Unlike the other pro hockey leagues in North America, the Southern Professional Hockey League’s traditional trade deadline – held on the last Monday in February – typically passes without much incident. The nature of a league where such a high percentage of teams make the postseason means the SPHL is a league of many buyers and few (if any) sellers. It’s an economic situation not conducive to a flurry of free-market activity.
The 2016-17 season, however, has been a model of capitalism given the number of trades which occurred this season. It’s no surprise this trading season would end fittingly.
The week before Monday’s 3:00 pm ET deadline featured four trades involving eight players plus a favor still left unfulfilled. A week ago, the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs, Mississippi RiverKings, and Knoxville Ice Bears pulled off a rare three-team trade involving a suspended player and two on ECHL assignments. Later in the week, Fayetteville FireAntz coach Jeff Bes pulled off another big deal by obtaining Tyler Green from the Peoria Rivermen for future considerations. Finally, two final agreements on today’s deadline day swapped the Dawgs and the Pensacola Ice Flyers’ leading scorers and Bes’ dealing the nephew of a Hockey Hall-of-Famer to the league’s basement for more defensive depth.
Michael Turner/Mitch Vandergunst/Travis Jeke
Defenseman Travis Jeke left for a call-up to the ECHL Toledo Walleye on January 28nd as a member of the Knoxville Ice Bears. Should Jeke return to the SPHL this season, he’ll do so as a member of the Rail Yard Dawgs. Jeke, released last week by the Walleye but picked up off the ECHL’s waiver wire by the Reading Royals, was sent to Roanoke in a three-team swap involving the Dawgs and RiverKings. The Dawgs sent forward Michael Turner, currently with the Orlando Solar Bears, to the RiverKings. Finally, the Kings returned (with receipt) well-traded slugger Mitch Vandergunst back to the Ice Bears.
Here’s a brief history of Vandergunst’s travel exploits this season. First, the forward was signed by the Ice Bears, waived, re-signed, and finally re-waived on December 28th. The very next day Vandergunst was claimed off the waiver wire by Roanoke and suspended by the Dawgs the day after. Two weeks later, Vandergunst’s rights were dealt to the RiverKings for the rights to Todd Hosmer. Neither player reported to their assigned teams. After last week’s trade, Vandergunst returned to the Ice Bears lineup on February 24th, having never played a game for neither Roanoke nor Mississippi.
You read the last paragraph correctly. Vandergunst – technically – has been a member of each team involved with this trade. Apparently, he only has eyes for Knoxville.
Jeke, should he return to the SPHL, is a much-needed addition to a depleted Roanoke defensive corps with both Travis Armstrong (Indy) and Tim Boyle (Wheeling) both in the ECHL. Turner, on the other hand, is more of an insurance policy – again, should he wind up in the SPHL – in the wake of Dillan Fox‘s move to the 21-day IR.
On December 18th, 2013, the FireAntz dealt backup netminder Kyle Rank to the Peoria Rivermen for Fayetteville’s hotel bill when the Antz traveled to Peoria later in the season. Rank went on to a dominating three season stretch where he earned two SPHL Goalie-of-the-Year honors.
Wouldn’t it be fitting the future considerations in the deal sending Rivermen netminder Tyler Green to Fayetteville be for Peoria’s hotel tab? Unlikely, but it’s possible, considering the Rivs visit the Antz next weekend. Wouldn’t it be crazy if Green shuts out his former mates on March 11th as Rank did to the FireAntz back in 2014? Finally, wouldn’t it be absolutely bonkers if Green goes on to be the 2017-18 Goalie-of-the-Year for Fayetteville?
I support this fantasy. However, either way, Green (10-4-4, 2.77, .907) is an excellent insurance policy for Antz goalie Sean Bonar.
Chase Nieuwendyk/Brandon Lubin
With the Evansville Thunderbolts playoff hopes fading, we thought coach Jeff Pyle would be a seller at the trade deadline. It turns out the Bolts coach is a pretty shrewd dealer. Pyle, already on good dealing terms with Bes in a pair of prior trades this season, sent Brandon Lubin to the Antz for center Chase Nieuwendyk. The former Antz center, whose uncle is Hockey-Hall-of-Famer Joe Nieuwendyk, has developed into a solid defensive forward and a good player to keep as a core player on next year’s Thunderbolts squad. Lubin is a necessary defensive addition to an Antz team with blueliners Alex Brooks (South Carolina), Kyle Shapiro (Orlando), and Sean Robertson (Utah) playing in the ECHL. Lubin spent a week as Robertson’s teammate in Utah prior to being dealt.
Riley Spraggs/Massimo Lamacchia
Finally, we wrap up our trade deadline discussion with the biggest trade since the set of trades in November which sent Joe Manno from Fayetteville to Knoxville, Adam Stuart from Knoxville to Peoria via Fayetteville, and Jake Hauswirth & Mark Corbett from Peoria to Fayetteville. In fact, I’m not sure if we’ve ever seen a swap of two teams leading scorers at the trade deadline. Pensacola winger Riley Spraggs has had a breakout rookie season with both the Ice Flyers and Columbus Cottonmouths. The 19-goal sniper & top rookie scorer was shipped to the Rail Yard Dawgs on deadline day for hard-nosed second-year playmaker Massimo Lamacchia.
The move makes sense for both teams. Sam Ftorek‘s Dawgs are heavy at the center position but lack the true sniper from the right side, especially since Tyler Gjurich was traded to the Thunderbolts earlier in February. Look for Spraggs to line up with Jackson Brewer and Steve Mele on Roanoke’s top scoring line. Meanwhile, Pensacola coach Rod Aldoff adds more talent to a group of centers including Josh Harris and Josh Cousineau with the flexibility to retool the Flyers forward lines for their playoff push.
This Week’s Winners
Fayetteville: Despite the loss of the versatile Nieuwendyk, the FireAntz got exactly what they needed at the trade deadline: More defensive depth and a quality backup goaltender. Well done on both fronts by Bes.
Roanoke: The Dawgs definitely needed a scoring punch and they went out and got the best sniper available. Sure, Ftorek paid a steep price for Spraggs but the return of Mele from IR gave him some flexibility. If Jeke returns from the ECHL, Roanoke gets a decent d-man for a bargain price.
Next up for the league is the March 7th “Date of no return.” Any players who take an ECHL call-up after the 7th are no longer eligible to return to their SPHL team. Visit our brand new Player Tracker and check out where your favorite called-up players are at.
We’re done with the trading season, now the march to the postseason begins. Have at it, boys.