We are going to have to wait a few seasons to find out, but it could be that the WHL entered into a new era in the past few days.
There always have been buyers and sellers at the trade deadline, with the top teams buying and the bottom ones selling. But never have we seen the buyers so willing to part with rather large packages of draft picks.
If this is to continue, it could set up a cycle that the WHL hasn’t experienced.
For years, the theory has been that major junior hockey is cyclical — a team scouted and drafted well, made the odd trade, mostly to add depth, and would be a championship contender every three or four years. Then another rebuild would being. At least, that was the theory.
A few years ago, the word ‘rebuild’ was replaced by ‘reload.’ It was then that some of the trades started to get bigger and involved better and better players.
But it wasn’t until this trade deadline that the league saw trades involving eight and nine draft picks. There was a time when teams treated draft picks like nuggets of gold rather than confetti.
Those days appear to have left us, at least for a few teams.
It will be worth watching now to see if the teams that traded away voluminous draft picks this year will be moving out players to recoup draft picks at the next deadline.
And then will it be rinse and repeat . . . rinse and repeat.
The thing to remember, too, is that when the WHL playoffs come to an end only one team will be holding the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
As well, one of the Kamloops Blazers or Seattle Thunderbirds, two of this deadline’s biggest spenders, won’t even get out of the Western Division come playoff time.
In a conversation with Joshua Critzer (@jjcritzer) of @pnwhockeytalk, Mike Johnston, the vice-president, general manager and head coach of the Portland Winterhawks, weighed in with some thoughts on what went down at the trade deadline and in which direction things may be moving:
“It is concerning, but every organization has the right to build their organization how they want to build it. They have to take the risks if they will win or lose and then rebuild. Certainly, that has never been our philosophy on how we do it. We try to be a contender every year, but not unload and not load up.
“What happened (in 2017-18) when Swift Current traded a lot of their young guys, the league put in the rule that you couldn’t trade 16-year-olds, so this year you are starting to see the effect of that rule. You can’t trade a signed 16-year-old now, so what else are other teams going to ask for? They are gong to ask for a lot of picks since you can’t acquire a good, young guy.
“I agree with not trading 16-year-olds, but I hope it doesn’t get to the point where in order to be a playoff team, or (have) a chance to win the league, you have to give up a lot of first-round picks. I hope it doesn’t move too far in that direction.”
You will recall that the Winterhawks acquired the rights to F Ozzy Wiesblatt from the Prince Albert Raiders just before Tuesday’s deadline. Portland gave up three conditional WHL draft picks in the exchange.
Critzer asked Johnston about the chances of Wiesblatt, a first-round draft pick of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, who is with their AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda, reporting to Portland:
“It was presented to us to obtain his rights, and I thought it made sense for the risk. Whether we get him or not, that will be determined by (the Sharks). He can’t play another game in the American League or the deal is done.
It isn’t a number of games but rather a Jan. 10 deadline. That is the deadline for all of hockey except the NHL players. So if a player is playing in the NHL like Seattle traded for Dylan Guenther, he can be sent back later. If (Wiesblatt) plays beyond Jan. 10 in the American League, he can’t be sent back to our league.”
While the Winterhawks were beating the Blades, 3-1, in Saskatoon on Wednesday night, Wiesblatt was scratched by the Barracuda. Wiesblatt has a goal and four assists in 17 games with the Barracuda, but he now has sat out three straight games. The Barracuda is next scheduled to play on Saturday and Sunday against the visiting Abbotsford Canucks.
Wiesblatt is a 20-year-old, but the Winterhawks are only carrying two — G Dante Giannuzzi and F Robbie Fromm-Delorme — so have room for him.
The OHL deal in which F Shane Wright, who had just captained Team Canada to gold at the World Junior Championship in Halifax, moved from the Kingston Frontenacs to the Windsor Spitfires may well be a sign of things to come to the WHL. . . . The Spitfires surrendered two players, five draft picks and two conditional picks in that exchange. The interesting thing is that not one of those seven draft picks originated with Windsor.
Here is part of what Ken Campbell of Hockey Unfiltered wrote about the trade deadlines that passed us by on Tuesday:
“. . . one thing is for sure, the numbers are crazy. With the trade deadlines having expired in all three of Canada’s major junior hockey leagues, the sheer number of deals and players involved is staggering. And while the days of a teenager showing up at the rink for practice and being told to pack his hockey bag and jump on a bus to Sault Ste. Marie are long gone, the reality is players who opt to chase their NHL dreams through junior hockey are exposing themselves to the possibility that they’ll be traded at some point in their careers.
“It should be pointed out that all three junior leagues are far more sensitive to players’ needs now than they’ve ever been, with the exception of the need to make minimum wage, of course. A good number of deals that happen in major junior hockey these days are either at the request of the player or are done to give him a better opportunity for playing time elsewhere. First-round picks generally have no-trade clauses, which essentially means they have control over their destination. Players in high school cannot be dealt without their approval. And there are a good number of junior executives who will simply not trade a player to another team without his consent, whether he has a no-trade clause or not.
“But even with those restrictions, GMs in junior hockey are wheeling and dealing at a level that would put a used car salesman to shame.”
According to Campbell, 108 players have changed teams in the OHL since Sept. 5, either by waivers or trades. There also were 217 draft picks on the move. In the same stretch, the WHL had 97 players moved and the QMJHL had 80.
Campbell continued: “Trades have been part of junior hockey for decades, so this is nothing new. And while players are no longer uprooted from school and compromising their academic careers, they are required to adapt to a whole new set of teammates and billet families when they get traded. And the fact that it happens to literally hundreds of players in the Canadian Hockey League every season should be a concern.”
You are able to check out Campbell’s work at kencampbell.substack.com. A subscription is well worth it, too.
If you visited this site looking for trade rumours involving junior hockey players, well, I’m sorry but you came to the wrong place.
Yes, there was a time back in the day when I trafficked in such rumours, but that bad habit came to an end more than a few years ago.
Let me tell you about it . . .
If was early in the WHL’s 2007-08 regular season when two teams cut a two-player deal. I was the sports editor at the late Kamloops Daily News and had learned about the trade well after the next day’s paper had been put to bed.
So I drove home and, assuming that both players had been made aware of the deal, sat down at my computer and posted a short story on my blog. If memory serves all these years later it was about 1 a.m.
Shortly after hitting the publish button, the phone rang.
Yes, it was one of the players who was involved in the trade.
“Is it true?” he asked.
I knew then that he hadn’t been told about the deal.
I assured him that it was.
“Are you sure?” he said, and by now it was apparent that he was in tears.
He had been selected in the WHL draft by the team that now was trading him away. He would go on to be a first-round NHL draft pick and go on to play a few seasons in the big league.
But this was the first time he had been traded.
He was sobbing as he hung up the phone.
I remember taking a long time to fall asleep that night, the sound of his weeping walking through my mind. It was then that it really hit home . . . these are young men, the vast majority of them teenagers and away from home, and while junior hockey operators might treat them like chattel, I decided then that I no longer would fall into that trap.
And that’s why you won’t find any such rumours or speculation on this site.
And then there’s the other side of junior hockey trade deadlines. . . . Here are three tweets on that subject. . . .
“WHL and CJHL trade deadline tomorrow. Understand teams trying to get better. But trades impact a lot of people … players, teammates, families, billet families.”
“So hard — just hope the teams have someone the kids can talk to . . . some have been friends — family members and teammates for 3+ years.”
“January 10th . . . awful day for players . . . very mentally draining for them . . same for billet families that love the billet kids as (if) they are family . . . it sucks!”
Here’s Elliotte Friedman in his latest 32 Thoughts: “No issues with (Connor) Bedard staying in WHL Regina, even if they aren’t a huge postseason favourite. If that’s his wish, that’s his wish. Depending on how the Pats do in the playoffs, curious to see if he plays at the World Championship.”
The IIHF’s 2023 World Championship is scheduled for May 12-28 in Tampere, Finland, and Riga, Latvia.
The Tri-City Americans have added former WHL goaltender Ty Rimmer to their staff as the goaltending coach. Rimmer, who played with the Brandon Wheat Kings, Prince George Cougars, Tri-City and the Lethbridge Hurricanes, 2009-13, replaces Eli Wilson who, according to the Americans, “has professional responsibilities that necessitate he move on.” According to Kelowna’s website, Wilson remains on staff as the Rockets’ goaltending coach. . . . The Americans also have brought Vanessa Hettinger on board as power-skating coach.
WEDNESDAY’S WHL HIGHLIGHTS: F Nico Myatovic (15) scored at 3:26 of OT to give the visiting Seattle Thunderbirds a 4-3 victory over the Winnipeg Ice in the only regular-season meeting between two of the biggest buyers leading up to the trade deadline. . . . The Kamloops Blazers, one of the other big spenders, got a goal (19) and four assists from F Logan Stankoven and a goal (21) and three assists from F Caedan Bankier in a 6-3 victory over the visiting Vancouver Giants. D Olen Zellweger, acquired from the Everett Silvertips on Sunday, scored an empty-netter for Kamloops. F Ryan Hofer, who moved to Kamloops with Zellweger, sat out a one-game suspension. . . .
F Jackson Berezowski (24) struck four times and added an assist as the Everett Silvertips beat the Chiefs, 9-3, in Spokane. . . . F Blake Swetlikoff scored his second goal in as many games since being acquired from the Chiefs to help the host Lethbridge Hurricanes to a 5-3 victory over the Swift Current Broncos, whose seven-game winning streak was snapped. . . . F Kai Uchacz scored his WHL-leading 34th goal in the first period then added the winning in a shootout as the Rebels beat the Moose Jaw Warriors, 4-3, in Red Deer. . . . F Braeden Jockims, playing in his hometown, scored his first WHL goal in his second game and it stood up as the winner as the Portland Winterhawks beat the Blades, 3-1, in Saskatoon.
THINKING OUT LOUD: If someone were to add up the number of major junior, junior A and junior B hockey players who changed teams in the past two weeks, I’m betting the number would be somewhere around 500. . . . Hey, Clay Matthews, if I haven’t bought that Tide stuff by now, I won’t be making the leap. So you can leave my TV screen any day now. . . . The value of SS Carlos Correa’s contract went from US$350 million (San Francisco Giants) to $315 million (New York Mets) to $200 million (Minnesota Twins). Such a sad, sad story.
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