By Bryan Thiel (@BryanThiel_88)
The OHL Trade Deadline is where teams decide if this is their year, or it’s ‘wait until next year’; are they contenders or pretenders?
This year, the league seems wide open with teams on both sides loading up at the deadline. 59 draft picks (10 of those conditional) changed hands between January 1st and 11th, with five trades involving one team surrendering four or more picks.
At the end of the day, it’ll only be worth it for one team: the one who claims the J. Ross Robinson Cup and moves on to the Mastercard Memorial Cup. Last year the Oshawa Generals made good on some savvy moves around the deadline, winning the league and claiming the title of the best team in the CHL.
Fittingly, we start with the defending champs when looking at some of the league’s biggest deadline dealings.
Last year Oshawa acquired Matt Mistele, Dakota Mermis, Michael McCarron, and Brent Pedersen among others. The price tag included Ryan Moore, Cliff Pu and a handful of picks. The moves obviously worked out, but for many championship teams the season after is one of regaining assets. Before the deadline they were able to get three picks for Mistele and four picks (plus some conditionals) for Stephen Desrocher from Kingston. The big deal was still yet to come however:
Oshawa sends Michael Dal Colle to Kingston for Robbie Burt, Flint’s 2nd round pick in 2017, Kingston’s 2nd round pick in 2019, and 3rd round picks in 2018 and 2022.
The Generals would mix in deals with London (Getting Eric Henderson for Jacob Graves and a pick) and Guelph (Justin Nichols for picks), but trading the Isles’ prospect who pulled in 31 points in 21 games during last year’s playoffs (while adding in the other moves) is a good way to set yourself up for the future.
Boom or Bust
One of the biggest names floating around at the deadline was former OHL first overall pick Travis Konecny. Rumours had him going all over the Western Conference but one team stepped up in an eye-popping way.
Ottawa sends Travis Konecny, Sam Studnicka and a 3rd round pick in 2016 to Sarnia for Chase Campbell, Sasha Chmelevski, Owen Sound’s 2nd round pick in 2016, Sault Ste. Marie’s 2nd round pick in 2017, Sarnia’s 2nd round pick in 2019 and 3rd round picks in 2019 and 2020,Windsor’s 3rd round pick in 2017, Saginaw’s 5th round pick in 2017, Oshawa’s 5th round pick in 2019, and two conditional picks (Sarnia’s 2nd round picks in 2021 and 2022).
There’s pressure in Sarnia to have some form of playoff success, which brought about the Sting’s activity at the deadline (which included picking up Charlie Graham). The last two series they won in the playoffs? 1996/97 and 2007/08, both vs Windsor. That’s nearly 20 years with just two visits to the second round. What makes this boom or bust is how difficult the Western Conference is this year. The Windsor Spitfires got better too and have a seven point lead in the division (although Sarnia has played three fewer games) and Sarnia is 12 points behind the Erie/London/Kitchener trio. Basically, the Sting have to go on a run and win the division, because there’s a very good chance they could have made some serious moves to simply finish fifth in the West.
On the flip side, if both Konecny and Pavel Zacha are with the Sting next year and the team struggles, they have the opportunity to flip both in an attempt to get some of those picks back like they did with Hayden Hodgson.
Mad Dash for the Central
The Central Division is crazy right now. Barrie leads the division with 49 points, but Niagara (47), Mississauga (46) and North Bay (44) are all within striking distance. The Steelheads added Mason Marchment at the deadline, while Niagara made moves for Stephen Harper and Tyler Boston, along with an early December swap for Alex Nedeljkovic and Josh Wesley. So what was left for the Barrie Colts?
Saginaw sends Dylan Sadowy and Gregory Di Tomaso to Barrie for Rocky Kaura, Barrie’s 2nd round picks in 2016, 2019, 2020 and 2021, 3rd round picks in 2017 and 2018, a 4th round pick in 2018, a 5th round pick in 2020, Kingston’s 4th round pick in 2016, and two conditional picks (Barrie’s 2nd round pick in 2022 and 3rd round pick in 2023).
The Colts were also able to add Keigan Goetz from Sault Ste. Marie, Cameron Lizotte from Peterborough, and Anthony Stefano from Windsor in December in an effort to keep the rest of the division at arm’s length. The bright side for Barrie is that they’re essentially in the reverse of Sarnia’s situation. With Ottawa the second-best team in the East Division at 42 points, there’s a good chance the Colts could pull off a third-place (or a worst-case scenario fourth) finish in the East if they can’t hold the Central.
The ‘Rights’ Fit
It’s not often that you see a player’s rights traded in the middle of the season. It’s even rarer that you see it happen twice. That’s exactly what happened though, when two Midwest Division rivals went after a pair of pro players.
Guelph trades Robby Fabbri to Kitchener for Kitchener’s 3rd round pick in 2020 and two conditional picks (Saginaw’s 2nd round pick in 2018 and Kitchener’s 2nd round pick in 2019).
Flint trades Sonny Milano to London for a conditional 15th round pick in 2016 (Pick becomes Sudbury’s 2nd round pick in 2019 and North Bay’s 4th round pick in 2016 if Milano plays in the OHL).
First let’s deal with what the players would bring. If Milano were to play for London this year, he would likely give them the best group of forwards in the OHL. With half a year of AHL hockey under his belt, a bronze medal from the World Juniors, and a 68 points last year in Plymouth, the Knights would add another dynamic talent (on top of getting 2015 Import Daniel Bernhardt to come overseas at the deadline) to their group of forwards. For Kitchener, they get a highly-skilled OHL champion with NHL experience, and a penchant for playing beyond his size.
Now when both of these trades went down, the immediate question asked was “what do these teams know that we don’t?” For Fabbri, St. Louis is extremely happy with him. There was a lot of talk about him going the other way in a trade for Ryan Johansen, but the Blues wouldn’t budge. And just before he played his 10th game in the NHL this year, a source said that it would be ‘shocking’ were Fabbri to be sent down at all this year.
So it seems that the Rangers simply took a chance that an elite OHL’er could be headed back to junior, and on the off-chance he is demoted, they add a huge weapon for a price they don’t need to worry about until 2020.
For the Knights, the connections between Jarmo Kekalainen and Basil McRae were brought up and people cited Milano’s AHL numbers as a reason he could be OHL bound. On top of that the belief that ‘if the Knights want him, they’ll get him’ had people predicting Milano would land in London last Friday at the earliest. But if you want an idea of just how sure the Knights are that Milano would come back to the OHL, maybe the price is an indication.
A 15th round pick doesn’t give off the impression that Milano is leaving Lake Erie. While Flint has had its controversies this year, one would think that if they had heard anything on the Milano front, the initial price would be much higher. Plus, Milano wasn’t drafted out of the OHL, so he can stay in the AHL as long as Columbus wants him there. Someone along the line could have said there ‘might be a chance’ of it happening and, like the Fabbri situation, it makes sense for a team with playoff aspirations to take the gamble ‘just in case’.
Overall it was another crazy OHL Trade Deadline. People want to know the winners and losers right away, but we won’t know who won until we see who the last team standing is. For one team, that will make this hectic start to January all worth it.
Bryan Thiel is a freelance broadcaster who has covered the OHL from rink-side and the broadcast booth. He has also helped produce OHL features for the past four seasons. You can follow him on Twitter @BryanThiel_88.