The OHL trade deadline is about a month away. Here’s a look at how it impacts the Kitchener Rangers.
GM/coach Steve Spott has gone on the record numerous times to say he is treating this season as if the team was hosting the Memorial Cup, in that he intends to build a winner.
He also said that if Ryan Murphy and John Gibson returned, he would build around them in what is believed to be their final year in the OHL.
That leaves the team with three options.
Forward Matt Puempel was a great find in the off-season but the team needs one or two additions up front, as well as an impact overage defenceman to hang with the London Knights and Owen Sound Attack.
It won’t come cheap and the Rangers are handcuffed a bit in what they can offer pick wise (see further down).
Some hockey minds feel you have to try and go for it when you have top talent such as Ryan Murphy, John Gibson, Puempel, Radek Faksa and Tobias Rieder. If not now, then when? Having a core like this is rare.
But let’s be clear. Adding a character guy won’t do it. To win the OHL title and go to the Memorial Cup, the Rangers need to make a big, gutsy splash in the trade market. And that is something, historically, that Spott has not done at the deadline.
The Rangers won't disclose how many OHL cards they have left. If my math is right, they have six remaining cards, which means they can only add six new bodies to the lineup from here on out, minus players from the Dutchmen, once they are eliminated from the post-season.
It’s a tough trade market out there. Several teams are in contention and asking prices are high.
Spott has traditionally been loyal to his players and, as mentioned, he has a strong core. The good news is that some players are underachieving. So, don’t be surprised if the Rangers decide to stand pat at the trade deadline.
The thinking there is that some players could be in for a big second half of the season. Toss in increased production from rookies and sophomores, who should be more adjusted to the pace of the league, and the Rangers may see an upswing without doing anything.
This strategy also keeps the club’s picks in place and gives next year’s crop a chance to play extended minutes together, which can only help down the line.
Even though several high profile players are expected to leave next season, several players will be back.
Next year’s forward crew should include returnees: Eric Ming, Justin Bailey, Matia Marcantuoni, Brent Pedersen, Josh Sterk, Curtis Meighan, Matt Schmalz, Darby Llewellyn, Ty Learn, next year’s first round pick, up to two new European imports and the potential addition of Ryan MacInnis. That leaves few open roster spots.
It’s equally crowded on defence with Evan McEneny, Ben Fanelli, Cory Genovese, Max Iafrate, Jared Gilbert and Owen Stewart all back.
Franky Palazzese and Jack Moylan are pegged to man the crease.
So, if the Rangers are only capable of winning one or two playoff rounds this spring, perhaps it’s worthwhile to add a few key pieces for next year.
Shopping players such as Murphy, Gibson, Rieder or Ben Thomson would net a bounty of prospects, talent in their prime and restock the draft pick cupboard, setting the team up for years to come.
It would also signal that the team has given up this year and, frankly, that would be a tough sell in the dressing room and in the stands.
TRADE BAIT:The draft pick cupboard is empty. Unless Spott reaches far into the future, he has two coveted picks to deal — a second round this year and a third round next year. Aside from that, no second or third selections are free until 2017.
And you’d have to think some of those are off limits since the club, at some point, is going to need to restock.
Palazzese has attracted attention from other GMs. There are several playoff bound teams that need a lockdown netminder. The fact that he will return for one more season is also enticing to buyers.
Every team wants Bailey, but he is off limits, unless the team is completely wowed by a deal. Even then, I can’t see a scenario where he is traded.
Schmalz is playing a limited role this season and has no points but has cache since he’s a first round OHL pick. Several Rangers, including some greats, had poor rookie seasons, so don’t judge the forward on this year’s performance.
Marcantuoni, Pedersen, Gilbert and McEneny are also in demand because of their talent and age.
Of course, all the vets would be in the mix if the Rangers go in sell off mode.
WHO'S OUT THERE?
Just scan the teams falling out of the playoff picture and look for older impact players and you’ll get your list.
Names popping up include: Ottawa defenceman Cody Ceci and forwards Sean Monahan and Tyler Graovac, Saginaw centre Vincent Trocheck, Peterborough’s Alan Quine and Slater Koekkoek, the Soo’s Nick Cousins and Sudbury’s Josh Leivo and Frank Corrado, among others.
If the Knights and Attack weren’t in win-now mode, the Rangers would have a good chance of adding on. The reality is, the team has a long way to go to outscore their division rivals.
Making the task more challenging is the fact that London and Owen Sound have more assets to deal. That means the Rangers will have a tough time outspending the competition.
That leads me to believe that the Rangers will probably pick up a decent OA defenceman to improve an already impressive blue line and add a veteran winger.
That doesn’t have the wow factor some fans want. But it might not be a bad strategy.
Let’s face it, the team’s strengths are in their own end. The club has allowed the fewest goals in the OHL and has the best goaltending tandem in the league.
A depth defenceman protects against injuries and shores up the team’s strongest asset. It might not be exciting, but the best way for the club to get to the final, as it stands now, will be by grinding out one goal games and frustrating opponents with its stingy defence.
Let the trading begin.