An off season of change in leadership relative to the rebuilding of the Kingston Frontenacs has taken on a major contractor to do two jobs.
The Ontario Hockey League team has given coach Paul McFarland added responsibility as its new general manager. As the new GM, McFarland replaces Darren Keily, who was fired last month.
Just over two months before surprisingly releasing Keily, who had been with the organization for 12 years, the Frontenacs fired head coach Kurtis Foster after two seasons on the job to make way for the return of McFarland, who had been an assistant in the National Hockey League the past three years. Before leaving for the NHL, McFarland had three straight winning seasons as the bench boss in Kingston.
So now, it is a fresh start for the Frontenacs with McFarland as both the GM and head coach of a franchise that has lost more than it has won under the leadership of president and governor Doug Springer.
In giving McFarland the dual role of GM and coach, Springer reversed what he had recently told the Kingston Whig Standard and Postmedia. Just a few weeks ago, Springer said that McFarland was not a candidate to add the GM title to his coaching duties.
But here we are.
McFarland, who will turn 35 in December, becomes the first general manager and coach combination for the Frontenacs since the legendary Larry Mavety held the dual role in the early 2000’s.
Springer, meanwhile, explained why he opted for McFarland to take on the GM duties.
“Although the general manager position was not discussed prior, once Paul arrived back in Kingston we began discussing what his vision was for the team.
“His expectations for our hockey club were impressive to say the least. He checked all the boxes we were looking for in our next leader. It was then determined that Paul should be the general manager of our franchise,” Springer noted.
McFarland said he is up to the task of being both GM and coach.
“It is an exciting opportunity and I am extremely grateful to Mr. Springer and his entire family for allowing me to have both of these titles,” said McFarland. “This is something I will not take lightly and I am really excited to start working with our staff and players.
“Our team has a high expectation for ourselves, where we want to go and what we want to accomplish,” replied McFarland when asked about what his expectations are as a general manager. “Everything will start through the draft and the talent will set the floor for our organization. We believe that culture and our development process will set the ceiling for our group.
“It is going to be about we, us and our. We will always be trying to improve together,” McFarland added.
To be sure, futility has followed the Frontenacs for much of the 22 years that Springer has owned the OHL team as a family-operated franchise.
During that span, the Frontenacs have had only 10 seasons with a winning record and have missed the playoffs no less than seven times since Springer bought the team in 1998.
But the Frontenacs have a chance to right — or should we say Wright? — what has gone wrong in Kingston with an up and coming team that should make good come the 2020-2021 OHL season following back to back campaigns that produced only 33 wins in 130 games.
Along with their Eastern Conference brethren, the Barrie Colts, and Western Conference counterparts, the Soo Greyhounds and Sarnia Sting, Kingston is certainly seen as a team on the rise within the 20-team OHL.
And for the Frontenacs, it all centers around budding super star Shane Wright.
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.
Led by Wright, the Kingston trio formed a rock star band 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 jobs of Keily as GM and Foster as head coach.)
Now, led by the likes of the projected, aforementioned, first line trio of Wright, Wisdom and Chromiak, McFarland as both GM and coach is in a really good situation in Kingston for the OHL season (and seasons) ahead.
Other up front returnees of note are several who could be top six forwards in 2020-2021, including Jordan Frasca, Vitali Pinchuk, 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.
Pinchuk, who has a 2002 birth date, came through with 13 goals, 21 assists, 34 points in 54 games despite being a third and fourth line forward for the Frontenacs as a rookie this past season.
Wong, who 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 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 returning defense corps features former first rounder Jake Murray (from the 2018 OHL priority selections draft) and seasoned defender Lucas Peric. Peric, with a 2001 birth date, is a year older than Murray.
And between the pipes, the Frontenacs are banking on 2001 birth year backstop 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.
Now, two seasons of rebuild are in the rear view mirror in Kingston.
And one man — McFarland — as both GM and coach is in charge of leading the Frontenacs back into OHL contention.
And to be sure, McFarland has the trust of his owner with a five year contract and hockey power as both the GM and coach.
ALL IN THE FAMILY?
Meanwhile, Springer, as the president and governor of the Frontenacs, has told Postmedia that the team may be looking at hiring an assistant GM to aide McFarland at some point.
“We’ve had discussions, but Paul is going to take some time to see what requirements he has, and whatever he identifies, obviously it’s our job to make sure he’s provided with all the tools to perform both positions,” Springer said.
Speculation is that Springer is looking to groom his 21-year old son Zach Springer in a management role with the Frontenacs.
HOUNDS NET LOSS
As Kingston is primed to make an upward move in the Eastern Conference, so too are the Soo Greyhounds in the Western Conference.
The Greyhounds can return virtually their entire lineup from the 2019-2020 except for last season’s overage players, which include standout goalie Bailey Brkin.
Without Brkin, the Greyhounds have a major question mark between the pipes, one that will get even more pressing if import goalie Nick Malik decides not to return to the Soo for the 2020-2021 season.
As it is, Malik put up less than impressive numbers after he joined the Greyhounds for the second half of the 2019-2020 campaign.
Despite being given every opportunity to establish himself as the no. 1 goalie — and at the expense of Brkin, no less — by coach John Dean and general manager Kyle Raftis, Malik had a sub-par record of 5-11-0 with a 3.77 goals against average and .886 save perentage.
My comparison, the now-graduated Brkin had a 17-8-3 record with a 3.37 goals against average and .885 save percentage.