Remember when the Flint Firebirds' management fired their coaches after the owner's son wasn't getting enough ice-time? After all the drama, the coaches were reinstated. Well, here we are again:
The #OHL's Flint Firebirds have fired coaches John Gruden and Dave Karpa for the second time this season.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) February 17, 2016
That's right! They've done it again. In response, owner Rolf Nilsen had appointed his own coaches, including Sergei Khalin to interim coaching. The day passed, and another one came. It's gameday for the Firebirds, as they're set to take on the Erie Otters.. Only morning skate didn't go quite as planned, as Seravalli continued to report on the ever-escalating situation in Flint:
#OHL's Flint Firebirds were scheduled for morning skate today prior to game vs. Erie. Only player to show was team owner's son, Hakon Nilsen— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) February 18, 2016
It wasn't long before OHL commissioner David Branch released a statement in regards to the Flint Firebirds, and it's undoubtedly toxic management. Here is the full release:
The Ontario League takes the health and well being of our players very seriously. The recent actions by the owner of the Flint Firebirds Rolf Nilsen and his representatives on the management team and coaching staff is of great concern as they pose a serious threat to our commitment to our players and their families.
The league announces the following sanctions effective immediately:
- Mr Nilsen and his appointees on the management and coaching staff including Sergei Kharin are suspended from Flint Firebirds’ hockey operations until further notice;
- The Flint Firebirds at their cost, under the direction of the League, shall provide counseling services for players;
- Rolf Nilsen and representatives of the Flint Firebirds shall co-operate with the Commissioner and the League in investigations into the conduct and actions of the Flint Firebirds and its representatives, employees, officers and directors;
In addition, the League will continue to investigate the actions of Rolf Nilsen and other representatives of the Flint Firebirds and will take any action and impose any sanctions that are deemed appropriate by the Commissioner.
Later today, the League will be meeting with the players in Flint to further discuss the situation, and to ensure that they are provided the appropriate supports. These discussions and supports will be ongoing for the players and their families.
SOURCE: OHL Network
Good on the OHL for handling it in this matter, and providing support for it's young, developing hockey talents. Flint's management should be absolutely ashamed of themselves for this entire situation dating back to November. From what it sounds like, Branch is on his way to Flint now to consult with the players and try to provide some actual damage control.
So what is to come of Red Wings prospect Vili Saarijarvi?
Not to fault the OHL for this, but if I am Ken Holland and Ryan Martin, I try to get Saarijarvi - a highly-touted prospect in Detroit's system - out of Flint, and the OHL altogether. Saarijarvi is in a unique situation as he was drafted by the Red Wings before he was drafted by the Firebirds. This gives the NHL club more control over him as an asset. The choices for the gold medal-winning Finnish blue-liner are to go back to the USHL, play hockey back home in Finland, or if management deems it a good move in terms of his development, he could be moved to the AHL.
What makes the most sense?
Vili Saarijarvi is young, and still developing on many different levels with highlights on his size. The Red Wings could no doubt bring him into the AHL next season along with Joe Hicketts and Evgeny Svechnikov (both have been confirmed to be with the AHL club next season) to give the Grand Rapids Griffins a healthy injection or youth and promising skill.
#OHL Detroit Red Wings having none of this. Vili Saarijarvi will NOT return next year, per Vili. Options include Finland, USHL, AHL.— OHLInsiders(.com) (@OHLinsiders) February 17, 2016
Whatever ends up happening, it's likely in Saarijarvi and the NHL club's best option to part ways with the Flint Firebirds, and possibly the OHL altogether. I'm sure that David Branch will be reaching out to all NHL teams who have prospects with Flint and try to assure them that he is taking care of the issue. Whether or not Holland and company buy into that remains to be seen. I believe that it's in Saarijarvi's best interest to move him to a different developmental organization next season.
George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press had an article yesterday that had some quotes from Ryan Martin which indicated that the team is interested in seeing if Saarijarvi could possibly make the step to the ECHL or AHL levels:
"As an organization, we’re excited to get him into Grand Rapids or Toledo at the end of the OHL season," Martin said. "He’s indicated he wants to try to play some games. Whether he can get into the lineup in Grand Rapids remains to be seen, or whether there’s maybe a better fit for him in Toledo, we’ll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it. But we’re looking forward to watching him play some pro games at some point."
Bob McKenzie has tweeted out the plan going forward for the Flint Firebirds. Seems as if the OHL will be running the team for the time being:
OHL's senior director of hockey operations Joe Birch will be taking over control of hockey ops of Flint Firebirds, effectively running team.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) February 18, 2016
Joe Birch will be on bench tonight when Flint plays Erie but head coach is Joe Stefan, who will be assisted by former NHLer Pat Peake.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) February 18, 2016