For the first time in my three seasons covering the WHL, there were no blockbusters and no feeding frenzy at the Jan. 10 trade deadline.
Overall, only 12 trades were made Thursday involving 16 players and no first-round WHL Bantam Draft picks were exchanged. Only one player traded in the past week had more than 20 goals this season and goalie Joel Hofer fetched the biggest haul for the Swift Current Broncos (he was traded for six WHL draft picks Wednesday).
Some teams did a bit of shopping earlier in December, some waited until this week to get their deal done, but there was no rat race to the top, few sell the farm for one-star deals.
We may no longer see those in the WHL and to me, that’s OK.
New rules have limited trades in the WHL, ones that prevented teams from trading signed 15- and 16-year-old players, as well as only 17-year-olds if the player requests the trade, so fewer trades were inevitable.
In an effort to help young players stay put and grow with both the team that drafts them as well as not having to relocate halfway across Western Canada, is a significant long-term benefit. If you want to call yourself the best development league in the world, there is a certain responsibility that comes with that mantra.
In the past few years, young players might have felt inclined to think they were simply chess pieces, being shuffled across a board controlled by owners looking to make a profit.
Red Deer Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said at the deadline this year, more teams were placing value on their young talent. That transition is also coming through in the NHL these days, although that change is due to entry-level contracts and the salary cap.
“The more opportunities you have to work with your own players, the better off you are. Especially when they are young. You develop them and see where they go. Make decisions when they’re older,” Sutter said.
While fans may pine for teams to mortgage the future for a short-term playoff push, parity across the WHL this year also kept many teams from making big moves.
The Prince Albert Raiders are obviously the class of the WHL, with only five losses in 41 games. The Everett Silvertips are also extremely strong, but beyond that, a whole host of teams sit in the next tier. Ten teams have at least 20 wins and seven of those have 13 losses or less. That’s a big middle group.
“There’s a lot of parity in the league now. Outside of a couple teams, that are re-tooling. You have a couple teams that are trying to find their way, but other than that, there’s a lot of parity,” Sutter said.
“It’s close. You sit there and look at PA, they’ve had a great season but other teams are starting to get close because they have younger players that are developing. Look at our division alone, there’s not many points separating first from fifth.”
While I think this season is an anomaly, with fewer teams than ever taking an all-or-nothing approach, I hope for the young players in the league it becomes the norm. They deserve some assurances about their future.