Monday, September 1, 2008

Plante's Plight

By now you've heard the news that Alex Plante is not reporting to camp with the Calgary Hitmen. Plante can be seen here at the right, pulling on his Oiler sweater at the draft with Kevin Lowe and Kevin Prendergast looking stunned and maybe a little frightened by the pick they'd just made.

Of course a little over a year later and some fans are wondering if the two Oiler execs are regretting the choice they made that day, 15th overall in round one. After missing the vast majority of last season to inuries then losing his spot on the depth chart as a result, Plante left the team after the playoffs with a bad taste in his mouth.

The old adage in football when the starting quarterback gets hurt, misses some time then returns to action is: you don't lose your job due to injury. It still happens in that sport, but more often than not, the returning guy gets the chance to prove he's able to step back into the job.

Plante won't say it but others have told me that not getting the same opportunity when he returned to the Hitmen lineup last year was largely the root of the current situation. With the Hitmen in the thick of the WHL playoff race last year and getting strong performances from the 6 players GM Kelly Kisio had in the line up, Plante didn't receive that opportunity to slip back into the role he'd held the season previous. Suffice to say the player and his WHL team are having philosophical differences.

So now the question becomes, what happens next?

The Hitmen, while they likely will take a step back from last year after losing Karl Alzner (WSH), T.J. Galiardi (COL), Ryan White (MTL) and Brock Nixon (UFA) they will still be a formidable opponent. On the backend they will still have Paul Postma (ATL), Michael Stone (PHX) and Keith Seabrook (WSH) coming back and a year older. And hey, what if Alzner unexpectedly returns too? There certainly is no guarantee that Plante was going to be a top pairing guy in CGY this year.

Plante's options are pretty limited:

1) change his mind and report to Calgary with tail between legs... highly unlikely.

2) sit at home and wait for a trade - not desireable but once upon a time Brendan Witt sat out an entire season and really, it didn't seem to hurt him long term. Of course, Witt hadn't already missed the previous year's worth of development time so in Plante's case doing so would be potentially disastrous.

3) report to a MJHL team that owns his rights... whoever that is. I don't honestly even know if a team in Manitoba does own his Jr. A rights but that was an option that one WHL GM I spoke with on Sunday suggested.

4) I'm wondering if the Edmonton Oilers could sign him and put him in the minors. He's not 20 years old yet and that usually precludes the thought but Plante has played parts of 4 seasons in the WHL and, unless I'm mistaken, would make him AHL/ECHL eligible. I'll have to double check on that part though.

I expect the Hitmen are looking for a trading partner, but they're not just going to give Plante away either. Afterall, from their perspective they can boast that they're giving up a top 15 NHL draft pick so they can demand a significant return. They'll want to address their team needs which probably would mean a goalie or a scorer.

I've been saying since early June that the Brandon Wheat Kings make a ton of sense - Plante's hometown, his father and brother both played for the Wheaties, they are an up and coming team who could be contenders by adding someone like Plante, and they could possibly be hosting the 2010 Memorial Cup.

After watching day 2 of the Oil Kings tournament in St. Albert tonight I've come to believe that another team could be a reasonable trading partner with Calgary too. And no, not Edmonton.

The Regina Pats appear to have the enviable problem of having too many quality netminders. All four netminders the Pats have brought with them could legitimately play in the league and there is no guarantee that Linden Rowat (LA) is going to return as the starter, in fact, a conversation Dean Millard and I had with someone tonight suggested he won't be.

Rowat is being pushed by 18-year-old Jeff Bosch, also with the team last year, who was outstanding at times in the scrimmage tonight against Edmonton. Also in the mix is 16-year-old Regina native Derek Tendler who won accolades last year in his minor hockey league. Not to be forgotten is Damien Kelto, a BCHL standout last season who the Oil Kings would have received at the deadline last year if they had proceeded to hand Robin Figren over to the Pats.

4 quality netminders and the possibility of having Rowat as trade bait, a year after being named top goalie in the conference? Tell me how a deal between Regina and Calgary involving Rowat for Plante (plus whatever else either way if need be) doesn't make a boat load of sense.

Your thoughts would be cool.


Eetu said...

"I'm wondering if the Edmonton Oilers could sign him and put him in the minors. He's not 20 years old yet and that usually precludes the thought but Plante has played parts of 4 seasons in the WHL and, unless I'm mistaken, would make him AHL/ECHL eligible. I'll have to double check on that part though."

I couldn't find anything on the "four seasons rule" in the new CBA, but I'm quite sure there was a rule like that in the old one. The only thing related to Plante's situation that I could find is paragraph 8.7 (a):

"During the first two seasons next succeeding the draft of an age 18 Player, the Club he signs an SPC with must first offer him to the club from which he was claimed before it may Loan him."

Anonymous said...

The Hitmen are talking out of both sides of their mouth here. Either Plante is a valuable commodity and worthy of ice-time, or he is damaged goods and sits. Which one is the Hitmen's position?

Its unrealistic to demand too much in return for a player the Hitmen did not value enough to play, 15th pick overall or not.

Hopefully, there is a deal that can be made so he can play CHL hockey as Plante seems to be motivated to shut up all of the armchair GMs that are dumping on this pick. (Saying that an off-the-board pick will not make it to the pros is a VERY easy prediction to make and should not be mistaken for intelligence.)

Alan Caldwell said...

Anonymous, how are the Hitmen "talking out both sides of their mouth" here?

Plante came back to the Hitmen from Oilers camp injured last year and no sooner than he got back into the lineup, he got hurt again. Neither of these things are the Hitmen's fault.

Then when he did get back into the lineup, he took forever to get back into form and in fact he never did regain his 06-07 form. When the playoffs came around, he was not playing at a level which put him in the Hitmen's top four defencemen at the time. So in tight games when the bench got shortened, he got to sit. If that hurt his little feelings, that's too damn bad. This isn't house league where everyone gets to play; the best players play and if you're not one of them then you won't play and everyone at this level AND the NHL level understands that. Nobody cares what you did last year or where you got drafted, it's how you're doing tonight that counts.

I like Plante, I really do, and I want to see him succeed. I also have no animosity towards him for wanting a trade; if he doesn't want to play for the Hitmen then it's better that he doesn't. But it really gets my back up to suggest that the Hitmen have in some way mistreated this kid or didn't give him something (respect, ice time, whatever) that he had earned. He got everything that he earned, which last year wasn't much.

He is a valuable asset to the Hitmen and they should trade him when they can get what they feel to be a fair value in return. This is no different from any other player on any team in the league. It's a business and if that means Plante gets to sit out a while, well, he made his bed and now he can lie in it for a while.