Sutter piecing together a contender

Here, now and hereafter.

Here, now and hereafter.

Red Deer Rebels general manager/head coach Brent Sutter has engineered a series of trades over the past two months with the intent of addressing his club’s present needs while building for the 2015-16 Memorial Cup-hosting season and protecting the future.

It’s been a daunting task, but so far the Rebels boss is right on track.

In the manner of forging a team worthy of hosting the Memorial Cup in 2016, Sutter has been able to add valuable pieces now instead of waiting for next season’s trade deadline.

In 2001, he acquired standout forward Martin Erat, large and mobile defenceman Darcy Robinson and back-up netminder Cam Ondrik in a deal involving the Saskatoon Blades. In one fell swoop, Sutter added talent and size and the Rebels went on to hoist the Memorial Cup in May.

Sutter will possibly add another major piece, say in January of next year, but for now he’s trying to get most of his homework done early, and for good reason.

“Certainly it’s something that you’d like to do,” he said, in reference to his early shopping spree. “It’s important to build your team the way you’d like as far as the chemistry it needs to have … with the players coming together as a team and getting to know each other like they need to both on and off the ice.”

Sutter acquired overage forward Riley Sheen from the Lethbridge Hurricanes in early December, then picked up forward Austin Adamson and key rearguard Nelson Nogier from the Saskatoon Blades. From there, he added defenceman Colton Bobyk from the Spokane Chiefs and obtained winger Connor Gay from the Regina Pats.

As a result, the Rebels, who currently sit fifth in the WHL Eastern Conference, gained three pieces for next season’s cup run while making the present team stronger.

“It is about this year, too,” said Sutter. “When we made the trade for Sheener, we knew that if we were going to be at the level we needed to be at and able to play with those top teams in our conference, that we needed to improve.

“You look at our conference and there’s not a huge point spread between third and eighth place. To be quite honest, Brandon and Medicine Hat are sitting where they are (first and second in the conference) because of the starts they had. They haven’t had any setbacks throughout the season and that’s really the difference between those teams and our team right now.”

“We were four games under .500 through our first 12 games and those other teams were six games above .500. That’s a 10-game spread. We’ve made up that ground to where we’re seven games on the plus side and now we have to continue to build off that. These acquisitions are going to give us the best opportunity to do that, plus going into next season, outside of Sheener, the guys we’ve added are all guys who could be on our team.”

There’s an age-old adage that successful hockey teams build from the back end out. Goaltending is still somewhat of a concern with rookie Rylan Toth and still-green second-year man Taz Burman, but Sutter is confident both are capable of protecting leads as they continue to gain experience.

The addition of Nogier and Bobyk to the blueline is nothing but huge considering top-end defencemen are the most sought-after commodity at the major junior level and beyond. Both defenders are large and mobile with puck-moving abilities, and both are intelligent players.

“Those are key additions,” Sutter insisted. “If you’re going to have a top team in your league and have a chance to win your league and then give yourself a chance in the Memorial Cup (tournament), your defence had better be very good.”

While building for this year and next, Sutter has also been able to restore his cupboard in terms of bantam draft picks.

Nogier didn’t come cheap, costing the Rebels forward Mason McCarty and, most importantly, first- and second-round picks, and Bobyk and a fourth-round selection were acquired in exchange for defenceman Nic Charif and second- and sixth-round picks.

The trade with Regina sent the Rebels’ top 15-year-old prospect, Jake Leschyshyn and a fourth-round pick to the Pats, with Red Deer getting Gay along with first-, second- and seventh-round selections. That trade, in particular, projects as a huge win for the Rebels.

The ability to execute a multitude of deals that will help your team now, next season and down the road is, of course, dependent on finding the right dance partner(s).

“It’s somewhat of an art to go through this. You have so many different things you have to look at,” said Sutter. “You sit down and go through the scenarios with Shaun (assistant GM/ director of player personnel Sutter), your office staff and coaches. You get everyone involved before you make the final call. You also have to communicate with other general managers. There’s a process you go through. You want trades to work out for both teams … for everyone involved.

“Every trade is a bit different. There’s a reason why teams are doing certain things. Saskatoon wanted to accumulate some draft picks to build towards the future. In Regina, they’re looking towards building their team around a certain age group, so they keyed in on a certain player they wanted from us and obviously there’s a price to pay when you do that. We were accumulating draft picks and we also wanted a player who could be good for us this year and possibly be a 20-year-old for us next season. Those are discussions you get into and at the end of the day, there are reasons why each team does certain things.”

While the likes of the Blades and Pats are heading back to the future, the Rebels are building around their 18-year-old players with an eye toward having three solid 20-year-olds next season.

“It’s important for us to have a strong team this year, a team that’s capable of making a push, because you have to have a winning attitude,” said Sutter. “It’s something that we’ve been working on.

“I like our team, I like where we’re at. We obviously need goaltending to have success and we need our two young goaltenders to continue to develop and grow and be good players for us. We score enough goals. We have to tighten it up defensively and part of that is acquiring the guys we have on the back end.”

Looking past this season and next, the Rebels should be in good shape considering they still own plenty of picks in the next three bantam drafts. Admittedly, some of that depth might be sacrificed in future trades, but as of now the Rebels are missing just a fifth-round selection this year, have all their picks as well as an additional selection in each of the second, third and fourth rounds next year, and own a pick in every round of the 2017 draft.

The bantam draft is, after all, the lifeblood of every WHL franchise. The Blades traded away oodles of early-round picks and prospects while building their 2013 Memorial Cup host team, missed the playoffs by a country mile the following season and are now early into what could be a lengthy rebuilding phase.

Sutter aims to avoid a similar Memorial Cup hangover, and by making several deals a year ahead of time hasn’t stripped the cupboard bare. In fact, he still has the assets needed to make another major move without mortgaging the club’s longer-term future.

“We don’t want to come out of the Memorial Cup year and be in a situation where we’re in a rebuild phase for four to five years,” said the Rebels boss. “We want to make sure of that, so you have to manage things properly. We’re doing the best we can with it and yet it’s a collective affair.

“Coaches live in the day, that’s just what coaching is. But from a GM’s perspective, you always have to think about the big picture and how everything fits in. That’s what we’ve been working on here the last two years and when we got the Memorial Cup (bid), the stakes got even higher. So we have to make sure this is all properly looked at the right way this year and next.”

gmeachem@bprda.wpengine.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A cross-country skier glides along the banks of the Ottawa River in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Canadians across the country can look forward to a mild spring peppered with the odd winter flashback throughout the first part of the season, according to predictions from one prominent national forecaster. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Mild spring with some wintry blasts predicted for most of Canada: Weather Network

March will be dramatically warmer through the prairies

Bharat Masrani, CEO, TD Bank Group speaks at the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto on Wednesday, November 1, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Five things to watch for in the Canadian business world in the coming week

Shares in metals and mining companies have rebounded sharply

A worker carrying a disinfectant sprayer walks past a WestJet Airlines Boeing 737-800 aircraft, after cleaning another plane at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., on Thursday, January 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
WestJet to lay off undisclosed number of pilots amid labour negotiations

Layoff notices to go out ahead of the expiration of a memorandum of agreement

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Feds hoping for AstraZeneca shots this week as Pfizer-BioNTech prepare next delivery

Canada has ordered 24 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine

Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend Sunday Service, in Abbotsford, B.C., Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. A legal advocacy group challenging British Columbia’s COVID-19 restrictions on worship services and public protests is scheduled to be in court today arguing for the church and others that COVID-19 restrictions violate their charter rights. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Churches in court to challenge British Columbia’s COVID-19 health orders

Calgary-based organization says it represents over a dozen individuals and faith communities in the province

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped save a missing pet recently. The two dogs have more than 80,000 followers on Twitter. (Contributed photo)
WATCH: Red Deer science dogs help save lost pet

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped rescue a missing pet… Continue reading

Team Canada skip Kerri Einarson makes a shot against Team Alberta as second Shannon Birchard, right, and lead Briane Meilleur sweep in the semi-final at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Kerri Einarson wins second straight Canadian women’s curling championship

Einarson and her teammates celebrated Sunday in the silence in an empty arena

Amy Poehler and Tina Fey hosted the Golden Globes on Feb. 28, 2021. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
With loved ones and pets, Globes winners embrace cozier show

Nicole Kidman and musician-husband Keith Urban got glammed up to sit on their couch

The cast of “Schitt’s Creek” pose for a photo after winning the Award for Best Comedy Series at the Canadian Screen Awards in Toronto on March 31, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Schitt’s Creek nabs two Golden Globes for its final season

Catherine O’Hara named best television actress in a musical or comedy

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Premier slams vandalism after slur painted on MLA’s office window

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is condemning alleged vandalism at the… Continue reading

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Machin waits to appear at the Standing Committee on Finance on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. Executives who engage in so-called "vaccine tourism" show both an ethical disregard for those less fortunate and a surprising lack of business acumen, experts argue. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine tourism is both unethical and bad for business, experts say

Executives who engage in so-called “vaccine tourism” show both an ethical disregard… Continue reading

Edmonton Oilers' Jesse Puljujarvi (13) and Toronto Maple Leafs' Justin Holl (3) battle in front as goalie Jack Campbell (36) makes the save during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, February 27, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
No Matthews, no problem: Minus NHL goal leader, Maple Leafs blank Oilers 4-0

Leafs 4 Oilers 0 EDMONTON — The Maple Leafs knew even with… Continue reading

Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Pablo Rodriguez rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Gummed-up bills in House of Commons: harbinger of a federal election?

OTTAWA — All federal party leaders maintain they don’t want an election… Continue reading

The Pornhub website is shown on a computer screen in Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Pornhub policies reveal legal gaps and lack of enforcement around exploitive videos

OTTAWA — Serena Fleites was in seventh grade when a sexually explicit… Continue reading

Most Read