Monday, January 7, 2013

How Will the NHL's Start-Up Influence the OHL?

Is it wrong that the first thing that popped into my head following the announcement of the NHL's new CBA (and ultimately the end of the lockout), was not "Oh, yay! The NHL is back," but "damn, that's going to suck for a bunch of CHL teams?"

There's no question that the return of the NHL is great for the sport. And for anyone that's a fan of hockey. But there's also no denying that the end of the lockout could spell disaster for a few of the teams in the OHL.

Let's take a look at the CBA-CHL call-up list that teams had to submit during the lockout. It is my understanding that only these players are eligible to be invited to training camp (however short it may be) with the opportunity to make their NHL club.


Let's break down the list by the OHL teams that it influences (potentially).

Barrie Colts
The Colts obviously have among the most to lose of any OHL club. It's already been made public that their leading scorer Mark Scheifele will be attending Winnipeg's camp, and the consensus seems to be that he's got a very good shot of making that team (after all, he cracked camp last year for a brief stint). There's sort of two sides to this story. On one end, if the Colts lose Scheifele, that's obviously a major blow. He's been one of the best players in the OHL this season and a gigantic reason as to why the club is considered the favourite out of the Eastern Conference. On the other end, the Colts did just go 5-4 without him at the WJC's (and without Aaron Ekblad and Anthony Camara), although three of those wins were against the 67's, Petes and a devastated IceDogs line up. Do the Colts have a competitive enough and deep enough team to win the Central Division without Schefiele? Absolutely. Do I think they can do major damage in the OHL playoffs without him? I'm not nearly as certain. That leaves us with the question, will the Colts make a move to bolster their line-up down the middle in anticipation of Scheifele's departure? I think that appears to be a pretty strong option. A guy like Vincent Trocheck would look great in Barrie and represents a lot of the same characteristics as Scheifele does (minus the size). As would Sean Monahan. One thing is for certain, Colts GM Jason Ford will likely make more than his share of calls to Kevin Cheveldayoff (Winnipeg's GM) over the next couple of days.

Sarnia Sting
Sarnia's situation mimics very closely to that of Barrie's. They'll potentially be losing their most important offensive player, Alex Galchenyuk, to the NHL. The Montreal Canadiens have also come out and stated that Galchenyuk will be given a look in camp and has the chance to crack the team's roster. With the way he's looked in the OHL the past few months, I'd say the chances are probably as high as Scheifele's. The good news, of course, is that Sarnia's actually been riding a high lately without Galchenyuk, winning their last four games (including the triumph over London to disrupt their streak). In Galchenyuk's absence, rookie Nikolay Goldobin was phenomenal. Also, the Sting still sit at the top of the West Division. The problem for the Sting is that the Plymouth Whalers are knocking on the door and are likely only going to get better during the home stretch (plus they're likely to make a move or two to improve). Without Galchenyuk, are the Sting viable contenders in the Western Conference. Even WITH Galchenyuk, I didn't think they stood a great chance against the likes of London and Owen Sound, so without him, their situation becomes even more dire. So, like the Colts, do they make a move to bolster their team in case Galchenyuk makes the Canadiens? I could certainly see them doing so, and I think they'd be smart to. At least shoring up their overage situation, to provide a tad more veteran leadership at likely a lower cost.

Niagara IceDogs
This is obviously the big one. Ryan Strome, Dougie Hamilton, and Brett Ritchie are all on the above CBA list. Strome and Hamilton have the greatest chances of cracking their respective NHL rosters. This hurts them in more ways than one. It places them in a horrific limbo. They can no longer rebuild, nor contend. Without Strome, Hamilton, and Ritchie, the Dogs went 3-6. Even if Ritchie returns, the Dogs aren't going to be good enough to maintain their current standing and are likely to limp into the playoffs in the 7th or 8th seed. They just won't have the depth to compete in the postseason. However, they also won't be able to trade off significant pieces due to the fear of the NHL. No OHL GM is going to give up significant assets for Hamilton and Strome, knowing full well that they could be in the NHL. The OHL ruled they won't be pushing back the trade deadline either, which makes the likelihood of them bringing back a return even smaller. And even though Brett Ritchie probably still returns from the NHL, it likely lowers his trade value (or at the very least complicates any deal involving him). Other players like Mitchell Theoret or Steven Shipley could also go, but they wouldn't bring back near the return many Dogs fans were hoping for. Unfortunately, the ending of the lockout so close to the trade deadline, really negatively impacts this franchise.

London Knights
London has both Olli Maatta and Scott Harrington on this list. Both are draft picks of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Losing either one of those players would be a monumental loss to the Knights and their Memorial Cup hopes. However, I think Knights' fans can sleep easy. I've read that Ray Shero is only expecting to have a small training camp and that no junior players will be attending. With a few holes, I'm actually a tad surprised they wouldn't bring Harrington in for a look, but what do I know? I guess we won't know until the camp actually starts, but it seems likely that the new CBA does not effect London.

Plymouth Whalers
The Whalers have three players on the above list; Rickard Rakell, Stefan Noesen and Tom Wilson. At this point, I can't see Wilson making the Capitals. His offensive game needs to gain more confidence. But Rakell is a very real possibility to make Anaheim. On paper, that would be a big loss. Rakell is one of the league's premier two-way forwards and a grizzled playoff veteran by now. That said, the Whalers just got Mitchell Heard back from the AHL, a player who can do many of the things that Rakell can on the ice. They would essentially cancel each other out. Conversely, I'm sure the Whalers would rather have both in their line up heading into the playoffs. That leaves us with Noesen. The Sens seem pretty set at forward, and while Noesen might have a shot, I don't think it's a large one. Even with some minor uncertainty, I expect Plymouth to be active near the deadline and to really go for it this year.

Kitchener Rangers
According to the CBA call-up list, the Rangers could "potentially" be playing with the roster they have been for the past two weeks, for the rest of the season. Ryan Murphy, Radek Faksa, and John Gibson are the three eligible to participate in NHL camps. Without those three, the Rangers went 3-5. Not exactly terrific results. That said, I don't think Rangers fans have to sweat very much. John Gibson won't be playing in Anaheim, even if he's a tremendous goaltender. Radek Faksa isn't likely to make Dallas with all the high priced acquisitions they made this offseason (Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy, and Ray Whitney). Plus he hasn't had the greatest of seasons and I don't think he's ready, even if the Stars had an opening. And Ryan Murphy would have to beat out one of Hurricanes returning top 6 to gain a spot. Even if he's made strides defensively during his OHL career, he's not ready to defend NHL forwards yet. If anything, the best is yet to come for Kitchener who is apparently trying to be very active on the trade front in order to put the best team they can in front of John Gibson in his final OHL year.

Oshawa Generals
The Generals have their top two centerman available to the NHL. I'd bet a lot of money against Scott Laughton making the Flyers. Their top 9 at the forward position is set, and there's no chance they take Scott to have him rot on the 4th line. However, I'd be equally as surprised if Boone Jenner DIDN'T make Columbus. He's been one of the best players in the OHL this year, and the Jackets could use his physicality and two-way play (what couldn't the Jackets use?). Do Generals fans need to panic as they try to compete for the East Division? Absolutely not. Without Jenner at the WJC's, Oshawa played some pretty inspired hockey under the leadership of Laughton. He has been absolutely fantastic of late. And things will only get better for Oshawa when they get Lucas Lessio back from that tendon injury in (likely) the next month or so. Does losing Jenner hurt (I'm talking as if it's a formality, I know)? Absolutely. But can the Generals still win the division and/or home ice advantage in the first round. Absolutely.

Sudbury Wolves, Owen Sound Attack & Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
I've lumped all these teams together because the three remaining players on the above list that I've talked about, have zero to little chance of sticking in the NHL (Frankie Corrado, Cody Ceci, and David Broll). If the Attack were worried about Ceci making the NHL, they wouldn't have acquired him (and Steven Janes) for Jacob Middleton and Joe Blandisi today. He isn't going to make the Sens. Ditto for Frankie Corrado and the many rumours surrounding him. He was apparently already dealt to Owen Sound, but Middleton used his no trade to block a move to Sudbury. And he's now rumoured to be heading to Kitchener. The interest wouldn't be there if word was coming from Vancouver about the possibility of him making the Canucks; even if he's been dynamite this season. And Broll, well as much as he's having a nice bounce back season, I can't see him making the Leafs. He sticks out a bit on the list for obvious reasons.

Every Other Team Not On This List
Nearly every other team on this list has the potential to be positively impacted by the NHL resuming play. It has the chance to weaken division rivals and strengthen playoff hopes. If the Colts lose Mark Scheifele, and the Generals lose Boone Jenner, don't tell me the Belleville Bulls won't be salivating over the thought of a more wide open Eastern Conference (especially with the early success of their Graovac deal). Just the same, the teams in the Western Conference's West division must love the concept of the Sarnia Sting losing Alex Galchenyuk. On the opposite end of things, a contender like London, or Plymouth, or Belleville (amongst many others) could be upset over the fact that Ryan Strome and Dougie Hamilton aren't likely to be available on the trade market and can't provide that over the top boost for a Memorial Cup run.

One thing is for certain, the OHL trade deadline is going to be a hoot to watch this year!

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