The January 10th deadline is rapidly approaching and a number of teams will be deciding whether they are buyers or sellers. Some teams are clearly in one or the other category while others will have tougher decisions to make, especially considering the returns we have already seen for players who have been dealt.
Today I will take a stab at what I think could happen before the deadline. I’ll go by the four divisions.
As I write this, Seattle is 12 points back of Tri-City for fourth in the division but is right in the hunt for the last wild card spot. That said, the Thunderbirds probably aren’t going to suddenly add to their team just to be bounced out in the first round so I think it’s fair to predict that Seattle will be sellers. Nolan Volcan and Zack Andrusiak would be quality additions to any contending team but they are overagers so the list of potential buyers could be short unless Seattle is willing to take back a 20-year-old in the swap.
The other four teams in the division could all be buyers although I don’t expect the Americans to be pulling off a blockbuster again this year. Could they tinker a bit? Sure they could but outside of some forward depth, I don’t expect much change in Kennewick.
Portland’s recent acquisition of USHL scorer and 2019 eligible Bobby Brink might not even help the Winterhawks this year, but would it surprise anyone to see the forward arrive in Oregon next week? Either way, I do believe Portland will find a way to add to their group before the deadline. Maybe a Dennis Chowlowski type acquisition for the blueline? I’m thinking of Josh Brook from Moose Jaw.
My pre-season expectations for the Chiefs may have been too high otherwise Spokane have just been underachievers so far. I definitely expect Jaret Anderson-Dolan’s return after the WJC to be their biggest add but it’s possible Spokane does more than that to keep pace with Portland in the quest for home ice advantage in round one.
That leaves Everett who currently would have home ice advantage right up to the conference finals. They can score, they don’t give up goals and they have already beefed up their blueline with experienced Broncos. If the Silvertips do nothing before the deadline it wouldn’t surprise me but if they do, I’d guess it would be depth up front.
The Giants are the class of the division and just filled their overage trio with Jared Legien. Vancouver has goaltending depth and plenty of forwards. If anything, I thought the Giants might look to add to the back end with a veteran but then they brought in former Tri-City American Landon Fuller from the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers so, unless an upgrade comes available, maybe they are done?
The rest of the division, in my opinion, could all be sellers.
Certainly Kelowna, hosting the Memorial Cup next year, will make moves to better themselves in 2019-20 and not now. Brayden Chizen, Dalton Gally and Lane Zablocki only have three months of junior eligibility left so I’d guess they could all be available. One could make the argument though that any playoff experience for the Rockets this year would be invaluable down the stretch next year so, perhaps, could Kelowna hang onto the three vets simply to help maintain their current playoff status?
The Royals recently added Jake Kustra to the blueline which is a move that a seller probably doesn’t make so I guess Victoria will go for home ice in the first round. They won’t be a favourite after that so you could argue that the smartest long term thing they could do would be to deal Griffin Outhouse to a outright contender. The counter argument would be that he’s good enough to steal a round so why not keep him and try to add a couple pieces to make somewhat of a push? If that’s the plan, Victoria will need more offence up front.
Kamloops has a bunch of games in hand on Kelowna so, mathematically speaking, have the potential of overtaking the Rockets in the standings. All the Blazers have to do is win all those extra games – easier said than done. That said, if there is a team that could peddle off some big pieces for massive return, it could be Kamloops. Dylan Ferguson and Jermaine Loewen are done after this year. Imagine the picks and young players that could be accrued for the pair and what Matt Bardsley could do with that return at the bantam draft. It might be tempting to hold serve and take your chances in the playoffs but it’s a seller’s market and those are two monster chips.
Lastly there is Prince George who is in the mix for the final wild card spot but it’s hard for me to see them making a serious push with their lack of offence. Could the Cougars find a team that can add or swap an import? If so, 19-year-old Vlad Mikhalchuk and his team high 28 points could be of interest.
The Eastern Conference is a bit easier to determine the obvious buyers and sellers and the same can be said for the East Division. Clearly Swift Current and Regina are actively bailing on this season and trying to get whatever they can for any perceived value left on their rosters. And like vultures, the rest of the league has been picking away at those two carcasses all season.
The Pats still have Robbie Homes and Austin Pratt but both could be back as quality 20-year-olds next season so Regina might want to keep them in the fold. That leaves OA defenders Brady Pouteau and Liam Schioler who could provide veteran depth for a team looking for help there.
Meanwhile, the defending champs only have one player remaining on the roster who has scored more than 10 goals. I just don’t see what is left for Swift Current to deal away outside of netminder Joel Hofer but as an 18-year-old, tell me why that would make any sense?
The Wheat Kings are fighting for a playoff spot but aren’t contenders so it could go either way. They were sellers last year when they were much higher in the standings so I guess I would lean towards the same thing this year. If that’s the case then Stelio Mattheos, drafted but unsigned so far by Carolina, would be the obvious target for contending teams but that doesn’t mean that the Wheaties are looking to move him. He could be back next year as a 20 although I would bet the Hurricanes eventually sign him and send Mattheos to their AHL farm.
To me, Moose Jaw is in the same position that Brandon was in last year; not at risk of missing the playoffs so moving a guy or two for big return might be a low risk, long term gain. Are Josh Brook and Justin Almeida this year’s version of Kale Clague and Tanner Kaspick? Brandon added four 1st round picks last year when they traded those two players (plus a 2nd and three players). That’s got to be a consideration for the Warriors, doesn’t it?
Saskatoon has made a number of deals this season and already have done a solid job of filling holes or improving positional depth. Getting veterans Nolan Kneen and Brandon Schuldhaus before December were both proactive moves that have paid off. The Blades don’t have to try and acquire those types of players now, when prices are higher. I assume that if the opportunity to add another offensive forward presents itself, Saskatoon would do that but I don’t think the pressure is on to do so. It’s a quality club as it is, however, there are only 12 forwards listed on their roster at WHL.ca.
That leaves the Prince Albert Raiders who have been the top team in the entire Canadian Hockey League since the middle of October. This is the highest scoring team in the WHL and the team that has given up the fewest number of goals against in the WHL. You tell me what they need.
With the Central, only one thing is certain: Kootenay is done. I don’t mean done in Cranbrook, although that has seemed like an inevitability for a long time, I mean the Ice are not in the playoff picture at all and have made moves that confirm that. But with Brett Davis and Cam Hausinger already dispatched to Red Deer, what’s left for Kootenay to move? Obviously they aren’t sending Peyton Krebs anywhere, especially if they’re relocating to a NHL market next year and need a high profile player to help draw fan interest.
There are only 11 points currently separating first place and fifth place in the division with five teams in that mix so a LOT still has to be decided. With that in mind, it’s not crazy to think that all five of those clubs could, to different degrees, be considered buyers.
There is Calgary who, after a slow start, have gradually fought their way back into the conversation and are hot on the heels of both Brandon and Medicine Hat in the wild card chase. Like Saskatoon, the Hitmen made moves earlier that have helped them. James Malm and Kaden Elder are two of the clubs top scorers and Riley Stotts has found his groove after a sluggish beginning. Goaltending could be an issue as Carl Stankowski is out with injury (2-4 more weeks) and rookie Jack McNaughton has done his best to fill in but can’t be expected to backstop the team for the long haul.
The Medicine Hat Tigers are the model of consistency and once again stand a great chance of making the post season. They’ve played more games than most and that works against them but the Tigers are a competitive and well coached group. The Tigers are guilty of giving up as many goals as they score and that’s not a recipe for long term success so if Medicine Hat does anything before the deadline, I’d expect it to be with that in mind. A 19-year-old defenceman perhaps or a couple of forwards for depth.
There are currently three teams at the top of the division standings that are separated by three points and all three recently made additions to their rosters.
The Lethbridge Hurricanes made the biggest splash by trading for Nick Henry and Jake Leschyshyn which has helped boost the ‘Canes over the last month. Both guys have scored over a point per game with their new team and in doing so, Jordy Bellerive has seen a return to form as well. If there is another move left to make, my baseless prediction is that Peter Anholt swings for the fence in an attempt to pry away one of the goalies that I mentioned earlier from the BC division.
A tip of the hat to Brent Sutter and the Red Deer Rebels because I think it’s fair to argue that they are the biggest surprise team in the conference. Jeff De Wit was passed around the league last year like a virus but his return to the Rebels has been terrific. Obviously Brandon Hagel’s performance in his final season has led the charge and earned him a NHL contract. The recent trade with Kootenay brought in Brett Davis and another former Rebel, Cam Hausinger to round out the forward group. Ethan Anders is perhaps the most underrated netminder in the league and the blueline is big, strong and mobile. The Rebels could be done dealing or it might be a case of waiting to see what other clubs in the division decide to do.
The top club in the Central is, surprise surprise, the Edmonton Oil Kings. A major reason for that is because new GM Kirt Hill has been very successful with the few trades that he has made this year. Going back to getting Dylan Myskiw at the end of training camp to the recent grab of character forward Andrew Fyten. Don’t overlook the deal that brought defenceman Parker Gavlas in from Regina for an 8th round pick. Each new player has filled a need perfectly. That said, the franchise is still on the upswing of its’ cycle and isn’t about to move excessive youth or picks in big deals yet. I’d suggest that the Oil Kings are done dealing but there is a three headed goaltender situation to rectify as well with Myskiw, Todd Scott and Boston Bilous all currently in Edmonton.
That’s my take on what we could see happen leading up to the trade deadline but what do YOU think? I’m always interested to hear the thoughts of readers and listeners of The Pipeline Show so send me a message on Twitter @TPS_Guy.