The commissioner of the Ontario Hockey League brought down the hammer on the Flint Firebirds today, finding that owner Rolf Nilsen “has on several occasions violated an agreement he signed ... between himself and the OHL.” While commissioner David Branch’s statement didn’t lay out Nilsen’s violations, it did lay out his punishment, and it is severe:
In view of these findings, in accordance with the OHL Constitution, I have ordered that:
- Rolf Nilsen be suspended by the OHL from being involved directly or indirectly with hockey operations of the Flint Firebirds for five (5) years effective immediately;
- The Flint Firebirds forfeit a first round draft pick in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection (third pick overall);
- A fine be paid by Rolf Nilsen to the League in the amount of Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollars ($250,000.00);
If it is determined by the League that Rolf Nilsen has violated this Order, the League may order Rolf Nilsen to sell one hundred percent (100%) of the ownership interest of the Flint Firebirds.
Basically, the OHL levied all possible punishments short of forcing Nilsen to sell the team, though he won’t be allowed to have any involvement in it whatsoever for five years, and the Firebirds will be run by executives appointed by Branch.
The Firebirds have been a flaming mess all season. In November, Nilsen fired the entire coaching staff because his son wasn’t getting enough playing time, only to re-hire them after the entire team quit in protest (including his son). In February—with the team sliding in the standings—he fired the entire coaching staff again, resulting in Nilsen and his handpicked coaching staff being suspended by the OHL. After the second round of firings, the commissioner began an investigation which resulted in today’s penalties.
The OHL hopes these actions will restore trust in and improve the Firebirds, but it is going to be an uphill slog. The Firebirds finished second-to-last in the OHL’s Western Conference, and now have forfeited their first round draft pick. It’s not clear that the rest of their picks (the draft is this weekend) will even report: