With the disaster that is the Flint Firebirds this year, we can truly hope that the worst is in the past, and the franchise can begin healing. The first and best step taken by OHL Commissioner Dave Branch is the suspension of Firebirds owner Rolf Nilsen for five years. This removes Nilsen, the root of the problems, from any of the club’s hockey operation, with the OHL taking on the operation of the club. While handing over operations of a team to the league is not an ideal scenario, it is far better than continuing on under the current leadership of Nilsen.
Branch levied a heavy financial penalty against Nilsen as well, fining him $250,000. While it is difficult to know how such a large fine was decided, it is the same as the fine levied against the Windsor Spitfires in 2012 for violating league rules around paying players.
Where Branch got it wrong was in the third prong of punishment: the removal of Flint’s first round draft pick in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection which, incidentally, is occurring today. This element of the sanctions is the one component that punishes not Nilsen, but rather the players, coaches and most importantly, the fans in Flint. In a town that has had very real difficulties this year, and with a team that has struggled, Branch just stomped on everyone in Flint and reduced hope for the team’s improvement, and making it a less attractive place to play. Their third overall pick would have brought a highly talented young hockey player, someone to build around. Branch’s choice here is perplexing, and appears more to rub salt in a wound than to help a town and team begin healing.
We are with you Flint, and things will get better. #SupportFlint
Is something amiss in Edmonton? How, after obtaining the first pick overall in four of the past six years, do the Oilers continue to have trouble winning hockey games? The fans are growing restless. It appears that, unlike Toronto, they aren’t even taking steps to provide at least a faint hope of some improvement in the future. Could it be that will all this young talent, the Oilers actually have to begin to “clean house”? Some say yes, and start with Yakupov. Some agree with that, and say finish with Eberle, or Nugent-Hopkins. Many seemed disturbed by the lack of effort from the latter two. McDavid and Hall need some help, and don’t appear to be getting it.
In the other exasperating market, Toronto, there at least seems to be a somewhat methodical plan to redevelop the Leaf team. (We know some of you are laughing now). But at least there is a sense of hope. We aren’t sure why, but beyond a shiny new building to play in next year, the mood in Edmonton seems less hopeful. Perhaps hope will rise again when they are awarded the first overall pick for the fifth time in seven years at the April 30th NHL Draft Lottery. Now that doesn’t make too many people laugh.
See coach Todd McLelland’s post game comment here.