Thursday, November 6, 2014

WHL Rumor Mill Heating Up

The Tri-City Americans acquired veteran import Richard Nejezchleb on Tuesday morning and that seems to have stirred up the trade market as teams begin establishing themselves as buyers or sellers. 

In the wake of the deal has come news that another veteran player, Calgary's Greg Chase, has been sent home to await a deal after requesting a trade. And his name to the list of Medicine Hat defenceman Connor Hobbs and Dakota Conroy of Prince Albert who are at home waiting for new teams.

On top of those players, speculation and rumors have other WHL stars potentially on the market. 

I'll tell you what I know and the speculation that has come my way after the jump. 

Photo: Everett Herald
The first big trade of the season came a month ago when the Everett Silvertips added Russian Nikita Scherbak from the Saskatoon Blades. An impact player, no doubt about it, yet there were some who were hesitant to suggest that even with Scherbak, the Silvertips might not be contenders. Since then, Everett has done nothing but impress with Scherbak leading the attack to the tune of 20 points in 12 games. 

Thanks to a surprisingly slow start from Portland and Seattle, the expected division powers, the US division is still a tight race with just 9 points separating the top from the bottom.

Outside of the CHL's #1 rated club, the Kelowna Rockets, the BC Division is even closer with three teams tied with 20 points and Vancouver still in the mix with games in hand. 

In the East, the Central is relatively up for grabs although Medicine Hat has been the class of the division since the start of the season. However, Red Deer is playing much better as of late and most still expect that Edmonton and Calgary have more than what they have shown thus far. 

Meanwhile, Brandon is much like Kelowna in that they have already built themselves a cushion over the rest of their East Division rivals. Swift Current is a quality team while the rest of the field has underwhelmed making it the lightest division in the WHL. 

That said, with the parity across most of the WHL this season, a trade could really alter the course of a team. Tri-City adds Nejezchleb, a 6'3 210 lbs forward with experience and 32 goals on his resumé and they could suddenly be running alongside Everett. 

Then one wonders what the response is from Portland and Seattle, the two teams most expected to battle for tops in the US Division. The T-Birds could get a huge bump with the potential return of defenceman Shea Theodore in the near future.


Should that happen, will the T-Birds make any other move or might they consider that to be enough to, at least temporarily, get them back to the top?

Meanwhile, I keep getting inundated with texts and tweets telling me that the Portland Winterhawks should be trading Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand and go "Full Rebuild". My response has always been "ask me in January" because I still believe the 'Hawks have too much talent to be bottom feeders for much longer. Portland is coming off of weekend wins over Kelowna and Edmonton so perhaps they are finally pulling out of their slump. Goaltending has been the biggest issue there, in my opinion, so we'll see if Michael Bullion is the long term answer there or not. 

But who is available?

As Dean and I talked about on our most recent edition of The Pipeline Show, Greg Chase of the Calgary Hitmen is most definitely available. We knew before the show on Tuesday that he had asked the Hitmen for a trade after being a healthy scratch against the Saskatoon Blades that evening. However, out of respect for the player and the team, we didn't say as much on the air but danced around the subject a bit.   


As Dean pointed out, Chase is a guy who can definitely add offence to a team and you would expect there to be several clubs who would show interest. I've been asked repeatedly on Twitter if I thought the Edmonton Oil Kings could be one of them considering Chase is a prospect of the Edmonton Oilers and comes from our city as well. 

The answer I have to give is "It depends on who I ask" and there really is no in between. It's either "absolutely" or "absolutely not".

The Oil Kings coaching staff knows Greg Chase quite well - both Steve Hamilton and Ryan Marsh teach at Vimy Ridge, home of The Hockey Program where Chase went to school and played for years. Does that help or hinder the potential of Chase being an Oil King? Again, depends who I ask. 

Photo: Andy Devlin
There is no question that Chase can play the game and can be a dominant player in the WHL. So why were the Hitmen using him on the 3rd line? Why did they healthy scratch him? Clearly there has been a disconnect between the team and the player and both Dean and I can tell you that it's not something new. 

But who deserves the blame for it? Two different head coaches in Calgary for Chase have chosen to do the same thing; play him on the 3rd line despite him being one of the team's leading scorers. Is he uncoachable? Is he a bad teammate? Those are things I do not know because I'm not in the room. All I can tell you is that in my personal dealings with Chase, a regular summer guest who joins us in studio, he's been anything but a problem. 

I know he's not popular with players from other teams but look at the role that he plays on the ice and that shouldn't come as any surprise. Was Brendan Leipsic a popular guy in Kelowna or Seattle or Victoria or Edmonton? Nope. Same thing with Chase but does that make him a bad person?

"There's a reason he was only a 7th round pick," one person said to me and it's a fair point. 

Speaking of Portland and Leipsic, wouldn't Chase make a great addition to the Winterhawks in taking over that role? Not sure that Portland has the means to make a deal like that but it does seem like a perfect fit. 

Photo: Andy Devlin
I spoke with several sources around the league over the last few days and there seems to be a number of big name players potentially on the market. I was told that Sam Reinhart, sent back to the WHL on Halloween last week, had not yet reported to Kootenay. Finding that odd I contacted the ice and was told by GM Jeff Chynoweth that "Sam Reinhart will definitely play in our two home games this weekend."

So maybe it's not a big deal. Maybe he just needed a couple of days to get over the disappointment of not sticking in the NHL and now he'll return to the Ice and everything will be fine. Yet when I relayed Chynoweth's message on the show, the immediate response from my co-host was "what about beyond the two games this weekend?".

The Kootenay Ice are dead last in the WHL with a measly 4-13-0 record. Is Sam Reinhart enough to get them back into the playoffs or would the Ice be better served long term by moving their marquee player? Keep in mind that Reinhart will miss much of December and early January at the 2015 WJC playing for Canada. 

If, and that's an "IF", Reinhart is dealt, would there then be any reason for Kootenay to hold on to 44 goal scorer Jaedon Deschenau

Photo: Andy Devlin
Then there is defenceman Josh Morrissey in Prince Albert. Kelly Friesen from Yahoo! already stated that the Jets prospect was available and likely to be moved before the WJC. As one of the league's premier offensive defencemen, you can imagine that Prince Albert would reap a lot of rewards if they chose to move Morrissey as speculated. But the Raiders aren't out of it just yet; they have a new coach and are still very much in the playoff race in the conference. 

It's much the same with the Regina Pats, currently one point up on the Raiders and with a game in hand. And yet, I'm hearing that Calgary Flames prospect Morgan Klimchuk isn't untouchable. We've been critical of the Pats in the past for holding on to quality assets like Jordan Eberle and Colten Teubert, and missing the playoffs with them, instead of stockpiling assets for them. Is this the year the Pats make that kind of a move?      

I'd be remiss if I didn't address the elephant in the room; does Curtis Lazar sticking in the NHL alter the mindset of the Edmonton Oil Kings? A look at the standings suggests that there is no reason for Edmonton to start dismantling now; despite their current winless streak they are still 2nd in the Central Division. They might not be considered favourites anymore, and after 3 straight conference titles that would be understandable, but it's probably a little too early to kick dirt on them just yet. 

However, with goaltending in short supply, Edmonton could get a King's ransom for Tristan Jarry - just something that bears consideration should things go south for the team before the January 10th deadline. 

Who's buying?

With the Americans adding Nejezchleb you would have to think that Seattle and Portland will want to respond. Like I mentioned earlier, the Winterhawks have limited resources from which to draw on for trade purposes so I'm not sure if they have the ability to land a big name player. 

Seattle though has lots to work with so you have to consider the T-Birds as potential buyers. However, should Theodore come back the club might get the boost they are looking for without actually having to swing a trade.     

Most expected the Calgary Hitmen to be contenders this season and they have not lived up to those expectations. When they deal Chase, do they do so for a similar level of player or just for picks/prospects? the latter wouldn't make them a better team this year while going the former route could help them play up to their potential. 

It's been suggested to me that the team to watch in the coming days and weeks is the Victoria Royals. Goaltending has clearly been an issue thus far but I don't see an upgrade being available just yet. Getting Brandon Magee back in the line up has coincided with an upturn in results for the club and I don't think that's a coincidence. It's worth mentioning that Magee and Greg Chase are very good friends off the ice.

If Victoria makes a significant move, would that force Prince George and Kamloops into doing something to keep pace? All three teams are currently knotted up at 20 points apiece. 

The Medicine Hat Tigers are tops in their division and have Connor Hobbs awaiting a trade. Could the Tigers package him with a pick or two for Morrissey perhaps? Pure speculation on my part.    

I should add the Edmonton Oil Kings at the end here. With the Central Division very much available for the taking and the new playoff format in place, it's not out of the question to think the Oil Kings could add a piece or two in an attempt to better their position. They need to find some offence from somewhere, that's for sure.    

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section or hit me up on Twitter (@TPS_Guy). 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The vibe coming out of the Brandt Centre in Regina is that Klimchuk and perhaps Burroughs will be moved at or before trade deadline. Burroughs is +20 and the leading plus/minus of any d-nman in the WHL and on one point off leading the League entirely. A puck moving d-man who is good offensively. His points are down a bit but will grow a lot very quickly.

Klimchuk just scored his 200 WHL point on Saturday night so he is a big time and steady point producer. His points were similar to Sherback and Chase's last season. He is also a Calgary 1st round pick.

The Pats clearly want some quality 18 year olds and draft picks to make a deal. Size and git will also play a factor in what they will take. If any quality team could get one or both of these guys I think they would be instant contenders. If Edmonton were to add both of these guys they would have a strong shot to repeat.