Doug Gilmour has been part of the Kingston Frontenacs braintrust since 2008 and in that time, the Ontario League franchise has yet to make it out of the first round. In the cyclical world of junior hockey, that’s pretty surprising. In fact, since 2011, the only other OHL team that hasn’t won a playoff round is Sarnia.
So ‘Killer’ has some work to do. He started that process today by firing coach Todd Gill, a former teammate from the Toronto Maple Leafs who came in with a good reputation, but had never been an OHL bench boss. Kingston had a great team this season, but flamed out in the opening round to underdog Peterborough. The Petes trailed the series 3-0 before coming all the way back to win in overtime of Game 7 – on Kingston ice, no less.
“It’s still hard to swallow,” said center Sam Bennett, a top prospect for the 2014 draft. “We went in too overconfident and before we knew it, the series was tied. It’s a learning experience, I guess.”
That collapse certainly justifies the canning of Gill, but it also puts the spotlight back on Gilmour: That was his first hire since taking over the GM’s job and now he needs to find another coach just three years later. Gilmour himself was coach before that, but it wasn’t a good fit. What No. 93 has proven himself to be in Kingston is a good draft GM, however.
Last year’s top selection, Lawson Crouse, has developed so nicely that he played for Canada’s under-18 team in Finland, where the power forward won bronze. Crouse, who is still 16, was one of the youngest players on the team and scored the game-winner in that final game against Sweden.
In 2012, Gilmour did even better. Roland McKeown and Bennett both came in the first round and now both will go in the NHL draft. Bennett may even go first overall, while McKeown is a first-rounder. In the second round, Kingston nabbed winger Spencer Watson (another 2014 NHL draft prospect) and Dylan DiPerna, who was later traded for Vancouver Canucks pick Evan McEneny.
Part of the reason Gilmour had such a bounty was thanks to a deft move at the 2011 draft, when he selected Max Domi, even though it was pretty clear the future Phoenix Coyotes pick wasn’t going to report. But Domi’s rights were traded to London after Kingston received a compensatory first round pick (used on Bennett) from the league, so the Knights and Fronts both made out ahead.
In the CHL Import Draft, Gilmour has managed to fill his slots with Finns Henri Ikonen (Tampa Bay) and Mikko Vainonen (Nashville). The pair, it’s worth noting, helped Suomi win gold at the world juniors this year.
So talent has not been the problem in Kingston.
But identity is something that clearly needs work. Behind the scenes, insiders have long grumbled about the lack of structure that surrounds the Fronts, so Gilmour’s next hire needs to be a coach who can bring that form and discipline to a team that clearly has skill.
Not only that, but in my opinion, Bennett is a prime candidate to go straight to the NHL next season. So Kingston’s new coach will need to augment an offense that saw Bennett contribute 91 points this year – which was 21 more than the next highest Fronts player.
The task won’t be easy, but if Gilmour can find a better fit with his second hire, Kingston has the roster to break that playoff curse. And in a town that already lionizes the local legend, No. 93 will add another accolade to his long list of hockey accomplishments in the process.