Ontario Leaguer Gregg Sutch is caught between a rock and a hard place.
The Barrie Colts right winger, who hasn’t taken to the ice yet this season, is at home while the major junior squad tries to work out a trade to send him elsewhere. Sutch, who was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the fifth round of 2010 draft (143rd overall) but did not sign a contract and went unselected in 2012, decided not to attend training camp after the Colts informed him in August that they would probably have to trade him.
Barrie acquired Sutch from the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors last season for a third round pick and a conditional third-rounder, payable if Sutch plays a major junior game this season for anyone. The Colts started this season with five overagers – of which only three can dress in the same game – and faced a November deadline where they’d have to reduce that number to four.
Last Monday, Sutch’s agent Murray Kuntz was quoted on the excellent Buzzing the Net blog as saying the Colts were holding his client hostage because of a bad trade and that it got to the point where Sutch was wondering if he’d ever play again. When reached for comment, Kuntz told THN.com he “knew for a fact a team has offered two current roster players and a pick.” But Colts GM Jason Ford takes exception with much of what Kuntz is relaying.
“We tried to move him, put out his name,” Ford said. “I went to his agent Murray Kuntz and said if you want to go out there and try to get a deal, here’s a range of the kind of pick were looking for, go out and try and get it. He never did, which is fine. We gave him the option to do it and I don't know how many teams he called, but he didn't come back to us with anything. I sent him out to get a deal and he never did, so I don't know where he’s getting this from.”
And when questioned about the specific package of two players and a pick Kuntz alluded to, Ford said: “I know exactly the offer he’s talking about. It was one roster player. No pick. And it’s not working for us.”
In fact, Ford says the Sutch camp isn’t open to going to just any team in the OHL.
“He is a first round package and has a no-trade clause, so I had conversations with his agent before about ‘X’ team: ‘Would he be interested in going there?’ And he said he wouldn't,” Ford said. “So that doesn't help things when there’s certain teams they say they don't want to go to. Sutch has been here for a year and is a great kid and wants to make the most of his last season of junior and we want to get a deal done for him.”
Originally the Colts were seeking to recoup a third round pick, but it quickly became clear that price was too high, so they were forced to bring their asking price down. Kuntz was worried that if the Colts waited until the November deadline before letting Sutch go, there would be no overager spots left in the OHL, thus Barrie could potentially get out from under the conditional third-rounder.
But on Monday, Barrie dealt another overage player, Chris Buonomo, to his hometown Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds for a fourth round pick. The Colts now have four 20-year-olds and thus, as it stands, no longer have to remove Sutch, or anyone else, from the roster in November. In the meantime, simply allowing Sutch to leave on waivers isn’t attractive to the Colts, since a division rival could easily pluck him and leave Barrie on the hook for the third round pick.
Sutch’s decision to withhold himself from training camp hasn’t helped the situation. Kuntz said the move to stay home was made after Ford decided in August to inform Sutch of the team’s intention to trade him and that Sutch was also removed from his billet from the previous year. Kuntz added he hadn’t planned on telling the right winger of the Colts’ evaluation and would rather have let it play out without the forward being in the know.
“These are kids and these types of things have an effect on them,” Kuntz said.
The other four overagers Barrie had at the start of the season arrived at camp with uncertain futures of their own and while Buonomo sat out the first five games, he now finds himself on another team.
“Sutch not coming to camp, saying he doesn't want to be part of the team – we never said in the summer he wouldn't be part of the team,” Ford said. “We said there was a good chance we’d have to find him another home. The other guys all came to camp and tried to play their way into the final three spots. Like Chris Buonomo, that's exactly what he did. If Sutch came to training camp it may have been a different story.”
And while some are saying that, in a junior league, the Colts should simply let Sutch go to continue his playing career, it’s still a competitive team that needs to be properly managed.
“We’re trying to do the right thing,” Ford said. “It’s not our intention to keep him past the November date.”
UPDATE: According to reports, the Colts traded Sutch to Saginaw on Tuesday afternoon for a 2015 fifth round pick.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.