Friday, September 19, 2008

The Top 2-Oh: An OHL preview

In the debut of a weekly feature the 20 OHL teams are ranked. Like the CIS' Top 27, justification for the rankings will be provided. Feedback is always welcome in the comments or at

The list below the jump

20. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

When you make a big run at a title you often pay the price the next year. One can question the logic of trying to go for it in a year that the Rangers were hanging around, but hindsight, 20/20 and all that. It’s a rebuilding year. It probably will be a long one.

19. Oshawa Generals

Tavares, Tavares, Tavares and Tavares. Until he’s traded that is. How the Generals handle his deal will determine a great deal about where this team will be in 2009-10. As for this year, it seems unlikely that there will be playoff hockey in the ‘shawa this season.

18. Niagara IceDogs

No goaltender and no defense if Alex Pietrangelo sticks with St. Louis (as expected). It will be a long year in St. Kitts.

17. Owen Sound Attack

Still really young in the key areas, the Attack are paying for an unsuccessful run at the top a couple seasons ago. The best OHL teams don’t strip things as bare as Owen Sound did, but it is what it is. Depending on how things develop the Attack will either be in the hunt for a low seed or out of it by December.

16. Saginaw Spirit

Like the NHL, the OHL might be reconsidering its wisdom of moving teams from the heartland of hockey to the U.S. (although, to be fair, Saginaw is hardly Miami when it comes to puck culture). With draft picks refusng to show up and a terrible regional economy (don’t discount that as a factor on the ice—would you send your kid to a rust belt city?) it’s unclear how the Spirit can dig themselves out from its current position—which is below average and borderline at having a shot at the playoffs.

15. Erie Otters

Still a lot of questions for a team that hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2005. There is a lot of OK here. They are OK in net. OK up front and OK in the front office, but whether that’s enough to get back in the top eight—especially with seemingly more players that want out than want in—remains to be seen.

14. Kingston Frontenacs

The Fronts are solidly average, witch, sadly, is something to celebrate in Kingston. Getting Ethan Werek to, shockingly, show up probably put Kingston in the playoff hunt—maybe for a 7-8 seed and a first round match with the Bulls (and wouldn’t that be fun!)

13. Sudbury Wolves

The 2011 draft watch of John McFarland officially starts in Sudbury this weekend. That’s the great thing about finishing last—you get first crack at the best players in the province. And a guy that managed 96 goals as a midget in the MTHL AAA league is going to step in and be an impact player. The wolves will likely use 2008-09 as a building season for a run next year.

12. Sarnia Sting

You don’t lose a player of Steve Stamkos’ ability without taking a step back (and truth be told the Sting were a bit middling even with Stamkos). They need to find scoring up front, obviously, but depth at the back is a question as well. A likely 6-7 team.

11. Mississauga St. Mike's Majors

A good young team that is still a year away from truly being in the conversation. Hopefully some in the ‘Sauga will actually get out to watch.

10. Peterborough Petes

The Petes are a cusp team that could struggle to make the playoffs, but could also be mid-pack. A lot will depend on the play of ‘keeper Jason Missiaen (and what they get in the expected deal of their other goalie, Avs draft pick Trevor Cann).

9. Kitchener Rangers

No, Kitchener isn’t going to win the OHL title again, but it would be foolish to rank the Rangers too low. It’s just too solid of an organization. If Justin Azevedo is back, Kitchener will fight for home advantage. If not, they will be a solid playoff team.

8. Barrie Colts

In a league that is very dependent on having a solid front office, Barrie’s GM-by-committee play seems, well, flawed. It’s not clear whether the team will be able to adjust to mid-season needs as well as other teas (and handicapping OHL teams requires an understanding that the teams that start the season are rarely the ones that finish it—at least with contenders). Still, some nice up and coming talent should keep the Colts solidly mid-pack in the east.

7. Ottawa 67's

Maybe ranked a bit higher than their talent would indicate, but look for the players to rally behind Brian Kilrea to give him one last good ride. It won’t be an OHL title—there just isn’t enough there—but a solid mid-conference finish and a second round playoff appearance are possible.

6. Windsor Spitfires

The Spitfires are fully loaded for a run at the top in 2008-09, and are a consensus OHL title contender on most pre-season lists. They could live up that billing, especially if Taylor Hall builds on his great rookie season. Questions about how the team will deal with the distractions of moving into a new rink in December and whether it has fully emotionally recovered from the loss of Mickey Renaud prevent ranking the Spits higher now.

5. Guelph Storm

Good goaltending and above average defense means that the Storm will compete every night. Although not in the elite just yet, Guelph has the pieces to be a darkhorse—although they will need to find some firepower up front.

4. Brampton Battalion

A lot will depend on whether Cody Hodgson sticks with the Canucks, but Brampton should be solid as it looks to recoup from last season’s first round disaster. The biggest question here is, based on last year’s results, whether the character is there to play in April. They should be fine until then, however.

3. Plymouth Whalers

The Whalers used 2007-08 to rebuild wisely and sit with one of the deepest line-ups in the league. They might not be up to championship contention just yet, but there is more than enough there to give them a shot at acquiring the help they need.

2. London Knights

Thanks to Kitchener’s desire to be as strong as possible last year, the Knights are back on top of the western heap. The ex-Rangers obtained in the Steve Mason deal, Nazem Kadri, Phil Varone and Steve Tarasuk, are all ready to play major roles and there is enough depth there to trade for any weakness that may arise. Or, to grab Tavares. A re-match of the 1999 OHL final is not out of the question.

1. Belleville Bulls

An easier touch in the regular season than their biggest rivals for No. 1. One of the best goaltenders in the league. And the experience of playing in a Memorial Cup to draw from. There are lots of reasons to suggest that Belleville will be there at the end again. Although London is the likely destination, don’t rule the Bulls out of the Tavares sweepstakes. Junior teams are more likely to deal with conference rivals because there isn’t the chance for the traded player to come back for 10 years to haunt them. They are one of, at best, four teams with enough to make it work.

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