Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fronts: Beware the ides of Mav

A game seven months ago today between the Kingston Frontenacs and Sudbury Wolves illustrated the difference between a true rebuilding and one of your Larry Mavety rebuildings.

Junior hockey has not yet been Moneyballed the way the big pro sports have. It is not as if people have not been aware of the Fronts', uh, enigmatic approach to roster management, but it bears being broadcast. A commenter at the invaluable The New OHL Open Forum pointed out last week that the key difference between the Fronts and Sudbury, the other Eastern Conference team who missed the playoffs.
"The basic rule is when you are at the bottom you trade your best older players for good young players and high draft picks. That's in the junior hockey Management For Dummies manual.
A quick check from that March 14 blowout at the K-Rock Centre shows that the Wolves by that point were down to three players who were 19 years old or in an overage season. One of the two 19-year-olds skating for them that night did not return to the OHL, opting to play university hockey.

The Fronts, in contast, had seven players in the lineup that night who were either 19 or 20 years old -- seven players whom, no offence, were close to the finish line in the OHL. They might have done a great job playing for pride and to get the attention of pro and CIS scouts, but that was it.

It was plainly obvious that Mavety was hanging on to older players in an effort to squeeze out a few more wins -- no matter what it might do to the team's chances of being competitive the following season. Or as our buddy put it:
"... That meant that Kingston had to find players to fill 7 slots. An awful lot of players. While Sudbury had to find none and 2 to 3 of the new drafted players would push out players of less talent."
It's early yet, but Sudbury is off to a nice little 4-2-1 start.

The Frontenacs, with a fresh arrangement of deck chairs on the HMCS Royal Mavesty, have the same 2-6-1 record that they did after nine games a year ago. They have more talent, but in the immortal words of Maury Wills during his ill-starred stint as Seattle Mariners manager in the early '80s (the same period that most of Mavety's practice drills originate from, some would say), it's confused talent. That seems reflected by the Fronts having the worst special teams in the OHL (19th-ranked penalty kill and a power play that is 20th, dead last).

Thanks to one smart fan, it's clearer now why some major junior hockey clubs can quickly shoot back up to the peak of a cycle, while some keep skating in place. The Frontenacs have won two out of their past four games, living up the owner's semi-ultimatum. That assumes you ignore that they have been outshot by a collective 164-90 over that span and were 1-for-20 on the power play. The Windsor-based TV commentators apparently called the organization a "sideshow" during Monday's shutout loss to Taylor Hall and the Spitfires. You also have to ignore that Mavety once again blamed his players for the loss.

They are who owner Doug Springer thought they were, if you ignore the previous 10 paragraphs and the last 10 years.

(At least Orleans' Erik Gudbranson is an alrightnik -- clip via the invaluable MisterDB):

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