Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fronts: Springer's snow job; meet the other Doug

Doug Gilmour has a favourite Christmas carol: Walking In A Winter Blunderland.

Or it could be Decoy To The World.

For anyone in the GTA or around Ontario who sees Gilmour's post-loss quotes today (The Whig-Standard's story was picked up by The Canadian Press, and Loose Pucks has a post), please understand that this is not a garden-variety junior hockey story. Anything that Gilmour, now 2-10-1 as rookie coach of my hometown Kingston Frontenacs -- my team, he just works there -- says about his players' effort or lack thereof ultimately amounts to a diversionary tactic.

Simply put, the chickens have come home to roost for Frontenacs owner Doug Springer:
"City council will call representatives of the Kingston Frontenacs onto the carpet to explain why their marketing plans aren't pulling in the number of fans they projected when the K-Rock Centre first opened.

"Figures presented to city council this week show that the arena posted a net income of just under $66,000 for the nine months ending in September, far below the projected income of $431,000 that was predicted in business plans last year."
-- Kingston Whig-Standard
There were apparently only 800 people at Kingston Taxpayer Arena (as the K-Rock Centre might as well be called) last night. From the looks of it, there was absolutely no one there as the Fronts lost 5-2 to Mississauga St. Michael's.

It's not about Gilmour. It has never been about Gilmour nor will it ever will be about Gilmour.

The Frontenacs have an owner who is too small-town cheap to bother bringing in a modern management team so the Kingston fans who basically bought him a a $43-million downtown arena can at least watch a competitive team. The Springer show in Kingston can't even called pitiful, because it would insult the memory of whoever first coined the word pitiful. At least today he's feeling some heat, although some would say the pig already got out of the barn.
"Councillor Vicki Schmolka deferred acceptance of the 2009 business plan for the arena -- a rosy document that projected a net income for the centre of nearly $1.2 million -- until council has heard from representatives of Arcturus/ SMG (the arena's private operator) and the Frontenacs. The presentation is expected to take place in January.

" 'It's hard to have confidence in this (business plan) until we have heard from the Frontenacs,' Schmolka told council."
Attendance is down in most OHL markets this season, but a crowd of 800 people in a taxpayer-funded building that opened just 10 months ago is beyond the pale. Springer long ago forfeited any of benefit of the doubt, mostly due to his retention of GM-for-life Larry Mavety. The general mangler has steadily let the team's talent base erode since a fine regular season in 2005-06 (81 points).

The examples just blur together.
  • The recently traded Josh Brittain was the fifth straight first-round pick of Mavety's who will not finish his junior career in Kingston.
  • They don't have a single player left from the 2005 draft year, which should have provided some key cogs for 2008-09. It sure as hell has in Belleville. The Bulls drafted their top scorer, Eric Tangradi, the OHL's best goalie, Mike Murphy, and defenceman P.K. Subban, a two-time member of the Canadian world junior team, that season.

    More remarkably, none of them were taken in the first three rounds. All of them have since been drafted by NHL teams.

    None of Mavety's 2005 draft choices have been taken by the NHL, even though the Frontenacs drafted fourth overall, and had five of the first 66 selections.
  • At the start of this season, Mavety had the option of acquiring an overage player from the Kitchener Rangers to complete an earlier trade. He took Yannick Weber, even though 19 other GMs knew he was moving up to the American Hockey League and would not be back in the OHL.

    One player they could have taken off Kitchener's roster was Brandon Mashinter, who is a forward with size (6-foot-4, 232 pounds) and scoring touch, something Kingston is lacking.

    Guess where Mashinter ended up? Belleville.
  • Around this time last season, Mavety received three players from the Brampton Battalion in the Cory Emmerton trade and in a separate transaction. None of those three are still with the Frontenacs -- in fact, two of them, Kevin Christmas and Justin Levac, are now with the Kingston Voyageurs in the Provincial Junior A League.
  • Mike Murphy, as noted, is the best goalie in the league. Mavety passed on him in the draft twice. The goalie he took before Murphy in '05, Daryl Borden, is no longer even in the OHL.
Despite all this, Springer insists that The Royal Mavesty is a "great hockey man" and this franchise's first refuge is to blame the players for not trying hard enough. That, not any lack of marketing, is why people don't go to the games. Attendance would go up if all traces of Mavety were scrubbed from the organization. Springer could also improve his public image immensely if he put the team up for sale, no reasonable offer refused.

It's hard to fault the players for not trying when there is so little evidence of accountability and aptitude among the big brains of this so-called organization.

Mavety has also effectively undermined Gilmour -- raising fears this is part of a plot to make him the fall guy for when they miss the playoffs -- by trading Brittain and Peter Stevens, two players who can hold their own in a fight. Like it or not, this means the rest of the players are vulnerable. The degree to which teams are taking liberties with Kingston's smaller players has become almost comical. Forward Kelly Geoffrey found out the hard way on Wednesday (right around the 1:10-2:00 mark of this clip).

One can take Gilmour's efforts to become a coach at face value. Regardless, five Stanley Cup-winning coaches, never mind one Cup-winning ex-player, could not overcome the colossal cluelessness in the cloud cuckoo land of the Kingston Frontenacs.

At any level of athletics, it is impossible to fool yourself into giving your best when you know you're out of your depth. The Frontenacs have been exactly that on most nights this season -- largely because of Mavety's laughably dated coaching style -- and wil continue to be until the ownership and management changes.

By the same token, opponents know they do not have to bring their best effort when they play Kingston. You can see a bit of this in every game. Teams know they just to have to do the bare minimum to get out with two points in the standings.

As the above story indicates, this is not just a Doug Gilmour story. It's about an owner killing the OHL product in the Kingston market, because he doesn't care.

The city of Kingston is trying to make amends for that sweetheart deal it gave Springer. It budgeted for 3,500 fans per game and four home playoff dates to meet revenue targets. There was talk last week that would downgrade expectations to 3,000 people a game. As my friend Tyler King put it, this is effectively means that even if you're not buying Frontenacs tickets as a taxpayer in Kingston, you are buying Frontenacs tickets, since the city is sudsidizing bad hockey.

You want to focus on Doug Gilmour, go ahead. If anything, he's a sympathetic figure for being dragged into this gong show, and hopefully he'll find his coaching salvation.

Meantime, above all else, there is Doug Springer, who's fast running out of immunity cards. He is the emperor with no clothes and if you've ever walked around downtown Kingston in January on a day when the wind is howling in off the lake, that's not a good thing.

The powers-that-be in Kingston have finally caught on. It's about time people across Ontario woke up to the fact, too. Gilmour's definitely not the problem and he might not be the solution.

Frustrating times for Fronts (Sunaya Sapurji, Loose Pucks)
Lowly Fronts have some explaining to do; Horrible start by K-Rock Centre's main tenant is said to have cut into revenues (Ian Elliott, Kingston Whig-Standard)


Duane Rollins said...

800. Yikes. That's a Jr B crowd.

Neate/Tyler: What are junior hockey fans in Kingston doing now? Are they just spending more time with the family. Or, are the going to Voyageurs games? Dare I say, Bulls games?

krister said...

Proof positive that no matter what - tax payer funded stadiums are never for the benefit of the tax payers and doesn't add revenue streams to the community that are not there already. Enough of the corporate welfare to the fat cat owners!

kinger said...

Duane, I'd say the majority are just staying home and doing other things. Some others are watching the games on TV.

There is definitely a contingent who have asked why they'd head to the K-Rock when heading down the 401 to the Yardmen is not only cheaper (even including gas), but a better overall hockey experience.

The Vees are struggling like crazy to draw fans, though, which is a huge shame. I know I'd be going to every game if they weren't way the hell away from where I live. Kinda kills that whole "OMG PARKING IS KEY" argument the KCAL weirdos had.