Brent Sutter will never say never, but he inched towards the possibility of watching the trade deadline come and go quietly on Thursday.
The Rebels GM and bench boss is experiencing his worst struggles at the helm of the club this season with a 10-20-6-2 record through 38 games. Some of that is the product of inexperience, as Red Deer has iced one of the youngest teams in the league over the last month and a half, the other is older players not quite producing at the rate expected.
Since coming back as GM of the club in August of 2012, Sutter has only let one January pass by without a move at the trade deadline. That was his first back in charge, in 2013.
Over that time, there’s been at least one deadline acquisition for the Rebels between Jan. 1 and the trade deadline on Jan. 10, a trend that might not continue with Red Deer firmly out of playoff contention. Add to that the Rebels big splash in December, when they shipped out Lane Zablocki for local product Josh Tarzwell and draft picks, the recipe for standing pat seems more likely than it’s been in recent years.
“Other GMs always call to talk. Right now I’m not expecting anything to happen but we’ll see where it goes. We’re playing a lot of young guys right now. We could be adding another player or two off our list,” Sutter said.
“We’re throwing these kids into the fire now, because they’re all going to be here next year and there better to go through it now. The toughest part of the year is the second half and it’ll make them better players next year.”
The likely scenario is another 16-year-old from the Rebels list entering the fold, with players like Alex Morozoff, a 16-year-old who was MVP of the Mac’s Midget AAA Tournament in Calgary with 13 points in four games or Blake Sydlowski of St. Albert Raiders Midget AAA.
Red Deer also still has an open spot on their roster for a 20-year-old player, with only Mason McCarty and Grayson Pawlenchuk taking up those spots right now. When asked about the possibility of adding a third before the deadline, particularly on defence, Sutter seemed to like where his roster was at.
“We’re evaluating everything right now. I think that Carts and Pawly see it. You still have to surround your young players with some good, experienced players,” Sutter said. “We might be carrying 15 or 16 forwards for the rest of the year, we’ll see how it goes.”
The Rebels also reassigned 18-year-old Lukas MacKenzie on Thursday, another indication that a roster spot for a younger player is available.
With Kristian Reichel returning from the World Juniors and Brandon Hagel back soon from injury, along aside Austin Pratt and Reese Johnson, Sutter doesn’t see the need to add another older player simply because a spot is available.
“I won’t add something to take away from our kids. There’s no sense sitting here and not being realistic about it,” Sutter said.
In goal, the Rebels GM will likely roll the dice for the remainder of the season with Ethan Anders and Riley Lamb.
On defence, the potential to return all six defencemen for another season together seems the most likely scenario.
Red Deer has a strong tandem of centres with Reichel as the number one and Tarzwell number two, but an upgrade down the middle could serve them well in the long run. Reese Johnson, although a natural winger, is currently top 15 in faceoffs won across the league.
At this point considering all the scenarios, the one where the Rebels make a big trade deadline acquisition seems low. With an asset like Brandon Hagel, who still could return as a 20-year-old not currently playing, trading him for futures while his value isn’t at its peak, also doesn’t make sense.
That leaves valuable pieces like McCarty who leads the club in goals, or Pawlenchuk who is a great leader and might be a great addition to a contender. But the Rebels also need those players as examples for their core.
Riding out the storm should be the direction Red Deer heads at the 2018 trade deadline.