Every hockey team, no matter the league, is always in some state of perpetual flux from season to season. For fans, the offseason seems like the inevitable desert that one must trudge through during the summer months until October finally rolls around and we can jubilantly rejoice in the annual season’s greeting of “Hockey is back!”
Some of us find some very clever ways to cope with hockey withdrawal in the meantime. For the management team of every hockey club, though, the offseason is often far from stagnant. This is the period of time when important modifications are made to prepare a team for the coming season. Numerous aspects of the game are constantly changing and a well-managed team is subsequently always adapting.
Midsummer Nights in Erie
The Erie Otters of the OHL are no exception to this rule. The Otters have been through a particularly active period of change in the past few years. In the offseason heading into the 2015-16 season, the Otters named Dave Brown as general manager, replacing longtime owner and GM Sherry Bassin after he was forced to sell the team amidst a messy $4.5 million lawsuit with the Edmonton Oilers over an ownership dispute.
The Otters were a financially struggling franchise in the years leading up to landing Connor McDavid, and cursory decisions had to be made in order to adapt to their then rather grim situation. Oilers owner Daryl Katz expressed interest in purchasing the Otters as a pawn in a larger political game, intending to move the team to Hamilton in order to claim the hockey lease of the Copps Coliseum. Bassin did not want to move the team out of Erie, but Katz’s deal endowed him with the money he needed to prop the Otters up out of their financial pit of desperation.
In the 2013 offseason, after the Copps lease fell through, the Oilers demanded that Bassin sell the Otters to them immediately in order to pay back the loan they’d given him. After a slew of court decisions, Bassin was eventually able to sell the team on his own terms in order to pay the Oilers back.
Enter, Jim Waters
Check out the latest addition to Erie Otters Owner Jim Waters' ride! Best get out of the way when the Governor is headed to our games! pic.twitter.com/Z9FCDOIcUc
— Erie 🦦🦦🦦 (@ErieOtters) March 28, 2017
Bassin sold the Otters to Jim Waters under the condition that he would keep the team in Erie. Management elected to keep on Kris Knoblauch as head coach of the Otters, considering how successful he’d been with the team since his instatement mid-2012-13 season. His successes with the Otters garnered the attention of Hockey Canada, who named him assistant coach for Canada’s National Junior Team at the 2016-17 IIHF World Junior Championship. This offseason, it was announced that Knoblauch has moved on from the OHL to the big leagues, accepting an assistant coaching position with the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers.
The Otters have subsequently named Chris Hartsburg as head coach, tallying just one of many other major changes we’re sure to see heading into the 2017-18 season. Hartsburg was previously an assistant coach in the Otters organization, under former head coach Knoblauch during the 2013-14 season. During that season, the Otters improved their record to 52-14-0-2, which still stands as the club’s single best season in franchise history. The 2013-14 roster sported the likes of Connor McDavid (EDM), Connor Brown (TOR), Andre Burakovsky (WSH), Dylan Strome (ARI) and Travis Dermott (TOR). It is unclear exactly what this season’s roster will look like come Sept. 21, but we can be sure that the immediate future of the Otters are in more than capable hands.
On the surface, the offseason is still very much a desert for the average fan missing the daily hubbub of hockey season, but perhaps some consolation can be found in the fact that the internal mechanisms of every hockey team are yet a flourishing oasis in the summer months, lying in wait for the first October (or late September for the OHL) rainfall to finally reveal the fruits of their labor.
On that note, 53 more days ‘til Otters hockey is back.
Erie/Pittsburgh, PA | Erie Otters; Junior Hockey | Editor-in-Chief of The Grizzled Vet | Formerly: University of Pittsburgh D1 Hockey Journalist