The OHL trade deadline might be some two months away, but for some general managers, it’s never too early to get the ball rolling.
A good trade is the watermark against which a good GM is measured. Sure, good drafting is important, too, but most GMs have scouts to help in the decision-making process.
Bad drafts get scouts fired. Bad trades have been known to get general managers fired.
And with every GM in the league looking to broker the best deal before the Jan. 10 trade deadline, the phone lines have been busy. No blockbusters have happened yet, but there’s been a lot of “tire kicking” in terms of who’s looking to move or add a player to the lineup.
The longer teams wait, in a year when the OHL is hosting the Memorial Cup, the crazier things could get at the deadline.
“I think if everybody waits until the end, it could be chaos,” said Niagara IceDogs GM and head coach Marty Williamson. “In the Eastern Conference, if one team makes a move then everyone else might feel they need to make a move – if you’re in. But if there are early moves, things might settle a bit.”
The OHL’s Eastern Conference is still wide open at the 20-game mark of the 68-game season. The Knights, back-to-back OHL champions, are looking at their third crack at a Memorial Cup title with entry as this year’s tournament host. If London wins the hotly contested Western Conference, the team that wins Eastern Conference would be in as either the OHL champion or the OHL representative.
“You never know what team in the Eastern Conference could think ‘You know what? If I add a couple players, that could be me going to the Memorial Cup – if London wins their side,’” said Williamson. “So it’s going to be interesting.”
The IceDogs are tied for eighth place in the Eastern Conference and with the team scheduled to open a new arena next season, Williamson doesn’t expect this to be his year to trade away young talent or acquire any big names. So while IceDogs top scorer Carter Verhaeghe, 18, isn’t likely to move, there have already been offers for overage goalie Chris Festerini.
This year there are a number of top players that could be made available by teams looking toward the future.
The Windsor Spitfires – fifth in the Western Conference – have a number of players who could potentially be up for trade. Columbus draft pick Kerby Rychel could be the most sought-after forward at the deadline, while Windsor teammate Slater Koekkoek could be the top defenceman on the market.
“We’re debating and waiting to see what we’re going to do here,” said Spitfires GM Warren Rychel. “But we’re open to anything.”
Including trading son, Kerby, to a contender?
“At this point we’re just looking at all our options,” said Rychel. “Business-wise, if it makes us better, I would definitely look at it if a deal comes. I’m not going to trade, not just my son, but any good player unless it makes sense for the Windsor Spitfires.”
Unlike the Eastern Conference where there seems to be more parity, teams on the Western side, such as Sault Ste. Marie, Guelph, Erie and London, have already started to separate from the rest of the pack.
“We have some really good players and then some really young players,” said Rychel of his Spitfires. “We’re in the hardest conference in anywhere – NHL included – with Guelph, London, Saginaw and the Soo.
“Sometimes you might have to take a step back if it helps you in the future.”
The former NHLer, who also is part owner of the club with head coach Bob Boughner, admits the decision on what to do at the deadline is even more precarious when looking ahead to the playoffs.
“You’re looking at getting Guelph or London in the second round if you finish fifth,” said Rychel. “We’ve got some pretty good hockey players here. You’ve got (defencemen) Nick Ebert and Koekkoek and (forwards) Kerby and (Brady) Vail, so we’ve got some decisions to make.”
But, like many general managers, if the price isn’t right, Rychel is content keeping the status quo like he did in 2010-11, when teams couldn’t meet his terms for star defenceman Ryan Ellis.
The last-place Belleville Bulls also have some decisions to make in the Eastern Conference. Many teams would love to add their captain, Vancouver Canucks first-round pick Brendan Gaunce, though the Bulls only recently acquired a top overager in Cameron Brace.
“We’ve played most of the teams,” said Williamson. “A player or two to any team can vault you ahead – from (last place) Belleville to (first place) Oshawa. The interesting thing is if you’re sitting in the middle of the standings and you add a couple players and then someone else adds a couple players, everyone might end up in the same spot they are right now. Except everyone got a little bit stronger.
“The East is up for grabs.”
As with every year, general managers are already complaining that some asking prices are too high. Each year it’s harder to trade for top-end talent, though Williamson believes the market has finally tapered off.
“I think things have maxed out that way,” said Williamson in terms of trade value. “I don’t think you’re going see the two (second-round picks), a third and a young player going back the other way to somebody. I just don’t see that happening.”
At the moment, most GMs are waiting to see who makes the first big move.
“You never know until the first couple trades are made, and then that kind of sets the tone for everything,” said Williamson.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how this all shakes out.”