After the embarrassing 4-1 loss on home ice to the Erie Otters on Family Day, There are questions surrounding the Belleville Bulls. No disrespect to the Otters, but their record speaks for it self , with only 23 points on the season they are the worst team in the OHL. They have the honour of being the team that has scored the fewest goals, allowed the most goals, have the fewest wins and the most loses. But on Family Day with their great effort, coupled with the Bulls lackluster performance they looked like a playoff team. Belleville did not.
So we ask the Question, Has Head Coach and GM George Burnett and his staff lost this team ?
I've always been a big supporter of George Burnett as a Coach and GM. Something not all fans can say. He came to Belleville in 2004-2005, and right away he put a sour taste in a lot of fans mouths. Never mind that he came to town as a proven winner, having won the Matt Leyden Trophy as the OHL coach of the year for the 1990–91 and 1991–92 seasons when he coached the Niagara Thunder, No one cared that he Coached the Cape Breton Oilers of the AHL to a Calder Cup in 1993, they could have cared less that he won J. Ross Robertson Cup with the Guelph Storm in 1997-98. There was respect but not much love for the fact that he was an assistant and briefly a Head Coach in the NHL. What they cared about was the fact that he was replacing one of our own in former Bulls Winger and then Head Coach James Boyd.
Burnett came to Belleville, a year after the Bulls had missed the playoffs for the 1st time in 21 years. Belleville had new Ownership for the first time ever. And the New owners brought with them a new GM and Head Coach and fans were bitter. At one time there was even a petition going around the Yardman to have him fired.
I'm not sure if he was responsible for drafting John Hughes 1st overall, but he took the blame. He traded away some fan favorite's early as well, in Mike Roelofsen, John Adams and Cody Thornton. In my opinion trading Thornton was his smartest move, I didn't think so at the time, but when Andrew Gibbons arrived at the Yardman he was instantly loved for his work ethic and team first attitude. Starting a long line of Grinders that Burnett help turn in to fan favorites. Jeff Leavitt, Cory Tanaka, Andrew Self, Matthew Tipoff, and Brett Mackie come to mind.
Some of the best defence men in Bulls history have played under Burnett. The likes of Geoff Killing, Nick Pageau, P.K. Subban, and Shawn Lalonde.
It doesn't stop there we have seen some great Forwards on Burnetts watch as well, Marc Rancourt, Matt Beleskey, Shawn Matthias, Bryan Cameron, Tyler Donati, and Eric Tangradi. For me Coach and GM Burnett's strong suit though has been goal tenders. He had to trade away Edward Pasquale, Sebastian Dahm, Philipp Grubauer and Daniel Altshuller before we would even see their best hockey because the cupboard was full with the likes of Eric Tobia, Kevin Lalande, Parker Van Buskirk, the Great Mike Murphy and now Malcolm Subban. We have seen 14 players drafted and 8 Bulls go to the show since his arrival. With a few more to come in Brendan Gaunce and Garrett Hooey. For argument sake will will say that his weak spot with the roster has been European Imports. Its not that bad if your, Jan Mursak, Daniil Zharkov or a back up goaltender, the rest not so much.
We have seen some real beauties and this only scratches the surface of players we love from the Burnett era in Belleville.
Burnett and his boys have gave us lots to cheer about over the years, the team has never been better defensively then it is under his watch. We seen the team record for points (102), wins (48) and Least goals against (175), all be broken in 2007-08. 3 division titles in 06-07,07-08,08-09 hang in the rafters of the Yardman. All of this highlighted by a trip to the Memorial Cup in 2008. We have only not seen playoff hockey in one spring under Burnett.
With all that said, In a season where Burnett coached in his 1000th game and won his 500th in the OHL we ask, What have you done for me lately ?
We could miss the playoffs this year. This is the third year that the PP has struggled big time, or that we haven't had a real top of the league point producer. Belleville fans came in to this season with high hopes, then in November those high hopes turned in to lofty expectations, in January those kind of hopes became distant memories. And the Bulls aren't just losing, its the way their losing (especially in February). 15 times this season the Bulls have lost by two or more goals.
In must wins games or games Vs beatable opponents, the Bulls have nothing, no jump, no swagger, very little drive to the net, they play soft and rarely do you see any puck support, in the process looking like anything but a playoff team.
So my Question is if the Belleville Bulls miss the playoffs for the 2nd time in three years, Is it on George Burnett and his staff ? is it not their job to build a system that these kids can play and be successful in ? They drafted or traded for them all, Why aren't they prepared for these big games ? Why such a drastic drop off in play from earlier in the year to now ?
I know injures have hurt this team, and they were playing over their heads a bit, but really ? Something is gone. I don't know what it is , maybe we needed Simon Gronvaldt more then anybody knew. I don't have the answers to turn the Bulls around.
I hope George Burnett does, if not his past success will only carry so much weight and the Question's will be asked about GM and Coach Burnett's future with the club.