Steve Spott's time with the Kitchener Rangers will not end with a crescendo, but at least he's reunited with Andrew Crescenzi.
The 14-year coaching veteran is leaving his dual coach-GM post with one of the OHL's most venerable franchises to take the top job with the Toronto Maple Leafs' AHL farm team, the Marlies. The announcement, as everything does, set off a Twitter debate about his bona fides for the job, with some using Canada's fourth-place finish at the world junior championship as their sole point of reference, with others remembering that Spott maybe just maybe had some hand in Rangers grads Gabriel Landeskog and Jeff Skinner becoming back-to-back NHL rookies of the year in 2010-11 and '11-12. As well as being involved with centre Radek Faksa and defenceman Ryan Murphy becoming first NHL first-round picks. And something to do with later bloomers such as Jason Akeson getting a foothold in the pro game. The latter argument probably isn't assisted by the Rangers' "huge underachievement" in the OHL playoffs, where they fell in the second round to the London Knights after loading up to contend for a title, still being top-of-mind.
The point(s) in saying that is that Spott always seemed to be held to an exacting, slightly unfair standard after replacing Peter DeBoer, who won two league championships and one Memorial Cup tournament, with a runner-up finish in 2008. About three-quarters of that came with the territory, since the Rangers are well-heeled franchise thanks to perhaps the strongest customer/fan loyalty in at least the Ontario Hockey League. They ought to be a premier franchise, and they are, but didn't reach a league final during Spott's five-year run. Keep in mind, though, that period covers the time when the Windsor Spitfires had a generational juggernaut and the London Knights, after one year of palate-cleansing parity in the Western Conference, took over. The widest the Rangers' window to win was probably in 2010-11, when Landeskog and Skinner would have been 18-year-olds. Skinner, of course, advanced faster than initially anticipated and made the Carolina Hurricanes that season.
Presiding over a Team Canada that came up short no doubt hurt as well, but there should have been a bulk order of hair shirts for that fourth-place finish. It also prompted Hockey Canada to tweak its development program and finally get on the same page with some other successful junior hockey mavens in the OHL's Western Conference.
Ultimately, the OHL is supposed to be about development when it's not dictating (or being dictated to) about what passport one must hold in order to play goalie. The AHL exists for the same purpose. The compromise, particularly in junior, is fans typically pay to see wins and losses, not whether a 17-year-old is getting better on the backcheck. By most accounts, Spott delivered on the development side. That's where the focus ought to be on his graduation day to the pros.
The timing adds to the Rangers' transition. Paul Fixter, who handled both assistant coach and assistant GM duties for the past few seasons, already made what seemed like a lateral move to the Sudbury Wolves. Assistant coach Troy Smith has only had the assistant GM designation since Fixter's departure. The Rangers also had a dozen 19-year-olds and overages, so they already stood to have a vastly differently look come training camp. Now this.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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- Jeff Skinner
- Gabriel Landeskog