Lorne Webster | SN Staff
The annual QMJHL holiday trade period officially opens on Friday, Dec. 19. While there have already been a flurry of trades involving overage, import and non-roster players, it will be interesting to see what transpires during the trade period, especially with the 'Q' hosting this year's Memorial Cup. In light of the parity in the league this season, it is virtually impossible to figure out exactly who will be "buyers" and who will be "sellers". However, it is fair to say that at least one or two teams will surprise everyone and go against the direction expected by many pundits. With that in mind, here is Station Nation's view of what is likely to transpire over the next few weeks.
The East Division is home to the Memorial Cup hosting Quebec Remparts and arguably the most skilled team in the Rimouski Oceanic. However, the other division rivals would love nothing more than to knock off the front-runners. Therefore, a lot of eyes will be focused on the transactions involving this division.
Rimouski - The Oceanic don't have any obvious needs, especially after their recent acquisition of overage defenceman Charles-David Beaudoin from Drummondville. While generally expected to stand pat, they may look at add one or two depth players to aid with what should be a long playoff run.
Quebec - The Remparts have a ton of pressure on them to end the run of poor performances by Memorial Cup hosts over the past few years. General manager Philippe Boucher has already made moves to add top six forwards Jerome Verrier (from Drummondville) and Vladimir Tkachev (from Moncton). However, Boucher is widely expected to add at least one or two defencemen to the fold. Reports out of Quebec City and Moncton suggest that the Tkachev trade was the first of two parts, with d-man Jacob Sweeney slated to go to Quebec and goalie Eric Brassard and/or d-man Cody Donaghey earmarked for Moncton. Donaghey's serious knee injury (ironically caused by Wildcat Will Smith) has many questioning the injury's effect on that potential trade. If Brassard is sent to Moncton right away, Boucher may target Zach Fucale (Halifax) or Philippe Cadorette (Baie-Comeau) to join Callum Booth in goal.
Baie-Comeau - The Drakkar are relying heavily on their current 19 and 20 year-old players. That puts GM Steve Ahern in a difficult position as he must decide if it's best for the franchise to buy or sell at this point. If Ahern does decide to sell, players such as goaltender Philippe Cadorette, import forward Valentin Zykov and hulking defenceman Alexis Vanier should fetch an excellent return. Also, for teams looking to add toughness and grit, players such as Bokondji Imama and Nicolas Leblond could generate plenty of interest.
Victoriaville - In light of the recent departure of former GM Yanick Jean to Chicoutimi, as well as relying largely on a solid core of 17 and 18 year-old players, the Tigres should be fairly quiet. However, other teams are expected to call new GM Daniel Frechette looking to make a deal for one of the Tigres' veterans such as forwards Yan-Pavel Laplante, Tommy Veilleux, Carl Marois or 6'6", 219-pound defenceman Anthony Beaulieu.
Shawinigan - After proverbially selling their soul to the devil in 2011-12 to host, and ultimately win, the Memorial Cup, the Cataractes have undergone a full blown rebuild. With a number of high-quality young players in place, GM Martin Mondou has reportedly committed to adding several veterans to help expedite their time line. Shawinigan recently acquired 20 year-old sniper Christophe Lalonde from Moncton and Mondou is expected to add size and toughness in order to prevent the kids from being picked on. However, Mondou is not afraid to add promising youngsters as he did when recently acquiring forward Ryan Brushett and goaltender Frederic Foulem, both of whom had supposedly committed to NCAA programs.
Chicoutimi - With Yanick Jean just recently brought in as GM and head coach, it will be most interesting to see which direction the Sagueneens take during the trade window. The team was clearly built with the intent to host the Memorial Cup this season as they now carry eleven 19 year-old players. So, the question becomes - does Chicoutimi add to their veteran crew and hope to get to the Memorial Cup through the front door or do they go into full blown sell mode and look to add youth to surround former first overall draft choice Nicolas Roy? Our bet is for a full blown sell off with players such as Gabryel Paquin-Boudreau, Alexandre Ranger and Laurent Dauphin going to the highest bidders.
The West Division is the tightest race in the league, with all six teams within 10 points of each other as they enter the trade period. With the possible exception of Blainville-Boisbriand, every team has a solid core of young players but also have at least one area of weakness.
Blainville-Boisbriand - While many QMJHL draft experts felt that GM/head coach Joel Bouchard selected one of the best groups of prospects in the summer of 2014, this team was built for a long playoff run last season and much of their success this season has been largely on the backs of 20 year-olds Danick Martel, Nikita Jevpalovs and Daniel Walcott. It is expected that Bouchard will retool by moving a couple of his 19 year-olds, such as Philippe Sanche, Emil Aronsson, Fabrizio Ricci or Nathanael Halbert, in order to remain competitive now while continuing to rebuild on the fly.
Sherbrooke - The Phoenix have been assembled with an eye squarely on next season. They currently have only five 19 year-olds, including star Swiss import Tim Weiser. With the recent addition of Cameron Darcy from Cape Breton, Sherbrooke will be looking to move one of their overage players, likely either Raphael Lafontaine or Charles-Eric Legare. Their defence and goaltending are young, so GM Patrick Charbonneau will likely only look to add one or two 18/19 year-olds to the fold.
Rouyn-Noranda - Like Sherbrooke, the Huskies are led by a young core, notably Francis Perron and Julien Nantel. While Rouyn-Noranda may surprise a few pundits, the Huskies are generally expected to stand pat. If GM Gilles Bouchard does decide to make any changes, it likely will be to add some secondary scoring and depth.
Drummondville - The Voltigeurs have had issues scoring goals in the first half of the season. GM Dominic Ricard recently traded overage forward Jerome Verrier (Quebec) and defenceman Charles-David Beaudoin (Rimouski) for a pair of first round picks and a second round selection. With a stockpile of draft choices and three 19 year-old goalies (Louis-Philip Guindon, Joe Fleshler and Anthony Brodeur), Ricard will likely be active in the search for help on offence and a younger back-up goaltender.
Gatineau - The Olympiques were seen by many as a real threat for a run at this season's President’s Cup. Also, it has been reported that this may be GM Benoit Groulx's last year in Gatineau. So, it is widely expected that the Olympiques will be buyers and are looking to add two or three veterans - especially at forward. Chicoutimi and/or Victoriaville may have just what Gatineau is seeking.
Val-d'Or - Led by Anthony Richard (18), Nicolas Aube-Kubel (18) and Julien Gauthier (17), the Foreurs can score in bunches. However, Val-d'Or has allowed the most goals in the league in the first half. Therefore, strengthening their defence and goaltending will be GM Alexandre Rouleau's primary focus. It will be interesting to see if he is willing to move one of his young snipers to fill the voids on the back-end. For teams looking to increase their toughness, the Foreurs can offer overage defenceman Jeremie Fraser, F/D Vytal Cote and forward Owen Bennington - for the right price, of course.
The Maritimes Division could also be called "The Field of Broken Dreams." While Saint John has surprised virtually the entire hockey world and Moncton has been strong (despite injuries to key players, such as the recently traded Lalonde and Tkachev), teams in Halifax, Charlottetown and Cape Breton have fallen short of their extremely high expectations to some degree. There is plenty of interest in the upcoming trade period throughout the Maritimes.
Saint John - GM Darryl Young was hired to put together a three to five year plan with a view of winning the bid to host the 2017 Memorial Cup. However, a great start by the youngest team in the CHL has prompted the Sea Dogs to adopt the mantras of "why not now?" and "one day at a time." Besides finding a franchise goaltender to follow in Sebastien Auger's footsteps, the Sea Dogs appear to be very much on track. Young will likely continue to look primarily to the free agent market to add depth to the organization. A rumour broke on the message boards last week that Saint John may add current University of Maine forward (and Toronto Maple Leaf draft choice) Nolan Vesey to the fold after Christmas. Otherwise, Saint John may pretty much stand pat unless they can get a great deal on a young sniper or possibly a more experienced backup goalie (see: Drummondville).
Moncton - After announcing the trades of Lalonde (Shawinigan) and Tkachev (Quebec), GM Roger Shannon went on record to say that the Wildcats are retooling with an eye on challenging for the division title this year. Rumours out of Quebec and Moncton have indicated that the Wildcats may send veteran defenceman Jacob Sweeney to Quebec with d-man Cody Donaghey and/or G Eric Brassard (along with others) returning either at Christmas or at the 2015 QMJHL Draft. Shannon may also look to add an import, to replace Tkachev, as well as one or two veterans to help guide the young Wildcats.
Halifax - The Mooseheads are at the end of an impressive three-year run, highlighted by winning the 2013 Memorial Cup. With superstars Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin already in the NHL, GM Cam Russell has a very difficult decision to make. The Mooseheads were hit hard by injuries but they have been playing very well over the past month or so. Even with stars Zach Fucale and Nikolaj Ehlers, Halifax's lack of depth was exposed in the first half. If Russell does decide to become a seller, many teams will be looking to acquire Fucale, Ehlers, Matt Murphy or Timo Meier. As well, teams looking to add size, toughness and/or grit, will be looking to see what Russell would accept in a trade for enforcer Brandon Vuic, super-pest Kelly Bent or the Moynihan bothers - forwards Danny (19) and Connor (17).
Charlottetown - GM Grant Sonier has been one of the leading deal makers over the past year. Last Christmas, he moved virtually every veteran to acquire young players, including goalie Mason MacDonald, defenceman David Henley and draft choices. Then, at the 2014 drafts, he added import Filip Chlapik as well as veterans Ross Johnston, Ryan MacKinnon, Oliver Cooper and Dexter Weber to compliment young stars Daniel Sprong, Alexandre Goulet and Kameron Kielly. Unfortunately, the Islanders have fallen short of expectations in the first half. Despite increased grumbling from Islanders fans, Sonier is likely to preach patience and only make one or two minor deals, especially since the team was rebuilt quickly with an eye on challenging for the President’s Cup in 2016.
Cape Breton - Like Charlottetown, the Screaming Eagles are built around a solid young core with names such as Bishop, Lazarev, Svechnikov, Pelletier, Bell, Deschamps and Leveille... but they too have failed to live up to their preseason rankings and extremely high expectations. GM Marc-Andre Dumont previously traded a number of veterans and also received an unworldly return from the league and Chicoutimi when 2013 first overall pick Nicolas Roy refused to report to Cape Breton and was subsequently dealt to the Sagueneens. With significant assets in hand, Dumont is expected to find a solution for the revolving door in the crease and add one or two 19 year-olds to help support the young core already in place.
Photo credits: Marc Henwood/Station Nation