There is much more to Derek Schoenmakers declining to report to the Peterborough Petes than an overage forward being disillusioned after three OHL teams deemed him expendable in less than a year. A 20-year-old junior will typically grasp at any hockey lifeline.
Schoenmakers not wanting to come is just the latest twice in the largely self-inflicted plight of the OHL's oldest continuously operating franchise. Like Rob Ford's downfall as mayor of Toronto, it goes beyond one mistake or oversight, but speaks to a pattern of choices. Like Ford — and who wants to be compared to Rob Ford today? — the problems also track back to 2010, if not earlier. That spring, the Petes' board, which has since dug in against offers to buy the team, sacked universally respected general manager Jeff Twohey after 17 seasons after a string of mediocre seasons. The nosedive might have already begun when the hockey ops were handed to since-ousted GM Dave Reid and current coach Mike Pelino. Neither had ever worked in the Ontario Hockey League. That tandem certainly made mistakes, but they didn't hire themselves.
Now, with five wins in 26 games for the OHL's worst record, it's apparent the Petes' board of executives is paying the price for their hires 2½ years ago. That nosedive has accelerated. Here's a reverse chronology of what's gone astray:
— October 2012, Koekkoek goes off: Reid's removal on Oct. 9 came on the heels of the Petes' best NHL prospect, Tampa Bay Lightning first-round defenceman Slater Koekkoek, sounding off to sportswriter Mike Davies with criticism that went right to the top: "I'm not sure what's going to happen in the future here, with regards to what's going to happen with this team or certain players. Something has to give here. This is going to be the longest season ever if we continue like this.
" ... It's pretty difficult to come to the rink every day. It's a negative attitude in the room. It's a negative attitude outside the room as well," he said. "We're losing and we don't see a light at the end of the tunnel."
— Spring 2012 (and prior), Puempel becomes latest to ask out: Trouble retaining premium talent. Kitchener Rangers star Matt Puempel (21 goals this season) asked to be traded immediately following last season. At the time of Puempel's trade, Reid expected to add another top-6 forward. That never came to pass. (Puempel did defend Reid and has said nothing but good things about his Petes career.)
Puempel was the third consecutive Petes first-rounder (and fourth out of five) to end up being traded before his time was up in the OHL. In 2010, former first-rounder Ryan Spooner (now in the AHL) also asked for a trade. He was dealt to the Kingston Frontenacs soon thereafter. This is a team which saw Zach Bogosian and Jordan Staal, not too long ago, fast-track to the NHL after only two junior seasons.
— April 2012, team president Jim Devlin defends the status quo: With alumni insisting the Petes must be sold to private investors, Devlin, as Davies described it to his readership, insisted the "current [management] model guarantees the Petes stay in Peterborough forever. No other model, he says, provides that guarantee."
That raised an obvious question: why would Northlight Entertainment, which includes former Petes stars Keith Acton and Greg Millen, buy the team so they could move it and leave a huge void in a city where they loved playing? Northlight later said it was committed to keeping the Petes in Peterborough.
In hindsight, Devlin's comments came off like an attempt to hang on to power.
— January 2012, The Austin Watson trade: For dealing the most coveted 19-year-old forward in the OHL to the eventual league champion London Knights last season, Reid came away with two second-round choices and right wing Chase Hatcher.
Hatcher, and it feels rough to point this out about an 18-year-old player, has managed one goal in 48 games for Peterborough. Usually, a team expects a little more return when it parts with a premier player.
The reason Watson was a Pete was because Twohey obtained him for Zack Kassian in a January 2010 trade with the Windsor Spitfires. Both were NHL first-rounders who played in a world junior championship before turning pro.
— December 2011-January 2012, injuries: There has been some bad luck. In a span of about month last season,the Petes had both of their first-round NHL picks go down. Koekkoek sustained shoulder damage that required season-ending surgery. Puempel's Peterborough tenure ultimately ended Jan. 5 with a concussion inflicted by a check to the head, marking two seasons in a row that an injury ended his year.
Without those two, the Petes missed the playoffs by eight points, despite an 18-point improvement over 2010-11. They also allowed 277 goals, second-most in the league.
— October 2010, Reid's rookie mistake: To get down to the three-overage limit in his first season, the then-GM waived goalie Jason Missiaen, rather than try to fetch some return via trade. Defenceman Jamie Doornbosch was traded to Kitchener for a meagre return, a 2014 fourth- and 2012 13th-round selection. (That 13th-rounder was used on the Green Bay Gamblers' Matt Weis, who's committed to Ohio State and declined to come to Peterborough's camp this season.)
While the Petes were en route to a 43-point, 19th-place season, Doornbosch thrived with the Kitchener Rangers. He even played one NHL game for the New York Islanders before wisely opting to play university hockey for the Saint Mary's Huskies.
Missiaen endured a non-playoff season with the QMJHL's Baie-Comeau Drakkar. It paid off for him since he is now playing for the AHL's Connecticut Whale. Hanging on to either, or getting a serviceable player in return, might have yielded the playoff berth that could have extended Pelino and Reid's grace period.
Need of a reboot?
It might not matter so much if it was another franchise that with a long history of mediocrity instead of a string of championship banners spanning across the past few decades.
Certainly, the OHL has periodically had other teams in junior hockey strongholds fall into disrepute. The London Knights set a futility record with a 60-loss year in the mid-1990s. The Ottawa 67's lost relevance for a time in the '90s before being rejuvenated by a new owner in Jeff Hunt. The Windsor Spitfires were anathema to top players under their previous ownership before Bob Boughner, Warren Rychel, et al., bought the team in 2005-06. Presently, the Kingston Frontenacs are turning a corner under coach Todd Gill, who brought junior coaching experience to the job when he was hired in 2011. The Frontenacs are the only example cited here that has not involved a change in top management, although Kingston owner Doug Springer has changed plenty.
Granted, it's convenient to say this when a team is in a 1-11-0-0 tailspin where they have given up at least five goals in a game half-a-dozen times. It's not a slump, though, but a sign of diminishing returns from sticking to the status quo. Schoenmakers balking to come was just the latest alert that the Petes' organization might need an overhaul.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.