By Paul Osborne, Guelph Tribune
As hockey fans debate the winners and losers in the NHL lockout agreement this week, Ontario Hockey League general managers are scrambling to understand what it means for them with the trade deadline now just two days away.
Players like Mark Scheifele from Barrie and Ryan Strome from Niagara are sure to get the call to the NHL and other teams have similar problems to ponder. What is hard to read is how junior players will perform at NHL camps (against NHL’ers not in game shape) and how anxious general managers will be to sign these junior players to try and gain a quick edge on a shortened season?
“It certainly has a different feel this season” admitted Guelph Storm general manager Mike Kelly. “Teams that thought they might be sellers with top end guys, may see them go to the NHL and all of a sudden they might have to move their second tier players to gain assets for the future.
“Teams like London with (Olli) Maatta and (Scott) Harrington returning from the World Juniors, they may stand out at the shortened NHL training camps and really impress. Each GM has their challenges to deal with.”
Kelly’s main challenge is to figure out how much he is willing to pay to add two extra pieces.
“I’m open to adding a defenceman and a forward with some size and grit in the wing position in a perfect world,” he said.
But this isn’t a perfect world. Every GM he talks to wants one of the Storm’s prized 16, 17 or 18-year-old prospects and Kelly declines politely each time. He has said over and over, he won’t jeopardize the next two seasons for short-term help this year. He is also hoping that current players will help with the push to the playoffs.
“I think the return of Tyler Bertuzzi will be like adding a player through a trade and I expect Robby Fabbri to also continue to improve (during the second half)” said Kelly. “Some of our veteran players have leveled out a little bit and they need a kick in the butt if they want to be considered top players.”
Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos decided this off-season that it was time to trade his young assets and make a run at a World Series championship. It was something he wasn’t willing to do until this winter. Storm fans have probably wondered when their hockey team will make another serious run at a championship.
“That could very well be next year,” said Kelly, still feeling that his young nucleus needs to gain more experience before they can take a long run through the post-season. “I’d like to think that with the kids we drafted the past two years and the kids we will draft (this year) we might have the overall depth to do that.
“Even if we don’t do anything (trade-wise – the odds of which he puts at 40%), I think we have a chance against any team in the league in a playoff series. I’m not saying we’d be the favourite but we would have a good chance.”
The trade deadline is 6pm on Thursday with all overage player movement to be completed the day previous. Kelly has assets to play with in the form of four extra third round and four extra fourth round picks over the next five years. The NHL settlement will cause havoc this week as OHL GM’s make their best guess as to whom they will and will not have in their line-ups. It’s an OHL trade deadline like no other and perhaps there will be bargains to be had late in the process.