The OHL’s Firebirds have had a tough first season since relocating to the Michigan city of Flint for the 2015-16 season, which has included coach firings, re-hirings, poor ice conditions, and a full-team walk-out as a result of the firing mid-way through the year.
Now, the OHL has stepped in – and following an investigation into the situation, they’ve brought down the hammer on team owner Rolf Nilsen:
The biggest blow may be the loss of the first-round pick, which would have been third overall this year for the Firebirds after a rock-bottom season for the team looking to make a fresh start in their new home.
The biggest punishment, though, is almost certainly for Nilsen. The owner is suspended for the next five years from being either directly or indirectly involved in team hockey operations, which renders him owner in name only until his suspension is lifted. If he violates that order, he’ll be required by the OHL to completely sell out of his ownership of the franchise, although he’s eligible to apply for reinstatement in a hockey operations position in three years time.
He’s also required to pay a $250,000 fine for his infractions throughout the year, which is a hefty price tag for the owner.
The Firebirds started off their year on a poor foot, when prospect Ryan McLeod refused to report to the franchise after being selected third overall in the 2015 OHL Priority Selection. Things only spiraled out of control when Nilsen reportedly fired head coach John Gruden and his coaching staff for refusing to give Nilsen’s son better minutes, which resulted in a player walk-out (which included Nilsen’s son Hakon) until the coaching staff was reinstated. The coaching staff was then fired again later on in the season, though, and at that point the OHL all but assumed control of operations for the remainder of the season – but the damage had been one, with the recently-relocated franchise ultimately seeing a talent exodus via trades and poor performances from players throughout the year.
Hopefully, the league orders will result in some positive changes for the Firebirds, who can seemingly only go up from here. Losing their second third overall pick in two years, though, certainly won’t help matters.