For the first time since 1995, the OHL playoffs are underway and the Ottawa 67's are on the outside looking in. With a last-place finish, the Barberpoles end a 17-year run as a perennial playoff team with only their fifth postseason absence in team history.
Now, head coach and general manager Chris Byrne has to pick up the pieces in not only his first year without a division title, but also his first without a playoff berth.
In the coming months, he has to prove that he can rebuild this Barberpoles team and indicate that his solid start after taking over the team’s reins wasn’t a direct result of Brian Kilrea’s footprint being on the team.
Kilrea is still an advisor for the hockey club, and has said that exceptional status defenceman Sean Day is the best 14-year old defenceman he’s ever seen. Keep in mind that this same Kilrea coached 67’s legend Denis Potvin as a 14-year old.
Still, the decision between Day and Travis Konecny is one that will take a while to make, and it’s only the first building block in what should be an action-filled off-season.
Ottawa simply can’t go into next season with nearly 20 forwards, which they very well could if they keep the current corps and add through the drafts. At some point, trades for draft picks or packaging players to get better and or younger will be a must.
The defence is relatively young, so one might be weary to take any action with them, but most rapid rebuilds, the post-2010 Barrie Colts and post-2011 Kingston Frontenacs coming to mind, completely re-vamped their back end.
If the 67’s take Sean Day, can he play the same minutes Michal Cajkovsky played? If the future of Jake Middleton and Jonathan Duchesne is promising enough, does that open the door for them to trade Mike Vlajkov or Sean Callaghan to get younger?
Then, there’s the goaltending controversy, and after allowing 323 goals this past season, fans wouldn’t mind seeing a shakeup, whether or not the brutal stat should be entirely places on the netminders at all.
While Jacob Blair is the hometown kid with a lot of faith put in him and a season of baptism by fire in the books, Danny Potter will have come off a solid playoff when he comes to training camp and Clint Windsor did his best to make things interesting between the pipes.
There’s no doubting that each goaltender wants to be back, especially when they indicate that they want to be in Barberpoles next year.
After the final game of the season, Windsor simply stated, “I hope I can be in this same spot next year.”
Scott Campbell, who works for Pro Vision Sports Management, believes that his client Potter has every reason to compete for a spot.
“I feel confident that (Potter)’s going to have a strong chance of earning a spot with the 67’s next year,” he said in an email exchange earlier in the season. “He had a good camp with Ottawa and made a good impression on the team and with another season of development, I think he will come to camp looking to make the team.”
Whether or not a huge shakeup is necessary is questionable. Byrne will only hint that his current group can improve with age, but if the right deal comes along, he’ll likely be eager to give a slight change to the scenery.
“It's a great group of kids,” he said after the final home game of the season. “We've said it all year, they're young, and it's not their fault that they're young. There are going to be mistakes but it's about minimizing them.”
Sean Monahan is still a question mark as to whether or not he will return from NHL camp, but with most believing he will, the cornerstones are set in place for Ottawa to put their lineup together. Aside from Cajkovsky, most of the current group is set to return.
Until players are shifted around, it’s going to be difficult to get an outlook on next year’s squad. Even then, some surprises arise as late as training camp, as we found out with Taylor Davis, Mathieu Desautels, Blair and Cajkovsky amongst others this year.
Bandwagon Junior hockey fans see Scotiabank Place as the last gold medal for Canada’s Under-20 team, while real Major Junior fans see it as the building with no atmosphere that has seen the 67’s only pick up nine wins in its last 39 contests there.
With one year at The Bank in the books, it’s only 34 home games on the road left for the Barberpoles. But before we’re done watching this team play in Kanata, we can expect a huge shakeup and a brand new team that will return home in 2013-14.