WICHITA, Kan. – This week’s Tuesday Takeaways is all about the Trade Deadlines in minor league hockey. Two have come, with one more still to go.
Let’s get it started, shall we?
Did You Miss the AHL Trade Deadline?
Trust me, you really didn’t. Unlike the NHL, ECHL and SPHL trade deadlines, year after year the AHL Trade Deadline seems to pass without much fanfare. Why?
Since the AHL is a development league, the majority of a team’s players are tendered to the NHL parent club. Therefore, the parent club is in charge of determining which AHL team to assign a player to. Yes, they can assign a player to a team which isn’t its primary affiliate.
Because of this, the majority of moves which will affect an AHL team are made at the NHL Trade Deadline and not the AHL one. AHL players are often included in package deals for NHL players – such as Chicago’s Erik Brannstrom in the Mark Stone trade – but NHL teams also use this deadline to add pieces only for their AHL team. The Carolina Hurricanes did just this for the Charlotte Checkers by acquiring Tomas Jurco in a deal which only affected their AHL affiliate.
Though Jurco is on an AHL-only contract, the Hurricanes traded prospect Cliff Pu who is on an NHL entry-level contract. Unless the trade involves only AHL-tendered players, it needed to be completed prior to the NHL deadline.
In fact, the only AHL Trade Deadline deal was between the Providence Bruins and the Belleville Senators. The P-Bruins acquired defenseman Stuart Percy in a one-for-one trade for forward Austin Fyten. As always, it was a quiet trade deadline in the AHL.
Our AHL Three Stars of the Week (Trade Deadline Winners and Losers Edition):
★ – Charlotte Checkers – In two games with the Checkers, Jurco already has two goals. With him in the lineup, the AHL’s best team put together two impressive wins in the past week downing Binghamton 4-2 and then 8-1. Though the Devils are the second-worst team in the American Hockey League, these two statement wins underscored how the Checkers got even better as they stare down a deep Calder Cup run.
★★ – Jean-Sebastien Dea – 3G, 1A, 3GP; Springfield Thunderbirds – Traded in a one-for-one for Chris Wideman, the forward seems to have benefited immensely from the fresh start. Though the Thunderbirds are not currently in a playoff position, Springfield went 2-1 this past week and is sitting exactly at .500 on the season. While it may be too little, too late for Springfield’s playoff hopes, Dea is improving his stock as he approaches free agency.
★★★ – Pavel Francouz – 4-0-0, 1.48 GAA and .959 SV%; Colorado Eagles – While not someone involved in a deadline move, it’s impossible to ignore the play of Francouz this past week. On 145 shots, the netminder allowed just six goals and the Eagles are now in a playoff spot after appearing dead in the water. He made 36, 30, 43 and 30 saves in four victories, and is one of the AHL’s goaltending leaders in his first pro season in North America.
What to Watch for at the ECHL Trade Deadline
There are two storylines we’ll be watching for as we near Thursday’s 3 pm Eastern time Trade Deadline.
1. Will a team on the outside of the playoff race sell?
On Tuesday afternoon, there are roughly five teams who could be considered longshots or worse to make the playoffs; Norfolk, Greenville, Wichita, Rapid City, and Allen. Americans head coach Steve Martinson has worked the trade wire to get assets which improved his team in the short-term and gives him some control for the coming offseason. With plenty of good players on bad teams (here’s looking at you Michael Pelech and Ralph Cuddemi,) it would make sense for coaches to move those assets to recoup players and pieces for next season, without asking for a King’s ransom.
2. How will parity play a role in the deadline?
With 22 of the 27 ECHL teams still in playoff contention, the pressure is on to make the right move or moves to get your team in the 16-team field for next month’s tournament. It’s likely we’ll see a handful of moves, mostly for depth pieces, but rare is it that we see major jaw-dropping moves made on deadline day itself.
Our Three Stars of the Week
★ – Ian Keserich – Tulsa Oilers – If you’re looking for the “feel-good” story of the ECHL season, look no farther than Green Country, where Tulsa netminder Ian Keserich looks rejuvenated after six years away from the game and selling a few cars. This last week, he went 3-0-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average and a save percentage of .944, en route to league honors. Since coming out of retirement, the 33-year-old has seen action in eight games, going 5-1-0 with a 1.78 goals-against average and a save percentage of .931.
★★ – Greg Chase – Maine Mariners – After spending the first half of the season logging frequent flyer miles (traded from Wichita to Allen, and later from Allen to Maine,) Chase appears to have found a home with the
Blueberries Mariners. The 24-year-old nephew of former NHL’er Kelly Chase scored nine goals and added nine others for 18 points, helping the Mariners to a 9-4-0 record during the month of February.
★★★ – John Edwardh – Adirondack Thunder – Edwardh put together a really solid February for the Adirondack Thunder, as they maintained contact with the Newfoundland Growlers in the race for the ECHL North Division crown. The 24-year-old had at least one point in all 11 games in February and had four multi-point games. He ranks third among ECHL rookies with 51 points and is tied for fourth with 23 goals in 46 games with the Thunder.
The Trade Tree of Mitchell Mueller
As the SPHL trading deadline expired on Monday, the Quad City Storm proved to be both buyer and seller in the final weeks of the dealing window.
On February 18, the wheeling and dealing began with a move of Quad City forward Mitch Mueller to the Knoxville Ice Bears. Both teams swapped their top-scoring players – Mueller for Ice Bears forward Danny Cesarz.
Cesarz, on a concussion protocol for an injury suffered against Evansville on February 16, wound up playing a grand total of zero games for the Storm.
On the trade deadline, a series of deals would send Cesarz to a contender while a few other players moved around.
First, the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs let defenseman Brian Rowland go to the Macon Mayhem for forward Justin Levac. The Mayhem then packaged Rowland along with forward Sam Wilbur for the services of Cesarz. Finally, the Storm sent Wilbur to the Fayetteville Marksmen for defenseman Paul Fregeau.
Fayetteville also received defenseman Brandon McMartin from Knoxville in a February 28 deal for future considerations.
At the end of it all, the Quad City Storm let go of their top forward in Mueller and wound up with a pair of serviceable defensemen in Rowland and Fregeau.
One postscript to the trade deadline: The Evansville Thunderbolts would say goodbye third-year forward Nick D’Avolio. The team released him and was claimed in the waiver window by the Birmingham Bulls. At Thunderbolts broadcaster Tommy Pecoraro told me, “The team wanted to thank him for his service and give him a shot at winning a championship.”
D’Avolio will certainly have his shot, as will Cesarz and Mueller – thanks to a series of deadline deals.