It’s a seller’s market as we inch closer to the Ontario Hockey League’s January trade deadline.
We’re over a third of the way through the season and the contenders are starting to separate from the pretenders. Right now there seems to be about five or six contenders looking to add players, more than usual.
Which is probably good news for the Guelph Storm, a team with a core is set to make a serious run next year at a Western Conference title and a team that has at least two players other teams would love to have that won’t be around to be part of next year’s squad.
The Storm sits right about where we thought they would be and right where they probably should be: hovering just above the .500 mark, in fifth place with fourth place in the headlights and sixth place tailgating.
Home ice advantage was always the realistic goal for the Storm this season.
For the rest of the league, it’s a little unusual in that there are a bunch of teams that at least think they can win their conference.
The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds – thanks to a 15-game winning streak that’s still in progress – are the closest thing the OHL has to a powerhouse this year.
While the Hounds are indeed an excellent hockey team, I don’t think anyone sees them as the runaway champion. Unlike some years, there are plenty of teams within striking distance of the top dogs.
That could change come deadline time, where there is going to be all kinds of top-end talent on the table and the Hounds will be buyers.
But so will several other teams.
In the west, the Sarnia Sting started out like a house on fire, and while they have hit a couple of bumps in the road, they are still a very good team that is maybe a player or two away from being a true contender. The Sting will also lose the core of its forward group next year so it’s pretty much now or never for them.
The Kitchener Rangers went out and picked up Logan Stanley in the off season and Kole Sherwood early in the season. Those moves wouldn’t make much sense if the Rangers didn’t plan on being in the mix at the end of the year.
Then there’s Windsor, a team playing well above .500 hockey, and in fourth place. But Warren Rychel knows the future isn’t necessarily now for the Spitfires, a franchise in desperate need of re-stocking the draft pick cupboard and has two of the most desirable assets sitting in the dressing room in Logan Brown and Michael DiPietro, although the latter has another year left in the league.
And what about the Owen Sound Attack? The pre-season favourite in almost every poll to win the Western Conference are currently sitting in seventh place. Goaltending is a huge issue, as is secondary scoring.
Do they Attack think they can do better next year and hold onto assets, even though star forward Nick Suzuki might be gone, or do they go all-in this year?
So that makes at least three, maybe for buyers in the West alone.
The Eastern Conference isn’t much clearer, with three teams – Hamilton, Barrie and Kingston – battling it out for first and if Peterborough could improve its defence they would be right there in the mix too.
Barrie just traded 17-year-old Kirill Nizhnikov to Sudbury for draft picks that will presumably be used to beef up the team at the trade deadline. Kingston could go the other way, with the stock of highly-regarded goaltender Jeremy Helvig rising all the time. Hamilton already made one big deal with Flint and almost certainly isn’t done yes.
All of this adds up to a very interesting month coming up, one that will be interrupted by the World Juniors and Christmas trade freeze.