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OHL deadline deals: GMs take their picks

Sunaya Sapurji
Yahoo Sports

Somewhere at a local rink near you, there’s a nine-year-old kid who just became property of the London Knights.

And while there might not be a body or name to fill that roster spot, the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors essentially traded that future star when they sent three second round picks – 2015, 2016 and 2017 – to the Knights in exchange for overage defenceman Michael D’Orazio at Monday’s OHL trade deadline.

“I told my wife Tyler got traded today,” said Kitchener Rangers general manager Steve Spott, of his own nine-year-old son. “It’s incredible to see that we are moving guys now in 2017.”

The steep prices of last year’s deadline weren’t even close to what teams were throwing out of the vault this year for players, leaving many general managers scratching their heads over the Frankenstein they have helped create over the years.

“To trade a second-round pick used to be a big deal,” said Kingston Frontenacs veteran GM Larry Mavety. “Now everybody involves (second-round picks) for top-end guys.

“Sometimes you pay a price higher than you want to pay, because you have no choice. It’s what it is worth to you.”

All told on the Jan. 10 trade deadline, 24 draft picks and two import picks changed hands – including seven second-round picks going as far into the future as 2017. By the end of the day, 16 players had changed teams, including Brent Sullivan who was traded twice over the course of the weekend. OHL rules prevent the trading of first-round picks, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped general managers from spending seconds like they’re going out of style.

Some like Spott, who was close to adding a forward in the days leading up to the deadline, were eventually priced out of the market.

“I’m shocked at the amount of draft picks that switched hands,” said Spott. “I tried to add a forward but the prices were at the point where they did not make any sense for our organization. I think the price that went (at the deadline), for me, were exorbitant and I think the only guy in my mind that has justification for that is Dave Cameron because he’s the only guy guaranteed to play in the Memorial Cup.”

And that’s exactly what Cameron, whose Majors will host this year’s Canadian Hockey League championship tournament, did, giving up a total of four second-round picks on the day. He said the high prices are simply the cost of doing business in the OHL these days.

“That’s the way things are, that’s what you have to pay out,” said Cameron, who stood pat at the deadline last year. “We didn’t spend any assets last year, so we kind of accumulated them. So we obviously used them this year.”

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He said he wasn’t thrilled to have given up a pick so far into the future, but when it comes to the decision of trading players or picks, Cameron would rather keep the players in his lineup. In the trades he made at the deadline, Canada’s world junior head coach was able to add three players to his roster – D’Orazio, overage forward Chris DeSousa from London and goaltender Mickael Audette from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds – without moving a single body out of his lineup via trade. He, like other GMs, believes that picks can always be recouped in trades later down the road.

“It’s not the ideal scenario,” said Cameron of trading a 2017 pick. “But these are the decisions we have to make now.

“It’s like once the snowball keeps going down (the) hill, it just keeps going.”

According to Spott, there’s no rule in place to prevent teams from trading draft picks from future years – meaning that if some GM wanted to trade picks from the year 2025, they could without any official sanction from the league.

“Maybe after (Monday’s) deadline that’s something for the competitions committee to review,” said the Western Conference GM.

Cameron is usually known for being conservative, but he was aggressive on the trade market this time around. With his 30-7-0-1 team given an automatic berth in the MasterCard Memorial Cup, he said he felt the need to go on the offence and build a team capable of winning the tournament.

“This year I was in the hunt,” said Cameron.

The fact that the Cup is coming to Ontario is also believed to have played a prominent role in the flurry of activity at the deadline. Cameron’s team is currently leading the Eastern Conference and should they advance to the OHL final, whichever team wins the hotly contested Western Conference would also earn a berth alongside the Majors and the league champions from the QMJHL and the WHL in the Memorial Cup.

“For me now it seems like the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been,” said Spott, who is also head coach of the 24-10-3-1 Rangers. “Maybe it’s a little bit skewed because the Memorial Cup is in Ontario this year … but I was really baffled by the number of draft picks that changed hands. It was incredible.”

At the end of the day, Cameron was forced to release goalie Anthony Peters in order to make room for two of his newest acquisitions since each OHL team is only allowed to carry three overage players, making the netminder a casualty of numbers. The cut meant Peters, whose older brother Justin starred in net for Cameron’s Majors, likely saw an unceremonious end to his OHL career.

“It breaks your heart, because you're moving a kid though no fault of anybody,” said Cameron of the release. “But my responsibility is to make my club better and sometimes that comes at the expense of moving a good kid.”

The day’s heavy dose of dealing reinforced that for all the talk about being a developmental league, the OHL is a big business in which on-ice success translates to financial success.

“If you want to win, you have to (pay),” said Windsor Spitfires GM and part-owner Warren Rychel, who has built back-to-back Memorial Cup champion teams. “I’m a firm believer that if you’re one of the four or five teams that think you can win, you have to try to do it.”

In the 24 hours before the deadline, Rychel said realized that he wasn’t going to get the deal he wanted for his Team Canada stars, defenceman Ryan Ellis and forward Zack Kassian. He then decided that he would try to make the best of a pretty good situation with his 21-15-1-1 squad and add players, instead of selling.

“Either teams thought I was bluffing or that I would wait and take less so I had to take the initiative,” said Rychel of working his fifth OHL deadline. “Why go halfway? It’s like buying a pool without a diving board.”

Among his deals included landing gitty forward Jake Carrick from Sault Ste. Marie in exchange for overage defenceman Brent Sullivan and four draft picks ranging from a second-rounder in 2015 to a 10th in 2014. Rychel said if teams had been willing to part with a little more, they might have been able to land one of his big stars.

"Some of these guys gave up three seconds for a player, geez for two more seconds or another player and you could have had Ryan Ellis," said the former NHLer. "It’s weird.”

According to Rychel the last few hours before the noon trade deadline can get quite frantic for GMs, especially if they’re still trying to either obtain players to make a run or move players to start rebuilding for next year. As with any business, some general managers are easier to deal with than others and some have better relationships than others.

“Some guys will try to clog the lines of communication,” said Rychel. “Then you get to 11 a.m. and there’s more dead air because other guys are working other deals so they say, ‘I gotta get back to you,’ and then they kind of forget about you so you gotta shake the phones. You have to have more than four phones going.”

Others, like Plymouth Whalers GM Mike Vellucci, did very little to solicit interest and was instead contacted by some teams looking to make a last-minute deal. Vellucci said that was the case when the Owen Sound Attack sent him defenceman Curtis Crombeen, a second-round pick in 2012 and a third-round pick in 2013 in exchange for defenceman Jay Gilbert.

"I actually hadn't planned on making any deals (Monday),” Vellucci said.

He said some deals will take longer to negotiate than others since some GMs will spend a great deal of time and energy haggling over a pick – even if it’s just to drop a fourth-rounder down to a third.

“When we got Daniel Ryder (in 2007) I made that offer months in advance and knew it was the best offer,” said Vellucci of his deal with the Peterborough Petes. “We had been going back and forth for a while, but nothing happened. Then I heard back from them an hour before the deadline when we got that deal done.”

Vellucci compared the deadline deals -- which seem to be increasing every year - to the U.S. housing boom. He believes at some point the market will correct itself.

“At some point (prices) have to fall,” said the Farmington, Mich., native.

Cameron, however, doesn’t see that analogy as wholly true since it’s the league’s 20 general managers that will ultimately set the costs for players and then decide whether or not they’re willing to pay those prices.

“The housing market collapsed because people overextended, they couldn’t afford what they paid,” explained Cameron. “So it comes down to what you can afford. If you look at us, and what we paid in terms of draft picks, we didn’t give up a player. So in that context … we don’t think we overpaid based on the market because we felt we could afford it.”

And while almost every GM contacted thought the prices being paid were high, many like Rychel don’t see a change happening any time soon. After all, at the end of the day, they’re the ones that control the supply and demand.

“It’s like its own little monster now, the trade deadline,” said Rychel.

“It’s exciting.”

Sunaya Sapurji is the Junior Hockey Editor at Yahoo! Sports. You can reach her at sunaya@yahoo-inc.com.