Is the Exodus of Coaches Concern?

As someone who has followed junior hockey since the early 1970’s, I can’t recall an off-season with so many changes in the front offices or behind the benches of Ontario Hockey League team’s. As of today, there will be 8 General Manager changes, 9 head coaching changes as well as 8 assistant coaches moving onto different, and in some cases, better opportunities.

That’s approaching near 50% level.

But why such a turnover?

The obvious answer is that National Hockey League teams are looking to acquire good young talent to, in the future, replace some aging coaches. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t believe NHL (or AHL) opportunities wouldn’t arise for Memorial Cup Champion and former Windsor Spitfires Coach Rocky Thompson, who accepted the head coaching job with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League. Or to the OHL Champion and Memorial Cup finalist former coach of the Erie Otters Kris Knoblauch, who will be behind the bench of the Philadelphia Flyers as an assistant.

Rocky Thompson of the Windsor Spitfires. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.
Rocky Thompson of the Windsor Spitfires. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

Of all the coaching changes, if I had to choose one that comes as a surprise, it would be the former  Saginaw Spirit Head Coach Spencer Carbery hiring as an assistant coach of the Providence Bruins of the AHL. Even so, Carbery brings with him some credentials and his coaching style fits perfectly to what Bruins NHL coach Bruce Cassidy wants to accomplish.

Here is the list of coaching changes:

Team Coach Reason for leaving
Guelph Jarrod Skalde April 6, 2017. The Storm announced he would not return as head coach.
Ottawa Jeff Brown April 24, 2017 Submits his resignation. 
Sudbury David Matsos May 24, 2017 Mutual agreement. June 24 named Associate Coach of Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)
Windsor Rocky Thompson June 7, 2017 Named head Coach if Chicago Wolves (AHL)
Erie Kris Knoblauch June 7, 2017 Joins Philadelphia Flyers (NHL) as an assistant coach.
Kingston Paul McFarland June 24, 2017 Joins Florida Panthers (NHL) as an assistant coach. 
Owen Sound Ryan McGill June 29, 2017 Joins Vegas Golden Knights (NHL) as an assistant coach.
Niagara David Bell July 25, 2017 Joins Ontario Reign (AHL) as an assistant coach. 
Saginaw Spencer Carbery July 25, 2017 Joins Providence Bruins (AHL) as an assistant coach. 

When it comes to General Managers, it is more a shuffling of the deck. The biggest surprise comes out of Kingston where Doug Gilmour and Darren Keily virtually swap roles. Gilmour said in a press release on July 13, that an upcoming tour for his new book Killer was the sole reason for the change as the tour would keep him away from performing his duties.

Kitchener Rangers’ GM Murray Heibert was all set to retire at the end of the 2016-2017 season but was convinced to stay on for one season as Director of Hockey operations. And there is the Flint Firebirds continuing saga (we won’t get into that). George Burnett moves on to take the GM role with the Guelph Storm and the OHL appoints Barclay Branch (formerly of the Sudbury Wolves) as the new GM.

Here is the list of General Manager changes:

Team GM Reason for leaving
Kitchener Murray Heibert March 31, 2017. Steps down as GM to become Director of Hockey Operations. Replaced by Mike McKenzie
Flint George Burnett April 17, 2017 leaves the Firebirds to take over the Guelph Storm. Replaced by Barclay Branch
Sudbury Barclay Branch April 17, 2017 Submits his resignation. Appointed by the OHL as Vice-President and GM of Flint Firebirds. Replaced by Rob Papineau
Ottawa Jeff Brown April 24, 2017 Submits his resignation. Replaced by James Boyd.
Niagara Marty Williamson May 26, 2016 Was dismissed by the IceDogs. On April 26, 2017 officially announced Joey Burke as replacement.
Mississauga James Boyd May 23, 2017. Mutual parting of ways after contract talks stalled. Now with Ottawa. Replaced by Head Coach James Richmond.
Guelph Mike Kelly May 31, 2017. Announced in February he would step down when contract expired. Relpaced by George Burnett.
Kingston Doug Gilmour July 13, 2017. Gilmour stays on as President,  Darren Keily takes over as GM. 

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