The OHL trade deadline did little to separate the contenders from the pretenders as we make the turn into the home stretch of the OHL season.
After the trade dust settled there are still seven legitimate contenders for the OHL championship: London, Sault Ste. Marie, Ottawa, Niagara, Guelph, Saginaw and Oshawa are all capable of going all the way.
Perhaps one or two more than others, but they are all certainly in the mix.
Guelph does seem to have a favourable schedule.
While the remaining 23 games are pretty much even as far as home/away goes (12/11), Guelph does play 17 of its remaining 23 games against teams below them in the overall OHL standings. That includes nine games against teams not currently in playoff position.
But Guelph has more important priorities than schedule watching. In no particular order, they are:
Getting healthy: the return of Cam Hillis appears close while it will likely be close to the playoffs before Pavel Gogolev and Jack Hanley are back. This team is so much better with those three in the lineup when you look at what it does to their depth.
Improve special teams: Great teams don’t usually have a power play rated sixth and a penalty kill 13th in the league.
Gel: Some line juggling is to be expected after so many trades, as George Burnett figures out who fits best where. But at some point decisions need to be made so linemates can get more comfortable with one another.
Get Poppy in a groove: Anthony Popovich’s up and down season continues. When he’s good, he’s very good. He just needs to play at that level for more than a game or two in a row, like he did earlier this year in stretches. Of goalies who have played more than 10 games, Popovich’s save percentage is 16th in the league.
We all know how good London and Ottawa are, but several teams closed the gap.
Guelph is obviously a much stronger team, Niagara might actually be the best team in the east now and Saginaw added two of the best forwards in the league.
Sault Ste. Marie defies the odds and just keeps on rolling. They did nothing at the deadline and are 9-1 in the past 10 games.
Everyone keeps waiting for Saginaw to falter and they too are 9-1 in their past 10.
Guelph might be a lot better now but they still sit in fourth place in the West, which could mean a second round encounter with London. But with only six points separating the top three teams, predicting who plays who in what round is really guessing at this point.
Not that it will matter. You have to beat them all to win it. The only real advantage is nabbing home-ice advantage.