Another day, another topic here at Inside The Nest. I would like to thank all of the fans who have participated and left comments thus far; the more fan participation we have, the better a place this blog becomes to talk about Screaming Eagles hockey and the QMJHL. Keep the comments coming!
Today's topic is a preview of the QMJHL midseason trading period, which opens on Dec. 18 and closes in early January. This is the time of year that teams, who have had the first half of the season to gauge where their team stands, make (or don't make) the moves necessary to build towards the goals they have in mind. Some teams have decided, based on a talented veteran lineup and a successful first half, that it would be best to trade for more help this season to take a run at the league title. Other teams realize that they have little to no chance of making much playoff noise this season, and will attempt to trade veteran assets in exchange for young prospects, effectively building for the future. Still other teams will stand pat with what they have, figuring that either they are a strong enough contender as they are, or that their time is next year, and they want to keep all of their main pieces together for a run at the title then.
In today's blog, I'll briefly run down what the league's eighteen teams may possibly do at the upcoming trading period. This is just the opinion of one reporter, they are educated guessed if you will, so take these prognostications with a grain of salt please!
I will run down the teams in terms of their current division standing, and will briefly comment on where their trading period priorities, and their intentions for this season, may lie.
1. Lewiston (23-5-0-3, 49 points): Going for a run at the league title for SURE. This team has been building towards this season for the past few years, and their first half success has done nothing but reinforce their notion that this is the year for Lewiston to finally make some real playoff noise. The #1 item on their shopping list seems to be another top offensive defenceman to help out Chad Denny.
2. Moncton (21-12-0-1, 43 points): Do not let their record fool you; this team is not a league contender. They deserve all the credit in the world for getting the absolute most out of what they have so far this season; they've had a phenomenal first half. But the fact remains that after last year's championship run, the Wildcats are in rebuilding mode. If they were to keep their team intact this year, sure they would finish high in the standings and might win a round or two in the playoffs, but they just don't have the depth to truly contend for the league title this year, and holding on to their top veterans and losing them for nothing at the end of the season would set the Wildcats back for at least a couple of years. Furthermore, they're already losing top scorer Jerome Samson to Val d'or during the trading period as the final compensation for last year's Luc Bourdon deal. Expect this team to SELL, trading away some key veterans such as Bourdon, Andrew MacDonald, Matt Marquardt, and Nathan Welton (not all, but two or three for sure).
3. Cape Breton (20-11-1-0, 41 points): With it being the last year in junior hockey for Cam Fergus, Paul McIlveen, JC Sawyer, Oskars Bartulis, Ondrej Pavelec, and possibly James Sheppard, and with the Eagles' proving in the first half that they can run with the big dogs, this seems to be a year in which we should go for it. Topping the Eagles' shopping list, if they can be had at the right price, should be a top-four defenceman and a top-six forward.
4. Acadie-Bathurst (19-12-1-0, 39 points): Early in the season, the Titan were 3-7, had seemingly no goaltending, and seemed to be getting all of their production from just a handful of veteran guys. It was looking like it would be a rebuilding year in Titan land. However, the team has turned it around significantly since and has moved up the standings enough to be considered a possible contender. Mathieu Perreault has emerged as a very special superstar, and may be the best player in the QMJHL today. Sniper Thomas Beauregard leads the league with 38 goals and will not be back next season. The Titan still have question marks in goal, but their situation has improved with the acquisition of the adequate-at-the-very-least Brant Miller. Bathurst now looks like a team that could make some playoff noise.
The Titan could still conceivably rebuild, as they still have quite a few holes to fill if they want to truly contend, but history has shown that in most years where Bathurst looks like they have a halfway-decent chance, owner Leo-Guy Morrissette will give the green light to make moves to go for it. In conclusion, I could see the Titan taking various directions at the trading period, but my gut is leaning towards predicting that they're going to do a little bit of tweaking towards making some noise THIS year.
5. PEI (15-11-1-4, 35 points): The PEI Rocket have a pretty good team this year; they should finish above .500 and could win a round or two in the playoffs. That being said, I think that Rocket management is looking more towards next year as their big year. I think that PEI will for the most part stand pat (still leaving them with a pretty decent team this season), and may actually trade a veteran or two (rumours have goaltender Ryan Mior and dman Marc-Andre Gragnani on the trading block).
6. Halifax (15-14-2-1, 33 points): The Mooseheads have had a pretty disappointing first half, and even though team philosophy is usually to hold on to veterans and try to make as much noise as possible every year, I'm thinking that the Mooseheads' play so far this season has made it apparent that the team isn't going anywhere this year, and that it would be best to trade away a veteran or two and build for the future (which could very well be as soon as next season). Their biggest asset is star goaltender Jeremy Duchesne, who has been mentioned in a ton of trade talks, most of which have him going to the Gatineau Olympiques, possibly for a package that would include high-scoring Brett Morrison going to Halifax at the draft in June. Anyhow, Halifax should be SELLING.
7/8. Saint John (10-18-1-1), St. John's (10-19-1-1), 22 points each: These expansion cousins are both a good two years away from contending for any league titles. They will play out the rest of this season, giving ice time to young guys who will be key parts of their future, and will try to trade away the few veteran assets they have. The biggest name on the block from these two teams is Fog Devils' leading scorer Wesley Welcher, who has generated some interest from a few potential contenders around the league.
1. Val d'or (20-10-2-1, 43 points): Going for broke, all eggs in one basket for this year. It's been about six years since the Foreurs have had a real contender, and their fans are starving for a deep playoff run. Starting with moves made at the end of last season to get veterans such as Brad Marchand and Mathieu Roy, Val d'or made it crystal clear that they're going full speed after the Cup this season. They will immediately acquire Jerome Samson from Moncton as soon as the trade period opens, and might even make further adjustments to fine-tune for the playoffs. Goaltending is one area where many think they need improvement. To summarize, this team will do everything it can to be in the championship mix.
2. Gatineau (20-10-1-2, 43 points): Not putting all their hopes on this year like Val d'or is, but still most likely making a run at the title. They have the depth at forward to do it, and they're looking to make the moves to upgrade in goal and on defence; if they're successful, they will be a very, very serious contender for the league title. However, the 'Piques will tweak in a way that won't leave them with nothing next season...... they want to be competitive every season. A team like Val d'or, on the other hand, will likely go "all in" (to use poker terminology) this season, with little regard for the coming season or two. As mentioned earlier, Gatineau is highly rumoured to be going after Halifax goalie Jeremy Duchesne. They are also apparently looking for another top-four dman (some rumours swirling about Bathurst's Mathieu Carle, although they would need the Titan to decide to rebuild if they were to get him). Even if they made no moves, Gatineau would still be a threat in the playoffs. This team will contend, and it may only take a single move or two.
3. Rouyn-Noranda (18-11-2-3, 41 points): The Huskies are a highly respectable team this season, but they have been planning for a long time for their big run to be next year. Despite their good record, they know that their key players are a year too young to start making big trades to add big pieces this year. I expect Rouyn to pretty much stand pat and wait for next season, although this will still see them finish in the top half of the standings and do halfway-decent in the playoffs. The only rumour swirling here is that the Huskies may be tempted to deal veteran goalie JP Levasseur, because so many contending teams could use a goaltending upgrade. Other than that possibility, expect these guys to pretty much stand pat.
4. Baie-Comeau (17-10-1-4, 39 points): A powerful team capable of making some noise, they possess the best offensive numbers in the league to date. However, they still may have a few too many holes in other areas (defence, goaltending) to really compete with teams in their division like Val d'or and Gatineau once those teams have made their upgrades. I think that the Drakkar will mostly stand pat and look more towards next season, when stars like Francois Bouchard, Alex Picard-Hooper, and Benjamin Breault should all still be with the team.
5. Quebec (18-14-0-1, 37 points): Patrick Roy likes to win, and I would be surprised if he didn't at least make a couple of minor tweaks to make his Remparts a little bit more of a contender this season. I'm not sure if they have the contender potential that the Foreurs and Olympiques possess, but Roy could decide to make a couple of moves to try and move his Remparts up the standings with those teams. I could also see him deciding that his team is a little bit young for a run this year and looking more towards next season. If they are going to try and make noise this season, Quebec needs a goaltending upgrade and a real high-calibre defensive anchor to at least in part offset the loss to the NHL of the man they were counting on to lead their defence, Marc-Edouard Vlasic. This could be a possible destination for the Wildcats' Bourdon, or PEI's Gragnani. In summary, I'm guessing Quebec will make a couple of moves to try and join in on the fun.
6. Victoriaville (18-13-0-0, 36 points): A decent team but I can't really see them contending this year. They'll likely mostly stand pat and keep their main pieces intact for next season, while possibly listening to offers for goalie JC Blanchard, dman Maxime Noreau, and maybe forward Benoit Doucet. I don't know if these guys will be too active during the trading period.
7. Shawinigan (15-14-1-3, 34 points): Have been falling fast since a hot, overachieving start. Only have a handful of impact players and are definitely in rebuilding mode, despite their decent record. I would look at them as sellers, with veteran guys like Francis Pare, Danick Bouchard, and JP Paquet sure to generate lots of interest on the trade market. They should trade at least one or two of these guys to try and speed up the rebuilding process.
8. Drummondville (14-16-0-3, 31 points): The poor Volts. They entered this season expecting to make this their big year, expecting to totally contend. However, almost everything that could possibly go wrong, has gone wrong for this hard-luck team. They lost one superstar, Guillaume Latendresse, to the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL, and their other superstar, Derick Brassard, has yet to play a game this season; he's out until at least February with a terrible shoulder injury. To add to this, they lost overage dman Olivier Magnan to the pro ranks, and potential star forward Francis Charette has quit the QMJHL altogether. Add it all up and it's been a disastrous first half for Drummondville, and they are left with just too many holes to plug to possibly take the run at the title that they had hoped that they could. Even with Brassard coming back late in the season, they would still have too many other holes; furthermore, Brassard has gone on record in newspapers stating that he would prefer to be traded to a contender when he returns to action. Therefore, it will be very interesting to see what the Volts do with Brassard at the upcoming trading period; some rumours have him going to the Gatineau Olympiques to play in his hometown. What kind of price can they fetch for a superstar who is no guarantee to ever fully recover from his terrible injury? Anyhow, expect these guys to sell as much as they can, a big disappointment for their long-suffering fans who were hoping for a real contender this season.
9. Chicoutimi (11-17-4-1, 27 points): In full rebuilding mode after a failed run at the title last season, the Sags are just letting their young kids play this year in hopes of icing a strong team in 2008-2009, when they hope to host the Memorial Cup. They do have a couple of veterans left over that should be of interest to contending teams, the best of whom is easily overage center David Desharnais, who should be one of the very most sought-after names on the trading market this Xmas.
10. Rimouski (6-21-4-1, 17 points): In Year Two of a massive rebuilding project that's been taking place ever since their glorious Sidney Crosby years came to an end in the 2005 Memorial Cup final. The Oceanic are talented, but extremely young, and are waiting to contend again in two seasons, 2008-2009. They don't really have veteran assets to speak of that I could see contending teams being interested in. I'd say this team will be relatively inactive at the trading period, just content to play out this season and let their kids gain experience; playoffs are very unlikely for these guys, but that's the way they like to build.
So in summary:
For sure contenders = Lewiston, Val d'or, Gatineau, Cape Breton
Teams that could well contend with a couple of moves = Quebec, Acadie-Bathurst
Teams likely not really going for it this year that will still be good teams and could upset a contender = Baie-Comeau, Rouyn-Noranda, PEI, Victoriaville
Sellers/rebuilders = Moncton, Halifax, Drummondville, Shawinigan, Chicoutimi, St. John's, Saint John, Rimouski.
Thoughts and comments would be appreciated!