Today was certainly the most exciting day for the Eagles and their fans in quite some time. Players, fans, family, billets, and staff went into today's trading deadline expecting to see moves made to improve this year's edition of the Screaming Eagles, and boy did they get what they bargained for. Without any further preamble, let's look a little more in-depth at each of the three trades made by GM Pascal Vincent this morning.
To Moncton: Mark Barberio (D, 16 years old), Cape Breton's 1st round pick in 2007.
To Cape Breton: Luc Bourdon (D, 19 years old).
This was obviously the "main event", the big blockbuster that was anticipated for weeks and weeks. It sent shockwaves throughout the local hockey community when it was announced, and it was the talk of many an office in Sydney today.
Luc Bourdon needs little introduction to most of you who are reading this blog, but I'll give one anyway. Luc was the #3 overall pick in the 2003 Q Midget Draft by the Val d'or Foreurs, and was the #10 overall pick by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. He spent two and a half seasons with the Foreurs before going away to the 2005-2006 World Junior Hockey Championship, where he not only helped Team Canada win a gold medal, but also was named to the tournament all-star team. During his time away with Team Canada, he was traded to the Memorial Cup host Moncton Wildcats in a blockbuster deal that sent Brad Marchand (among others) the other way. He was a member of the Wildcats' 2006 President's Cup champion and played for the Cats at the Memorial Cup, although his effectiveness was limited by the fact that he was just coming back from a broken fibula or ankle (I can't quite remember which).
Luc started off this season in the NHL with the Canucks, but after a handful of games was sent back to junior for one final season. He absolutely dominated during his short time in Moncton this year. To illustrate, his +17 was tops on the Wildcats by 10, and was achieved in only 13 games! To me, that is a staggering indication of just how much this guy can dominate at this level. After his brief return to Moncton, Luc was off to the WJC again, and once again helped Canada win a gold medal at the event.
Bourdon is a physical, mean, hard-hitting defenceman who is a very good skater, very mobile, moves the puck well, has a very good shot, and can play both ends of the ice (including powerplay and penalty kill). In short, there isn't much that this guy can't do when he's healthy. He has championship experience (two WJC gold medals and a President's Cup ring), Memorial Cup experience, World Junior experience, and NHL experience. He will be counted upon to use this experience to be a calming leadership force on the Eagle blueline and in the Eagle dressing room. He will be counted upon to be that dominant defenseman that we needed to take the pressure off of JC Sawyer and Oskars Bartulis. In short, Luc Bourdon was possibly THE most coveted player available in the Christmas trading period........... certainly the most coveted defenceman.............. and the Eagles went out and got him. He is almost certainly the most high-profile acquisition the Eagles have ever made.
The Eagles paid a very high price.
Perhaps not as high a price as some of the rumours were suggesting might be required to land Bourdon, but losing Barberio, our first round pick in the 2006 Q midget draft, definitely stings. We have all seen Mark Barberio and we all know how good he is now and that the sky is the limit in terms of how good he may be. He is a real blue-chipper and has the potential to be one of the very best defencemen in the league someday, if not THE best. If the Eagles fail to reach their playoff potential this year, or if Bourdon is a disappointment in any way, it will be very painful for fans to have to watch Barberio develop into likely a superstar in a division rival's colours. However, that is the price that you have to pay if you want to acquire someone of Bourdon's calibre. Obviously, the Eagles decided that such a risky move was worth it. We will know come playoff time whether or not they were right.
Bourdon could be the final piece of the puzzle for Cape Breton this season, or this huge blockbuster deal could end up being something the Eagles regret in the long term. However, right now, there is no denying that the acquisition of Bourdon is just cause for great excitement among Eagles fans and the Cape Breton hockey community in general, and it should create quite a buzz around the team for the remainder of the season. On paper, we now have a defence that may be second to none in the league. Whether or not that translates into having the best defence in the league on the ice remains to be seen.
All we can do is sit back now and watch how everything unfolds. At the very least, the Bourdon acquisition signals that the Eagles are undoubtedly GOING FOR IT this season, and that in itself is very exciting.
To the Saint John Sea Dogs: Matthew Stoddard (winger, 16 years old).
To the Eagles: Jonathan Laberge (center, 19 years old).
In this trade, the Eagles get a versatile centreman who has been playing his trade with the Saint John Sea Dogs for the past year and a half. Laberge has 16 goals and 33 points in 39 games to date for the Sea Dogs this season. He is a hard-working, intense, two-way player who can play both the powerplay and the penalty kill. He is gritty and is tough to play against. He is also good on faceoffs (52.50% to date this season, on 1021 draws, the most on the Sea Dogs).
Laberge will likely start out as an upgrade at the third line centre position, although he is good enough to play on the second line as well in the event of any tinkering with line combinations. With his grit, attention to defense, intensity, and decent scoring ability, he really fits the type of player we were looking for. Most importantly, our team was very much in need of another strong faceoff man. With all of the hype about Bourdon, do not forget about this pretty solid acquisition.
We are giving up Matthew Stoddard, who was our 2nd round pick (35th overall) in the 2006 Q midget draft. As you may recall, we had actually traded up (traded a 3rd and a 4th rounder) to acquire the pick used to select Stoddard, but he had a disappointing training camp and surprisingly did not make this year's team. Matthew is still a very solid Q league prospect, scoring at a clip of almost two points per game with Cole Harbour Major Midget, but it was felt that he was a price we were willing to pay to acquire Laberge. The Eagles have now given up both of their top two picks from the 06 draft (Barberio and Stoddard).
In all, the Eagles add some depth at forward at the sacrifice of a prospect.
To the Drummondville Voltigeurs: Cape Breton's 3rd round pick in the 2007 midget draft.
To the Eagles: Beau Prokopetz (D, 19 years old).
In this trade, the Eagles (1) add further depth to their defensive corps (2) address a need for physicality on the blueline.
Beau Prokopetz is a stay-at-home defenseman who is reliable in his own end and is VERY physical. The league keeps track of hits on their statistics page, and Beau ranks #11 overall in the league with 103 "good hits" (whatever their definition of a "good hit" is!) in 33 games played.
He is not flashy, is not so much a "star player", and will not be counted upon to produce offense or play the powerplay, but he is steady, reliable, can play the PK, and adds a dimension to our defence that perhaps we were a little bit lacking in before; a real punisher along the boards, in open ice (apparently his specialty), and in front of the net. The Eagles lost three very physical defencemen from last season (Vincent Zaore, Charlie Fontaine, David Victor), and while this year's team possesses very good defencemen of all different kinds, they were kind of lacking that one real bruiser. With this trade, Vincent believes that they now have him.
A third round pick is a quality draft pick, but in this blogger's opinion, it will be worth it if Prokopetz delivers as advertised, especially considering that the Eagles do have another third round pick to fall back on (acquired for Vincent Zaore back in June from the Victoriaville Tigres).
It should also be noted that Beau played last season for the Bathurst Titan club that eliminated the Eagles from the playoffs in round two. It will be nice to have him on our side this time around.
All in all, Cape Breton used the final day of the trade period to address depth at forward, and to BIG TIME address depth on defence. No longer do fans have to worry about Sawyer and Bartulis wearing down due to being overworked come playoff time. The team now has many more options for point men on the powerplay (Sawyer, Bourdon, Bartulis, McIlveen, Swit). The team now has four pretty good faceoff men (Fergus, Sheppard, Laberge, JC Gauthier). The team is now extremely deep and talented........... on paper.
The key will be for all of this "awesomeness" on paper to actually translate into a great team on the ice. Fans remember full well in 2004, how a great team on paper totally flopped on the ice come playoff time. The team had no chemistry, and that's the biggest challenge laid out before the players and especially the coaching staff for the rest of this season; to make sure that this new-look edition of the Eagles finds and maintains the right chemistry, and to make sure that nobody gets overconfident, which is easy to do with such a talented lineup.
Whether or not Pascal Vincent, his staff, and his team are up to this challenge over the next number of months, once again, only time will tell.
But for now, even if fans are (rightfully) wary about losing a player of Barberio's calibre, it is pretty much impossible for fans not to be excited about the rest of this season.
The floor is open, as always, to thoughts and opinions.