This one ranks as a stunner.
After 12 years with the Kingston Frontenacs — first as assistant coach, then as assistant general manager, then as director of hockey operations, and most recently as general manager — Darren Keily was unceremoniously let go by the Ontario Hockey League team earlier this week.
The surprise announcement by Kingston owner Doug Springer was shocking for a number of reasons including the fact that Keily had just guided the Frontenacs through two trying seasons of rebuild and had them poised to become an Eastern Conference threat come the 2020-2021 season.
Then there is the fact that earlier this summer, Keily worked directly and in tandem with Springer to first fire head coach Kurtis Foster after two seasons on the job and then create a lot of excitement among Frontenacs fans by bringing former bench boss Paul McFarland back to Kingston after three years as an assistant coach in the National Hockey League.
To be sure, it seemed like a perfect set up in Kingston for the 2020-2021 season with Keily having positioned the Frontenacs for better days ahead and with a proven OHL coach in McFarland at the helm.
Which is why Springer’s decision caught many around the OHL off guard, especially considering that Keily and McFarland have a past, three-year relationship with the Frontenacs and are said to be close friends.
To be sure, there are a few theories that have sprung from Springer’s shocking announcement that he would not be renewing Keily’s contract, which expires in early August.
(One buzz — a farfetched one, perhaps — making the rounds of the OHL rumour mill is that Springer wants to create a management position for his 21-year old son Zachary Springer, a former Junior B goalie who was a Frontenacs scout this past season while attending university.)
Meanwhile, though the decision to fire Keily may have seemed sudden to some, owner Springer told journalist Steph Crosier of the Kingston Whig-Standard just the opposite.
“I took a fair about of time to really think about this. There was nothing snap about it,” Springer relayed.
“At the end of the day, I really believe in my heart, that it is time for a change in leadership for the direction that we are heading in. Nothing more, nothing less to it.”
“The direction I want to go is different than where we may have been,” Springer continued. “It is nothing in particular that Darren has done … it is just simply, time to time you decide in your heart, that you need to make changes.”
Springer emphasized that Keily’s “record, loyalty and commitment” to the Frontenacs made the decision difficult.
Springer said the Frontenacs will take their time in hiring a new GM to take over from Keily but told the Whig Standard he plans to have someone in place ahead of the 2020-2021 OHL season.
“We think it is important that we do take our time, that we go through the process and really give it its due, to make sure that we’ve exhausted it,” Springer said. “This is not something that should be taken lightly in any way, shape or form.
“It is very important that when we do make the decision, that we, as a team, really believe that we have that right person that is going to share in our vision for the team going forward,” Springer pointed out.
FRONTS OF THE FUTURE
And it is a troika of forwards that stands tall in the talent pool and is poised to help elevate the Frontenacs into future OHL contention.
Center Shane Wright and wingers Zayde Wisdom and Martin Chromiak are first line pieces of the puzzle that have Kingston ticketed for emergence within the Eastern Conference come the next OHL season.
All three were major points producers with the Frontenacs during the 2019-2020 season — and they all have time on their side in the form of remaining OHL eligibility.
Granted exceptional status as a 2004 birth date youngster, Wright was Kingston’s first round pick — and first overall — at the 2019 OHL priority selections draft.
Wisdom and Chromiak both have 2002 birth dates. Wisdom was the Frontenacs fourth round pick at the 2018 OHL priority selections draft while Chromiak was taken by Kingston in the first round of the 2019 Canadian Hockey League import draft.
The Kingston trio made sweet music during the 2019-2020 OHL season.
Wright and Wisdom finished one-two on the Frontenacs scoring short. Playing as a 15-year old, Wright put up 39 goals, 27 assists, 66 points while Wisdom was close behind with 29-30-59 numbers.
And just as impressive was Chromiak, who is being projected as a possible second or third round pick at this year’s National Hockey League draft.
Chromiak joined the Frontenacs in January of this year and proceeded to light it up with 11 goals, 22 assists, 33 points in only 28 games after moving to Kingston from his Slovakia homeland.
To be sure, when a team has been at the bottom of the standings, it figures that there is no place to go but up. And Kingston, it would seem, is poised to move up sooner than later.
After its league-worst record of 14-52-2 in 2018-2019, Kingston improved marginally to a 19-39-4 mark in 2019-2020. (However, the slight boost was not enough to save the job of head coach Kurtis Foster, who was fired to make room for the return of Paul McFarland as the bench boss in Kingston.)
As previously noted, the 34-year old McFarland, who has spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach in the NHL, was Kingston’s head coach for three winning seasons before that.
And led by the likes of the projected, aforementioned, first line trio of Wright, Wisdom and Chromiak, McFarland is headed to a really good situation as he makes for a rerun in Kingston effective the 2020-2021 OHL season.
Other up front returnees of note are several who could be top six forwards in 2020-2021, including Jordan Frasca, Nick Wong and Francesco Arcuri.
Notably, Frasca, who has a 2001 birth date, put up 15 goals, 28 assists, 43 points for Kingston in 2019-2020 as a former seventh round draft pick of the Windsor Spitfires in 2017.
Kingston was able to obtain Frasca from Windsor for a sixth round pick prior to the start of last season in what ranks as a shrewd trade by since-fired Frontenacs general manager Darren Keily.
Wong, who also has a 2001 birth date, put up respectable totals of 14 goals, 18 assists, 32 points for the Frontenacs in 2019-2020 and represents a player obtained by Keily via trade with the Oshawa Generals in 2018-2019 who could be in for a breakout season in 2020-2021.
As for Arcuri, he has a 2003 birth date and was Kingston’s second round draft pick in 2019, having being a line mate of the aforementioned Shane Wright with the minor midget Don Mills Flyers of the Greater Toronto Hockey League.
Arcuri managed seven goals, 13 assists, 20 points in limited ice time in his rookie season in Kingston in 2019-2020 and should pan out to become a productive draft pick of Kingston head scout Aaron Van Leusen.
Kingston can also return 19-goal scorer Dawson Baker as an overage forward in 2020-2021.
At the other end of the rink, the Frontenacs are banking on Ryan Dugas to be the no. 1 goalie after two seasons as the backup in Kingston.
Of note, Kingston had a much better record with Dugas in net than any other goalie over the past two seasons. With Dugas tending twine, the Frontenacs had a record of 16-21-0 — without him, they were simply awful with a 17-70-6 mark.