Welcome back to yet another Monday and another week of the Monday Night Major.
The trade deadline is now complete and we know what the teams look like going forward, provided the injury bug does not step in and create unexpected change.
What we do know is that the Western Conference teams, for the most part, did not make huge alterations to their clubs while the Eastern Conference made a significant change.
The Niagara IceDogs and Barrie Colts look significantly different post-trade deadline and it has left the Eastern Conference looking rather weak on paper. It could be the weakest the Eastern Conference has been in many years.
This week in the Major, I’ll take a look at the Eastern Conference and five players making an impact with their new teams.
Without further adieu, let’s get to the hockey talk.
The Leastern Conference
This season saw the Eastern Conference become sellers in a big way. The Barrie Colts and Niagara IceDogs put up for sale signs in an unprecedented manner and look vastly different post-deadline.
Barrie saw Jack York, Ryan Suzuki, Captain Jason Willms, Matej Pekar, Riley Piercey and Tyler Tucker leave the organization for assets that will only help in the future. In fact, Barrie has dealt so many assets it left them only able to dress nine forwards in a game against the Niagara IceDogs this week. That is not good and certainly not a recipe to provide the organization with a chance for the remainder of the season.
The IceDogs saw Akil Thomas, Kyen Sopa and Philip Tomasino depart the organization for mainly future assets as well, including a mitt-full of second-round picks over the next four seasons.
In fact, of those teams expected to compete for the Eastern Conference title, only Sudbury added to their lineup with the addition of Matej Pekar. Yes, you could argue Chenier was an addition but in my eyes, that is a lateral move given that they had to deal Shane Bulitka to acquire him.
Sudbury failed to address their number one need which was a starting goaltender. Christian Purboo was added to replace Luukkonen but has struggled to produce league average numbers with respect to goals against and save percentage. That’s not a knock on Purboo either as this is his first year in the league as a number one goalie; inconsistency is to be expected.
Sudbury decided that rather than acquire a goaltender they would just try to outscore their opponents in the playoffs when the games tighten up and goals are harder to come by. That will not work against the Ottawa 67’s and Peterborough Petes and as a result, Sudbury may squander their chance to win with Quinton Byfield expected to be in the NHL next season.
Oshawa’s acquisition of Tomasino is expected to enhance their Memorial Cup bid next year but with so many second-round picks dealt, one can’t help but wonder how they can add to their team next year should they win their bid.
It appears that this year only Ottawa and Peterborough are in it to win it. Sudbury wants to believe they are in that group but likely face a second-round exit to either of the teams mentioned previously. Yes, they will win the Central Division but will likely be disappointed with how the season plays out.
For the bottom half of the division, it is about playing the next 25-28 games and seeing what happens. If their team happens to make the playoffs great, but really it is all about the future.
It certainly does not make for compelling hockey the rest of the way in the Eastern conference but the hope is that these selloffs pave the way for many seasons of competitive play in the future. The conventional argument is that the Eastern Conference has always been weaker than the West; however, this year really illustrates how significant the divide is.
Could you imagine if the OHL seeded playoffs 1-16 rather than by conference? How many of the Eastern Conference teams would make it? One could certainly make an argument that four of the current Eastern Conference teams would not be invited to the OHL’s second season in the spring.
The good news is brighter days are ahead for the Eastern Conference but for the remainder of the year, there are some fan bases that are facing some long evenings at their respective rinks.
Five In The Box
Canada’s golden goal scorer has seven points in his first three games as a member of the Peterborough Petes.
Thomas forms a super line with Semyon Der-Arguchintsev and Nick Robertson and will create all kinds of difficulty for the opposition going forward if that line stays together. It truly has a bit of everything on that line.
It is also the second year in a row Thomas teams with a member of the Robertson family as a year ago he was teaming with Nick’s brother Jason to light up scoreboards in Niagara.
Like a year ago, there seems to be instant magic with the Robertson connection and it could lead to a career-high in points for Nick as it did for Jason just a season ago.
Tomasino moves to the second phase of his OHL career in Oshawa and has wasted little time in showing the Generals fan base why the team should be happy to have traded nine draft picks for him.
The speedy Tomasino has six goals and 10 points in his four games with the team and has vaulted himself into the scoring leaders in the league.
Tomasino is a good candidate to lead the league in scoring next season as well. While the whispers are out there that Tomasino could make the Nashville Predators next season, I believe he will be back to inflict damage on the goaltenders of the OHL and a long playoff run with Oshawa.
Thus far the Saginaw Spirit have to be excited about Suzuki.
Suzuki only had five goals in 21 games for Barrie this season but has already lit the lamp three times for the Spirit while adding four assists.
Perhaps the most important stat is that Suzuki is a plus-six in Saginaw and has fit in seamlessly with his new hockey club.
It’s never easy to move a first overall pick like Suzuki but Barrie knew that it was the best thing to do for their team and Suzuki’s development. We may finally be getting a chance to see just how good Ryan Suzuki is now that he is a member of the Spirit.
There was much expected of Noel coming into this year with the Oshawa Generals coming off an 81 point season last year.
It has not worked out that way though as Noel was on pace for 50 to 60 points and under his 34 goals a year ago.
Oshawa sent Noel to Kitchener in order to get some additional second-round picks to acquire Tomasino while giving the 19-year-old a chance to win.
The problem is that Noel has only produced two assists in five games as a Ranger. While the Rangers are not likely concerned about it, many are wondering why a player with the tools Noel has can be struggling like he is.
Ultimately the trade will be evaluated based on Noel’s playoff performance rather than his regular season. If Noel can get it going once again he can make the Rangers very tough to play against come playoff time.
Pekar seems to be enjoying his time up north in Sudbury as he is averaging an outstanding two points per game with the Wolves.
After a solid first half of the season in Barrie that saw him score 16 goals and 29 points in 26 games, the Buffalo Sabres prospect has found a new gear to his game in the Nickel City.
His five-assist game against North Bay was a career-high and really cemented how dominant the native of the Czech Republic could be on a nightly basis.
Sudbury has clearly decided to outscore their problems the rest of the season and Pekar will be counted on to be a big part of the solution the rest of the way.
OHL Hockey Day
Next Sunday is OHL Hockey Day on the Your TV network as they will show back-to-back-to-back games throughout the day.
During intermissions the various local Your TV networks will have local features aired as well to talk about hockey in the community.
It is always one of the best days of the year if you are a fan of the OHL and have access to the Your TV/Cogeco package.
Don’t forget to tune in for a great day of hockey action as you look to fill your Sunday while waiting for the Superbowl the following week.
Thanks for reading the Monday Night Major. Have a great week!