Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fronts: Clean slate and you're still throwing stones

As Kinger's hero has been wont to say, "Words mean things." Especially when those words are centred, bolded, italicized and put in enlarged type.
"They told me they had a deal with Kingston and would I accept it? I thought about it for a couple of days and said no ... I want to try and go for it in case it's my last year in the OHL."

— Guelph Storm forward Matthew Sisca, on why he turned down a trade to the Kingston Frontenacs

The story is from Monday, but what the hell. Good on the Kingston Whig-Standard for alerting readers to how owner Doug Springer's ramshackle franchise is viewed across the league.

The intent here is not to rip, but to convey that the Frontenacs long ago reached their limit with trading in fallacies. It seems best to head off the hype now rather than after the fact. Making the playoffs in a weak OHL Eastern Conference will not be proof there is a rebuilding program, pure and simple. By the same token, their collection of forwards with Ethan Werek and defencemen with Erik Gudbranson (who is wearing an alternate captain's A for Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka world under-18 tournament this week in Europe and got a glowing notice in Sports Illustrated) is as good as they have had since 2005-06. Doug Gilmour has shown some promise as a coach.

One would say this is a critical year for the future of major junior hockey in Kingston. It should become a political hot potato if the primary tenant at the city of Kingston's $43-million downtown arena continues to be an also-ran at the box office and in the standings as 2009 becomes 2010. It goes double with an election in November. (Picture Mayor Harvey Rosen saying, "Again? This stupid province.")

Another subpar season will further the perception, as per the Sisca quote, that Kingston is the league's Siberia.

The situation with Brock Higgs is illustrative. Higgs is a Kingstonian who was drafted by the Frontenacs in 2008. Long story short, he elected to play Provincial Junior A across town with Kingston Kimco Voyageurs and go for a NCAA scholarship. His plan is to play at Canisius College in Buffalo, where he can play hockey, get an education and be tip taxi drivers generously.

This is kind of adaptation of a comment left some time ago at the awesome OHL Prospects. It kind of lays out why it is understandable a Kingston prospect would not want to play for his hometown club. Higgs is on NHL Central Scouting's radar screen, but he is no sure thing to get drafted.
It is far from a stunner that Brock Higgs would not jump to play for the Frontenacs. If you'll indulge me...

The player said in June it 'looks like' he is returning to the Kingston Kimco Voyageurs and will go to Canisius in 2010. He is 17 years old with the right to change his mind.

There is the education package if you end up going to a Canadian university after major junior. However, as OHL alum Jason Cassidy explained, it's determined by how high a player was drafted. Higgs was a fifth-rounder.

Meantime, and who knows how much stickiness this has with agents and parents, the Frontenacs are the franchise which was sued by a former player after Larry Mavety tried to deny him his education package. As the player, Brody Todd, told the Toronto Star (Nov. 26, 2006): "I was disgusted how they held this (education package) back from me after playing in the league for five years ... If I hadn't pushed and sued, I likely would have ended up with nothing."

There is a lot of antipathy among the sporting class in Kingston toward the Fronts.

Their owner, Springer, has a reputation for not being accountable to fans. They have not had a playoff series win since he bought the Fronts in the late 1990s, but he refuses to change the general manager. Meantime the city of Kingston, which was just ranked as one of Canada's worst-run cities in a Maclean's magazine report, built a $43-million downtown arena, thus making every Kingston taxpayer a stakeholder in the Frontenacs.

Nevertheless, when the city council tried to cover its butt last winter by demanding the Frontenacs appear at a public meeting to discuss their "marketing plan," (wink, wink), Springer refused to take questions. Instead, he had his PR person and Gilmour (who had been in the league for about 30 games at the point) speak.

It's also telling that whenever players on their way out of town are asked what they'll miss most about Kingston, they invariably pause and say, "The people, the city." It's never the organization.

The Frontenacs have a bad reputation. They need to change the culture, since as of right now, they're not part of the fabric of the community, in the manner of other major junior teams.

People in Kingston are pretty savvy. They know there's no rebuilding taking place as long as Springer interferes in hockey decisions and as long as Gilmour follows in the footsteps of Mavety, simply settling for making the playoffs. The attendance spike they got from Gilmour lasted about one game.

As for Higgs' personal choice, who knows? It could be his family is big on education. The Kingston paper had a feature on Higgs during the Voyageurs' playoff run which noted his older sister goes to Queen's University, a pretty prestigious academic institution.

Canisius is also a first-rate Catholic college. As a school in a border town, it is also sensitive to the academic needs of Canadians. There is a young woman from Ottawa who plays basketball there, Steph MacDonald. She pointed out to the Ottawa Sun two years ago that one of the determining factors in choosing that school was not having to worry about getting her credits accepted if she applied to do a post-graduate degree in Canada.

The OHL is a place to be for a high-end talent who's got a great shot at being drafted at age 18. I'm always coming from the perspective of being a Kingston fan — paraphrasing what Roger Ebert says about writing for the Rupert Murdoch-owned Chicago Sun-Times, the Frontenacs are my team. Doug Springer just happens to own it. It's a childish attachment, I know.

However, a fan has to be clear-eyed. There are a lot of reasons why Higgs would go the NCAA route. The advisers for another Kingston lad, Scott Harrington, made it known before the OHL draft that he did not want to be drafted by the Frontenacs. The "out" the Frontenacs had was that Harrington was not a clear-cut No. 2 overall pick, he was somewhere in the top 5-10 picks, plus they are fairly well-stocked on the back end with Gudbranson, Taylor Doherty and Brian Lashoff.

None of this is cut-and-dried. The situation can change quickly with a young player. If Higgs does report to the Frontenacs, I'll gladly eat my words. How's that for an out clause?
Admittedly, that is inflammatory rhetoric for mid-August, but the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Springer set the bar last September when he told play-by-play man Jim Gilchrist during a between-periods interview that the team's goal was "top four" in the East. A season later, they have more talent and a reasonable facsimile of a coach with Gilmour, so why let Springer move the goalposts?

Long post shorter, they should get better. Werek should have a shot at a 40-goal season. Greatbranson will rattle opposing forwards' teeth during his draft year. However, let it be said this franchise is not starting with a clean slate.

It has been 658 days since Doug Springer promised to do "whatever it takes" to bring a winner to Kingston.

Incidentally, here is what S.I. said about Greatbranson:
"Fast and fearless, Erik Gudbranson captained the Kingston Frontenacs last season despite being just 16 years old. The 6-3, 185-pound blueliner struggled in camp, but is regarded as a Mark Stuart-type: solid in his own end, strong skater and a great leader."
(He actually only wore the C for a handful of games, but still, Sports Illustrated.)


Anonymous said...

How can you honestly say that the intent of this is not to rip, when the entire article is ripping the team on what has happened in the past. It's getting very tiresome to continously read this negative crap all the time, especially when this team has so many things to be positive about this upcoming season.

Obviously at the start of a season, players around the league would rather not go to a team that has struggled in the past. Its just human nature. If that trade happened in October or November, you don't think Sisca would have a change of mind, if the Frontenacs are sitting in one of the top two or three spots in the East???

Secondly, the Brock Higgs situation is being skewed by you BIG time.
The knock on Higgs is whether or not he can produce at the OHL level and in the RBC tournament, the closest thing to OHL calibre compeition, he had a very lackluster tournament. Is it not funny, that after that tournament, the Frontenacs stopped courting him as hard as it had been rumoured that they were. Also, many people will argue that Vees forward Mike Farrell is largely responsible for much of Higgs success, especially in the Vees playoff run.
If you're so hell bent on Higgs being on the Frontenacs, then I ask you; Where do you think he fits in???
He is not better and will not produce anywhere near what Nathan Moon or Ethan Werek will this season and those are you number 1 and 2 centres. George Lovatsis played some centre and Charles Sarault is heading into his second season and we've already seen what guys like Justin Levac, Kevin Christmas and Stephane Chabot did in a Vees lineup. Never lit the world on fire in the OHL, but were all dominant in teir two for the Voyageurs.
Alan Quine is the first pick, second overall and also plays centre, so where in the heck is Brock Higgs going to fit in. That's the real reason why he isn't playing for the Frontenacs. If they gauranteed him a spot as one of their top two centre's, i'll bet $100 that he is in their lineup, but the Frontenacs didn't give him that offer and he choose not to accept theirs, because he does have other options. Those options will be changing even more, but it basically comes down to Brock Higgs or Charles Sarault and without seeing either player at the other level, it's hard to compare each other.

Third; Be fair, Scott Harrington was the most OHL ready prospect in the draft and he didn't just say No to the Kingston Frontenacs, he also said No to the Oshawa Generals, Kitchener Rangers and any other team in the OHL except for the London Knights. If London was drafting first overall, Scott Harrington would have been taken first overall no questions asked. He played a prominent role for the Voyageurs in their road to the Royal Bank Cup, so to say he was a 5 to 10 prospect is ludicrous. Who were those other 9 guys playing against at the time, it sure wasn't excelling against top end 18 to 20 year olds. There was also a need issue in that the two teams picking 1 and 2, were more interested in forwards than defense.

and yes maybe the club isn't starting with a clean slate, but you also have to give them a chance to prove themselves too and not jump all over them for the same old things, when those things haven't happened yet.
Try blogging about something positive for a change. People always say you need to change the culture to be successful, but it's hard to change the culture, when all certain fans want to do is point out things about the old culture.

Jayme said...

Part of the probleam in kingston is there going in the same cycle over and over.Fans get exicted about the comming season a month in another slow start and good players are traded.I can not think of any thing positive this could be the worset year in the history not only on ice but off ice.


Dennis Prouse said...

Worst year ever? Not sure about that. From what I could see, Kingston will return a ton of players, and typically in the OHL you get rewarded for sticking with a group of youngsters and bringing them along. It also appears as if Gilmour is slowly but surely taking over the GM's role. When and if Mavety comes back, you can bet that he will be, at best, a co-GM with Gilmour. I see the Fronts as a potential dark horse in the Conference...

Jayme said...

How many of those player will remain i think will be the big question.Maybe if gilmore can get control of the gm dutys full time maybe thing will improve.What i think is telling is there is more interste in the tier 2 team.

Anonymous said...

Jayme, now your just letting your hate and sour taste in your mouth sway your judgement of facts.

The Fronteancs will be very strong this season in the East and you can take that one to the bank. Last year and i don't care what anyone says, they were not expected to do much, but this year is a completely different story. They will be last year's Tampa Bay Rays of the OHL, just watch and see.

and yes there is a lot of interest in the Vees, but they are coming off a national championship run that saw them finish top 4 in the Canada. If there is sooo much interest in them, why did they have to win an Ontario Championship and come within an eyelash of winning a National Championship before they finally got a following of over 500 people.

Face it, the Fronts are Kingston's team, but the city is having a hard time trusting them and following them, because of the last 10 years.
This year the team will turn it around, much the same way they did back in the early 90's. Just wait and see......

sager said...

I get it: You are outraged by the content you paid nothing to obtain, but don't believe in what you're saying enough to put a name behind it.

The sign of intelligence is that you can hold two different ideas in your head at once.

Let's focus on You have to give them a chance to prove themselves? Eleven years for this owner and management structure (even if you put Gilmour in for Mavety, it's basically the same) should be enough.

A franchise does not get to skate on a dismal decade because the owner, GM and coach snap their fingers and promise to be better next season. They have to be held accountable.

At the same time, one should be excited for this year's group of players. They have a shot to be pretty decent. Please keep in mind that in 2006-07 a lot of the pre-season talk had the Frontenacs being a contender for first overall in the East and maybe going to the league final. They ended up with 69 points and another first-round exit.

As for the Tampa Bay Rays analogy, that's way off. The Rays were not some miracle team. They had a unique, innovating approach to team-building (drafting and developing). You tell me if you see that coming out of Mavety.

With regard to Higgs, you might be right. All I know is what I read in the paper and Mavety was quoted time and again saying they wanted him to come. He was also a 16-year-old playing with 19- and 20-year-olds, if he could keep up with a more advanced player, doesn't that speak well for him? Also, if the Frontenacs made the choice to give up on someone they invested a fifth-rounder in based on a few bad games, that confirms what we have long suspected about their ability as talent evaluators.

Bottom line, if the turnaround is coming this season, I will be right there celebrating with you. At the same time, don't act like they deserve a parade for a sixth-place finish.

In short, you refuted none of my points and actually proved a few. Thank you.

Jayme said...

Don't get me wrong i hope they do well and hope they make the play offs.But to say there going to be a very strong team in a very strong division is a bit of a stretch.Sure they could be a good team but will they be a great team that is think is a bit unlikely.They could be a dark horse that sneakes in and does some damages.Just don't get your hopes to high.

sager said...

Didn't even notice this amid the incoherent rambling: "If you're so hell bent on Higgs being on the Frontenacs, then I ask you; Where do you think he fits in???"

Uh, who said anyone was hell bent on Higgs being on the Frontenacs? With Higgs, one should only be hell-bent on the young man finding a good situation for him to play hockey. It was Mr. Mavety (get well soon, Mav) who insisted he was in their plans. Now that it is clear Higgs is staying with the Vees, you claim he wouldn't have made the team. Sour grapes, much?

Incidentally, Sports Illustrated had a very nice mention of Gudbranson, so I added that to the post. By the way, the Windsor Spitfires have a new radio contract. Imagine that: An OHL team announcing in August that it knows its games are going to be on the radio for the next three seasons. That is unheard of.

Anonymous said...

i absolutely agree that this team has not had a great deal of success, but where has all this let's put the pressure on them gotten you guys???absolutely no where, if they haven't made a change by now, then chances are they won't be making one, until the man in charge is ready to leave on his own.

This team has a lot of good players as you have stated and the focus should be on what this team can accomplish.
Any coincidence that the team played some of its best hockey over the past two seasons when the arena was jammed packed. Any coincidence that the Vees also played their best on home ice, when the arena was jammed to the rafters.
Yes the team needs to give them something to cheer about, but these young kids are still just kids and they need the support from the fans.
Do you think it's beneficial for Alan Quine to come to Kingston and listen to people spew on and on about the bad decisions this team has made for the last five years or whatever it is???

as for the 2006-07, i'm assuming that you are refering to the Stewart, Emmerton, Hughes, Skinner team??? The same team that they waited all season for Danny Taylor to come back and he never did, so while yes they had huge potential from the start of the season, they never had the guy in net to do it and as i'm sure you know, you don't win anything without good goaltending.

I honestly believe, Mavric Parks, at 19 years old can be one of the top goaltenders in the league this season. He has shown signs of utter brilliance and also a tendency to let him bad goals at the wrong time. A year older, you gotta hope he has matured more and will be more consistent, but he has definitely shown he can be a game changer. He was one of the top goaltenders at his age group coming up and his age group is now the 19 year olds in the league.

- Sure, hindsight being 20/20, its easy to say that about Tampa Bay now, but you tell me one person that picked them to win the Division and Al last year? Show me one guy that picked Longoria to be the Rookie of the year and dominate the way he did.
Facts, they were the worst team for years and in one year, went from worst to first. I'm not saying that Frontenacs will do that exactly, but i do believe they have a strong chance to make a legit shot at it.

Finally with Higgs, i never said he wouldn't make the team???I said where does he fit in??and the reason i say that, is because a kid with a scholarship is not going to give up his scholarship, to be on the 3rd or 4th line, and No, i don't think he is good enough to beat out Moon or Werek for one of the top two line centre positions and i don't see him taking a 3rd or 4th line role, BUT, if he went out and continued to light the lamp at the Royal Bank Cup, then my feelings would definitely be different, because he would have proven that he can produce against high end talent.

That same advanced player that he could keep up with, will be on the Frontenacs this season, so if he was making the other kid better, doesn't it boast well that the one making the player better is on the team, rather than the one capitalizing on it???

and i think Larry Mavety reserves the right to change his mind with regards to Higgs. When he was puttnig up points against teams like Oakville, then the interest is higher, but when he struggled out west, it changes things and it changes where the power in the negotiations lie. I think both sides would like to have worked something out, but neither side was willing to give in to the other's demands.

you can call it incoherent rambling all you want, but the reality is, i'm not out to disprove your points, i'm here to state what i think and what i believe. Yes the Frontenacs have struggled in the past, but this years team is the best they have had at this point in the season for a long, long time.
just try to look at this season and this season alone and give this year's addition a chance to do something positive in this city.

Jayme said...

You really beleave there better then ottawa/oshawa/belleville.

sager said...

That's a valid point, look at this season and this season alone. I accept it wholly. If that is your stance, fair enough.

Some would disagree. They might say that the Fronts are only too happy to have people not talk about the last 11 seasons. Since there has been no change to the organization's structure save for subbing in Gilmour (Mav Jr.), there's no reason to let them off the hook until they start winning.

As for putting the pressure on, you take it off because someone is not listening? If that's the case, why do we ever have elections? Why do companies have shareholders' meetings?

I highly doubt this would affect Alan Quine. He's a good player with a good head on his shoulders and would see it for what it is — an outsider's perspective, sticks and stones, as implied in the headline.

In re: to the Rays, Baseball Prospectus called an 88-win season for them in 2008. Eighty-eight wins will win a division in baseball some years. Based on their run differential, they should won 92 (they won 97). In other words, there were people saying there was a distinct chance. This site's preview also said they would break .500 for the first time. There was a solid inkling.

Anyway, thank you for sharing your opinion and I hope you continue to you do so. If they go deep into the playoffs, I will buy the drinks.

Tyler King said...

Wow somebody let the loonies onto the blog. No wonder this excuse-generating commenter isn't identifying himself, considering he's almost certainly an employee of, or affiliated with, the team in some fashion.

The Tampa Bay Rays of the OHL? Seriously? You do realize the Rays *fired* their GM after 8 years of awfulness - it's been 11 for the Frontenacs' one.

It's always very easy to be optimistic when you simply say every single player "could be" way better than anyone has ever projected them to be. So just name off the best player at a position on a team and say he "could" be one of the best in the league! Yes, and I could win the lottery, but rationality tells me it isn't likely.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting the same result... I think our anonymous friend may need some psychiatric attention if he thinks a hockey team doing that makes them a future powerhouse.

By the way, it's not just the team's performance that makes the management downright terrible. If it were, I wouldn't be at all public with my concerns. But there are many despicable, cheap, petty, and downright immature things that happen in Kingston thanks to both that team and its voluntarily castrated media. One winning season shouldn't fix what is at its heart an absolutely unacceptable situation down there.