The Ontario Hockey League is a cyclical hockey league, meaning teams are generally in either a rebuilding, development or contending stage. Often teams follow this cycle to a tee, hitting each stage in chronological order year after year. Others are obvious exceptions to this — we’re looking at you London Knights.
With that in mind, we refuse to make predictions on what will happen in the OHL. Why set ourselves up for failure? Instead, we reached out to coaches, generals managers, media and scouts around the league for their anonymous rankings of both the Western and Eastern Conferences. Though we can’t reveal the sources, rest assured there is a good mix of responses from both conferences and from all different aspects of OHL involvement.
How the Rankings Work
From the results average rankings were utilized to produce a somewhat coherent ranking of expected standings at the end of the 2016-17 season. While the teams are sorted by average we also included:
Highest Ranking – The highest this team was ranked by any respondent. Some of these are outliers, but that just goes to shows how fluid the OHL is in terms of projecting standings.
Lowest Ranking – The same as highest, just at the other end of the spectrum. The lowest the team was ranked by any of the respondents.
Most Often – The ‘Mode’, if you want to go back to your grade school math days (sorry for the nightmares), of all the responses. In simpler terms, which ranking showed up most often.
Each and every one of these categories gives you a small glimpse into what those within the OHL think of this year’s version of each team.
The Eastern Conference
1 – Mississauga Steelheads – Highest Ranking (1), Lowest (2), Most Often (1)
2 – Oshawa Generals – Highest Ranking (1), Lowest (9), Most Often (3)
3 – Hamilton Bulldogs – Highest Ranking (2), Lowest (7), Most Often (3)
4 – Ottawa 67’s – Highest Ranking (2), Lowest (8), Most Often (3)
5 – Peterborough Pete’s – Highest Ranking (2), Lowest (6), Most Often (5)
6 – North Bay Battalion – Highest Ranking (3), Lowest (9), Most Often (5)
7 – Sudbury Wolves – Highest Ranking (4), Lowest (9), Most Often (7)
8 – Barrie Colts – Highest Ranking (6), Lowest (10), Most Often (8)
9 – Niagara IceDogs – Highest Ranking (6), Lowest (10), Most Often (9)
10 – Kingston Frontenacs – Highest Ranking (2), Lowest (10), Most Often (10)
Looking at these results it becomes clear that the Eastern Conference is a bit of a dog’s breakfast. Also, it is significantly different than last years standings. Many (we repeat, MANY) people have no idea how this conference is going to shake up. There is a general consensus that the Mississauga Steelheads are the team to beat, getting over 90% of the first-place votes — after that it is shrugs all around.
After Mississauga is, what we will call, the mushy middle – Oshawa, Hamilton, Ottawa, Peterborough and North Bay. These are all teams that everyone fully expects to be in the playoff picture and even contend for the top of the conference (and certainly, their respected divisions), but are far from guaranteed contenders. According to the results Oshawa, Hamilton, and Ottawa are considered to be in a slightly better position for success than Peterborough or North Bay, but only slightly.
At the bottom are the rebuilders – Sudbury, Barrie, Niagara and Kingston. This one was interesting for us as Sudbury has been lumped in with three teams that have had their lineups decimated in the off-season due to graduating significant portions of their lineups. Sudbury has not had the same turnover, but years of ineptitude on the ice seems to have seeped into the predictions of those in the OHL.
The Western Conference
1 – London Knights – Highest Ranking (1), Lowest (2), Most often (1)
2 – Windsor Spitfires – Highest Ranking (1), Lowest (3), Most Often (2)
3 – Kitchener Rangers – Highest Ranking (3), Lowest (7), Most Often (3)
4 – Soo Greyhounds – Highest Ranking (3), Lowest (7), Most Often (4)
5 – Erie Otters – Highest Ranking (2), Lowest (7), Most Often (5)
6 – Sarnia Sting – Highest Ranking (3), Lowest (8), Most Often (6)
7 – Owen Sound – Highest Ranking (4), Lowest (9), Most Often (5)
8 – Saginaw Spirit – Highest Ranking (6), Lowest (8), Most Often (8)
9 – Guelph Storm – Highest Ranking (9), Lowest (10), Most Often (9)
10 – Flint Firebirds – Highest Ranking (9), Lowest (10), Most Often (10)
The Western Conference is a tale of two powerhouses – the London Knights and the Windsor Spitfires. They were the only Western teams to receive a first-place vote and only one person decided to put either team lower than a second (Windsor received one measly third place vote).
These two top teams are generally agreed upon. Similarly, the bottom feeders have two perennial teams expected to find themselves looking up at the rest of the league all year — the Guelph Storm and the Flint Firebirds. Flint was the exact reversal of the Knights in this polling as they were almost unanimously voted as the tenth place team in the West. We all know the issues Flint has had, from ownership to water problems in the city, back to ownership problems and now the Will Bittens trade request (not to mention the other trade requests in Flint). It is fairly obvious as to why Flint would be considered such a black hole.
Guelph, on the other hand, is a bit of a mystery as to why they received such a low ranking across the OHL. The Storm suited up a fairly awful team last year, but they did improve as the season went on. That said, they are so young they will struggle again. We are just a little taken aback by the consensus of them as a non-playoff team. Time will tell on this one.
As for the rest, they are really good OHL teams. Kitchener, Sault Ste. Marie, Erie, Saginaw and Owen Sound all have the potential to be very good teams. And, as one scout said on twitter:
Quite frankly, on paper, I think there are at least 5 teams in the West who are better than any team in the East.
— OHL Prospects (@BrockOtten) September 6, 2016
So, yeah, the West is going to be very good.
This is just a rankings list. It isn’t a detailed breakdown of each team (don’t worry, that is coming soon) but it does give you an idea of what those closest to their respective teams think will happen. The odds of this list mirroring the standings at the end of the season is somewhere between slim and none. What it will be is a great benchmark for understanding which teams overachieved, underachieved or did as expected as we watch the season unfold.