like Presti.
And like Presti, Scott is the GM of a model, winning franchise.
The Barons are in the American Hockey League playoffs for the third consecutive season and opened the best-of-7 Western Conference finals Friday and Saturday at Grand Rapids. The series shifts to the Cox Convention Center for games Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
The Barons also reached the Western Conference finals last season.
But this season was a different type of challenge for Scott.
Last year, the Barons were the No. 1 seed. This season, the Barons dug a hole with a five-game losing streak in mid-January after young Oilers stars Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Justin Schultz returned to Edmonton after the NHL lockout ended.
The Barons tumbled to 11th place.
Four months later, the Barons are one of four teams left in a 30-team league vying for the Calder Cup.
The 32-year-old Scott was the point man in rebuilding the roster.
Starting in late January, Scott orchestrated free-agent contracts with former NHL veterans Jonathan Cheechoo, Brett Clark and Randy Jones. Two months later, the Barons traded for Garrett Stafford, a 33-year-old veteran with a decade of experience in the AHL.
“It shows this franchise wants to win,” said 35-year-old team captain Josh Green. “Sometimes you see other (AHL) franchises go with their young guys when times are tough. It's a different way of thinking here. They feel they can get young guys the best experience by winning and surrounding them with older guys.”
There is one huge difference between Presti's and Scott's jobs. Every move the Barons make must be endorsed by the Edmonton Oilers, the Barons' NHL parent team.
“Sam has full control of the Thunder and has done a terrific job,” Scott said. “The equivalent in this organization is (Edmonton general manager) Craig MacTavish. My role is a little bit different but there are a lot of similarities.
“We have to deal with a few more unique situations and circumstances — injury (rehabs) from the big club, recalling players to the big club, getting players from the ECHL (Double-A). We're developing young players. At the same time we want to improve our club.”
Oilers provide Scott resources
If the big club wants to stock its Triple-A roster with young prospects, sometimes in a cost-cutting move, it limits moves an AHL general manager can make. Scott is blessed the Oilers make winning a priority.
“It's a team effort,” said Oilers assistant general manager Ricky Olcyzyk. “We all work together. At the end of the day the Oilers make the final decision. But we certainly take into consideration what Bill and their coaches are telling us.”
An NHL proven free agent like Cheechoo, who led the NHL in goals seven years ago, can cost up to $300,000 a year on an AHL contract in a normal non-lockout season.
“They have a wish list,” Olcyzyk said. “They may want player X, Y or Z. For different reasons we may say we don't want player X or player Y but we'll negotiate with player Z.”
The Oilers pay the Barons' salaries.
On-the-rise players drafted by the organization make around $50,000 to $60,000 in the AHL. The AHL league minimum is $42,500.
Most AHL payrolls range between $2 and $3.5 million a year. Edmonton has a Triple-A budget but is willing to pay market price.
“Edmonton sees the big picture,” Scott said. “If they need to spend a little more money than they planned they've usually done that. They don't spend money frivolously. They're smart how they spend their money. There are contract negotiations but they give fair contracts.”
Just as important as investing dollars is the Oilers' willingness to allow a veteran to take ice time away from a younger player.
The Oilers believe top young prospects gain invaluable playoff experience playing alongside a few veterans.
“Edmonton is very good at supporting what we do here,” Scott said. “They trust our management team, our scouting staff, our coaching staff. They understand the needs of an American Hockey League team.”
It's a team effort. Chris Cichocki, a former coach at Stockton, Edmonton's Double-A team, scouts the ECHL for the Oilers. Cichocki has supplied the Barons with impact Double-A free agents like defenseman Andrew Hotham and center C.J. Stretch.
“We want to know the ECHL players better than any organization,” Scott said. “When you lose guys at this level due to injuries or (NHL) recall it's tough to replace them and not have your team sink down. Chris Cichocki has done a great job.”
Barons coach Todd Nelson and assistants Rocky Thompson and Gerry Fleming have significant input on personnel additions. The biggest challenge for the staff is developing chemistry with players constantly moving between Stockton, Oklahoma City and Edmonton.
“Give Todd Nelson and his staff a lot of credit,” Olcyzyk said. “It's one thing to have players. But it's coaching that helps a team gel and have success like we're having down there right now, knock on wood. It's a team effort from everyone in OKC, our scouts, people in Edmonton, everybody.
“We're very excited. We know we have a good group down there starting with Bill Scott working through Todd Nelson down to the training staff. We feel it's the best staff in the AHL.”
The goal: Win the Calder Cup
Oklahoma City's playoff roster has no weaknesses.
The only area you could quibble is the power play has been mediocre. Every other aspect is solid. The penalty kill is much improved. The defense is much improved. The offense has two No. 1 caliber lines. The third and fourth lines chip in occasional goals.
The key variable is the Barons have a 31-year-old goaltender (Yann Danis) who has played at an extremely high level the past two months.
Oklahoma City had to scratch and claw to climb to the No. 5 seed. The Barons didn't clinch a playoff berth until the next-to-last day of the regular season.
But if the Barons hadn't added veterans like Cheechoo or Jones or Stafford they probably wouldn't have made the playoffs, much less have a shot at the Calder Cup.
“Another key factor is guys at the first of the season sent down to Stockton because the NHL guys were here, guys like Toni Rajala, came back with a great attitude,” Scott said. “They were good players for us right away.”
The Barons' success has bolstered Scott's resume.
A Unionville, Ontario, native whose mother was raised in Detroit, Scott was the team manager involved in areas like video work while earning a degree in business management at Michigan State.
Scott spent four years as the AHL director of hockey operations. His job description included everything from scheduling to assisting with fines and suspensions. He had similar duties as the ECHL director of hockey operations.
Three years ago, at age 29, Scott was hired to be the general manager of the Barons, Edmonton's Triple-A team that was relocating to Oklahoma City from Springfield, Mass.
“The goal is to win and develop players at the same time,” Scott said. “I think our track record is pretty good the first three years. We had a lot of players go up to Edmonton and play well and we've had some success here, too.”
Like Presti, Scott deflects credit.
Scott said players buying into the system and performing at a high level are the primary reasons the Barons have been one of the AHL's hottest teams the past two months.
“This is satisfying. We're on a good run, knowing we were in 11th at one point. But we won't be satisfied until we win the Calder Cup,” Scott said. “We got close last year. We want to win it for the guys in that room, for Oklahoma City, the entire organization.”