Wednesday, January 7, 2015

QMJHL Holiday Trading Period Review

Lorne Webster | SN Staff

The QMJHL’s 2014-15 holiday trading period closed on Tuesday. While there were several trades completed, there were only a few that should be classified as "blockbusters" - especially considering that the Quebec Remparts are hosting the 2015 Memorial Cup, which opens up a spot for an extra QMJHL team in the Canadian Hockey League's big dance.

There were 12 trades completed in December prior to the open trade period (Note: prior to Dec. 19 only import, non-roster and 20 year-old players were allowed to be moved). During the holiday trade period, a total of 36 deals were done. Of those, 11 were announced on the opening day, seven between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2, and 18 during the final two days (nine per day for those who are counting). While those numbers seem high, the level of parity in the league this season appeared to lead the vast majority of general managers to essentially stay the course and only make a few adjustments to the mix of players on their respective teams.   

The most newsworthy transaction this season was the trade of world junior Gold Medal winning goaltender Zach Fucale and defenceman Matt Murphy from Halifax to Quebec for two players (Eric Brassard and Cody Donaghey) and three high draft choices. As expected, Benoit Groulx found time during his hectic schedule as head coach of Team Canada to make a few major deals to load up on veterans Valentin Zykov, Yan Pavel Laplante, Tommy Veilleux and Anthony Beaulieu. And, on the second last day, the Sea Dogs traded popular captain Olivier LeBlanc to Cape Breton for Jason Bell and Drummondville's 2015 first round draft choice.  

Here is a brief assessment of the moves made by each team, including significant players and high draft picks (i.e. 1st-3rd), along with a grade associated with how well the team appeared to accomplish their anticipated/stated goal.

ACADIE-BATHURST - GM Sylvain Couturier - C
IN  - G Reilly Pickard (R-N), F Campbell Pickard (R-N), D Alex Leclerc (CHI), F Sam L'Italien (C-B), 2015-3rd (CHI) and a 2015-3rd (C-B)
OUT - D Alex Gosselin (C-B), D Anthony Gingras (CHI), G Jacob Brennan (FA), 2015-3rd (R-N) and  2016-2nd (R-N)
NOTES: The Titan made it known that they were committed to a full rebuild. The trades with Cape Breton and Rouyn-Noranda saw the Titan acquire promising young players, especially Reilly Pickard who could be the Titan's franchise goalie in the near future. However, Couturier's other moves appeared to be somewhat underwhelming.

BAIE-COMEAU - GM Steve Ahern - A-
IN  - F Simon Desbien (SHE), F Vaclav Karabacek (GAT), 2016-3rd (GAT), G Alex Legace (A-B), 2015-3rd (A-B), 2016-2nd (A-B), 2015-2nd (SNB) and 2016-1st (SNB) 
OUT - D Alexis Vanier (SHE), F Valentin Zykov (GAT), F Bokondji Imama (SNB), G Reilly Pickard (A-B), F Campbell Pickard (A-B)
NOTES: Ahern displayed excellent negotiation skills which allowed him to retool by acquiring players who will help the Drakkar this season and next, as well as adding significant assets to his bank of draft picks (which had been lacking prior to the trade period). The only trade which some Drakkar fans questioned was Vanier for Desbiens, since prior to the season most felt Vanier would fetch multiple high draft choices and/or players.

IN  - D Pascal Corbeil (C-B)
OUT - F Colin MacSween (C-B), 2016-3rd 
NOTES: Bouchard resisted calls from his fans to acquire more veteran players in order to take another run in 2015. Instead, he stood pat and kept his vast number of high draft picks in the bank. The Armada are sitting on seven draft picks in the first three rounds of 2015 and another five in 2016. Therefore, Bouchard is fully committed to rebuilding through the draft process.

CAPE BRETON - GM Marc-Andre Dumont - B+
IN  - D Olivier LeBlanc (SNB), D Alex Gosselin (A-B), G Alex Belanger (R-N), F Stephen Anderson (VDO), F Colin MacSween (BBA) and three 3rd round picks
OUT - D Jason Bell (SNB), 2015-1st (DRU -> SNB), F Timothe Simard (CHI), F Sam L'Italien (A-B), D Pascal Corbeil (BBA), G Francois Brassard (FA) and 2015-3rd (A-B)
NOTES: It appears that over New Year’s, Dumont decided to be a buyer. In the last few days, he moved a 2013 1st round pick (Bell), two 2014 second round picks (L'Italien and Corbeil) and Drummondville's 2015 first round pick to reinforce the Eagles back end by acquiring former Sea Dogs captain LeBlanc, Titan stalwart Gosselin and Huskies backstop Belanger. However, many Eagles fans were disappointed with Brassard's overall performance and pending waiver. Saint John fans will be interested in how former Sea Dog Anderson and former Midget AAA Vito MacSween fair in Cape Breton.

IN  - F Quinn O'Brien (R-N)
OUT - F Anthony Wojcik (R-N)
NOTES: Like Joel Bouchard, Sonier remained committed to the rebuild/retool he started last Christmas and continued through the 2014 draft/pre-season. He stood pat despite calls from a few die-hard fans to go big one way or the other. Sonier has assembled a team that is capable of surprising a few folks in this year's playoffs and could be a real contender next season. 

CHICOUTIMI - GM Yanick Jean - D
IN  - D Anthony Gingras (A-B), D Jesse Lussier (HAL), D Alex MacQuaid (QUE) and F Timothe Simard (C-B)
OUT - D Alex Leclerc (A-B), D Brain Lovell (QUE), D Sam Roussy (FA), 2015-3rd and 2016-3rd  
NOTES: Despite being in 15th place and loaded with 19 year-old players, the new head coach and GM decided to simply retool his defence core. It seems that Jean is convinced that he can lead this team to the 2015 championship and will worry about reloading next season. Time will tell.

DRUMMONDVILLE - GM Dominic Ricard - A
IN  - Adam Chapman (QUE), 2015-1st (RIM), 2016-2nd (RIM), 2017-1st (QUE) and 2017-1st (RIM)
OUT - D C-D Beaudoin (RIM), F Jerome Verrier (QUE), G L-P Guindon (RIM)
NOTES: Ricard committed to a full rebuild/reload by moving his three best veterans to a) the President's Cup favourites in Rimouski and b) the Memorial Cup hosts in Quebec. While it is highly likely that the 2017 draft picks will be returned by Drummondville for players at the 2015 draft, Ricard did an excellent job of getting out in front of the market. Sea Dogs fans will be watching the Voltigeurs' results closely in the second half with hopes that Drummondville's 2015 first round pick (acquired in the Olivier LeBlanc trade) will result in a top three selection. 

GATINEAU - GM Benoit Groulx - C
IN  - F Yan-Pavel Laplante (VIC), F Tommy Veilleux (VIC), D Anthony Beaulieu (VIC), F Valentin Zykov (BAC), D Gabriel Bilodeau (VDO), 2015-2nd and 2016-2nd  
OUT - F Pascal Laberge (VIC), 2016-1st (VIC), F Vaclav Karabacek (BAC), 2016-3rd (BAC) and F Alexis Pepin (VDO)
NOTES: With all due respect to Gold Medal winning head coach Benoit Groulx, many fans are baffled by the series of trades that Gatineau engineered during the holiday period. Despite being in 16th place, Groulx was one of the most active buyers this year. After acquiring three high-end 19 year-old forwards (Laplante, Veilleux and Zykov) for the 2014 No. 2 overall draft choice (Laberge), a 2016 first and a 18 year-old import (Karabacek), Groulx then sent 2012 No. 2 overall draft pick (Pepin) to Val-d'Or for 2014 No. 19 overall draft pick (Bilodeau) and the return of the two second round picks, which he had sent earlier to the Foreurs for overage forward Louick Marcotte. But it may be best not to underestimate Groulx.

HALIFAX - GM Cam Russell - A+
IN  - G Eric Brassard (QUE), D Cody Donaghey (QUE-reported), 2016-1st (QUE), 2016-3rd (QUE), 2018-1st (QUE) and 2015-3rd (SHE via CHI)
OUT - G Zach Fucale (QUE), D Matt Murphy (QUE), D Jesse Lussier (CHI)
NOTES: Some expected Halifax to be a big seller. But Cam Russell decided to remain fairly competitive this season by adding goalie Brassard to help a team led by star imports Nikolaj Ehlers and Timo Meier... while showing tons of class by giving Fucale and Murphy a real shot at winning their second Memorial Cup in Quebec. Russell also did an outstanding job of acquiring high-end assets to help the Mooseheads retool in the next few seasons.

MONCTON - GM Roger Shannon - C
IN  - F Taylor Burke (QUE), F Noah Zilbert (GAT), F Bronson Beaton (A-B), 2015-3rd (QUE via SHA), 2016-2nd and 2016-3rd (SHA)
OUT - F Vladimir Tkachev (QUE), F Chris Lalonde (SHA), F Mathieu Olivier (SHA)
NOTES: Prior to the trade period there were reports that Moncton would be a seller when Shannon shipped Tkachev to Quebec and Lalonde to Shawinigan. But, after a potential season-ending knee injury to Rempart Cody Donaghey (for which Wildcat Will Smith was suspended), a reported second trade between Moncton and Quebec was cancelled. Shannon did continue his bromance with Shawinigan GM Martin Mondou when he sent Olivier to the Cataractes. Otherwise, Shannon only made two relatively minor deals for former Sea Dog Zilbert and former Titan Beaton. Led by veterans Burke, Alex Dubeau, Ivan Barbashev and Connor Garland, the Wildcats are the current favourites to finish atop the Maritimes Division. 

QUEBEC - GM Philippe Boucher - B
IN  - G Zach Fucale (HAL), D Matt Murphy (HAL), F Vladimir Tkachev (MON), F Jerome Verrier (DRU), D Brian Lovell (CHI) and F Anthony Duclair (NHL-NYR)
OUT - G Eric Brassard (HAL), F Taylor Burke (MON), F Adam Chapman (DRU), D Alex MacQuaid (CHI), D Cody Donaghey (HAL-reported) and the rest of their bank of high draft picks
NOTES: As Memorial Cup host, Boucher has felt the enormous pressure to trade virtually every high draft choice for the next few years to add veteran players to the Remparts roster. Besides the exciting news that the New York Rangers had reassigned star forward Anthony Duclair to Quebec for the remainder of the season, likely the most talked about move in the CHL was Halifax's trade of Zach Fucale to the Remparts. It now appears that Quebec has the pieces in place to succeed at the Memorial Cup tournament.

RIMOUSKI - GM Serge Beausoleil - A+
IN  - D Charles-David Beaudoin (DRU), G Louis-Philippe Guindon, 2015-2nd (BAT via VIC) and 2016-2nd (VIC)
OUT - G Olivier Tremblay (VIC), 2015-1st (DRU), 2016-2nd (DRU) and 2017-1st (DRU)   
NOTES: Rimouski entered December with virtually no holes in their line-up, but Beausoleil decided that they needed to upgrade their backend. The two deals with Drummondville for Beaudoin and Guindon fortified that area and by trading Tremblay to Victoriaville, they essentially replaced the picks sent to the Volts. It has been rumoured that the 2017 first round pick will be returned for a player (reported to be Anthony DeLuca) at the 2015 draft.      

ROUYN-NORANDA - GM Gilles Bouchard - A
IN  - F Julien Pelletier (C-B), F Anthony Wojcik (CHA) and 2015-3rd (RIM via C-B)
OUT - G Alexandre Belanger (C-B) and F Quinn O'Brien (CHA)
NOTES: Rouyn-Noranda has done a good job of maintaining balance throughout their line-up and it appears that Bouchard only felt the need to retool by moving two 19 year-old players for two young(er) forwards who are expected to grow with the Huskies.

SAINT JOHN - GM Darryl Young - B
IN  - D Jason Bell (C-B), F Bokondji Imama (BAC), 2015-1st (DRU via C-B) and 2015-3rd (SHA)
OUT - D Olivier LeBlanc (C-B), 2015-2nd (BAC), 2016-1st (BAC), F Declan Smith and D L-P Fortin
NOTES: Young showed that he is 100% committed to a five-year plan in which he expects the Sea Dogs to return to elite status in the CHL. He also showed that he is willing and able to make unpopular choices to get there. While Bell (2013 No. 12 overall), Imama and Drummondville's 2015 first round pick should be major parts of the Sea Dogs for the next few years, we are giving Young a 'B' on his report card because captain LeBlanc is beloved in Saint John and is the type of person and player the fans want in Sea Dogs blue. On the other hand, Young has done a fine job of making a series of moves to stockpile the Sea Dogs' bank of draft choices and quality prospects (e.g. Jamie Armstrong) which has allowed him to trade prospects Declan Smith and L-P Fortin. 

SHAWINIGAN - GM Martin Mondou - B-
IN  - F Christophe Lalonde (MON), F Mathieu Olivier (MON) and D L-P Fortin (SNB)
OUT – D Sebastien Gauthier (CHI), 2015-3rd (SNB), 2015-3rd (from QUE –> MON), 2016-2nd (MON) and 2016-3rd (MON)
NOTES: The long line of trades between Moncton and Shawinigan, which started with Brandon Gormley going to the Cataractes to lead them to the 2012 Memorial Cup, may require a forensic accountant to track all of the debits and credits exchanged between these two super best friends. This year was the Cataractes’ turn to buy. Mondou was on record saying he wanted to add toughness to protect his young players but failed to acquire a proven enforcer.

SHERBROOKE – GM Patrick Charbonneau – A  
IN  - F Cameron Darcy (C-B), D Alexis Vanier (BAC) and F Owen Bennington (VDO)
OUT – F Charles-Eric Legare (CHI) and F Simon Desbiens
NOTES: Sherbrooke has been steadily building a well-balanced line-up since their inception in 2012. It appears that Charbonneau felt that he only needed to retool by adding some veteran presence and toughness. He did a fine job of that.

VAL-D'OR - GM Alexandre Rouleau - C
IN  - F Alexis Pepin and F Simon Tremblay (RIM)
OUT - D Gabriel Bilodeau, 2015-2nd (GAT), 2016-2nd(GAT) and F Stephen Anderson (C-B)
NOTES: Just when it seemed that Rouleau would stand pat, he made a last minute move to retool by sending the 2014 No. 19 overall pick (Bilodeau) and two second round picks (originally acquired from Gatineau for Louick Marcotte) to the Olympiques for the 2012 No. 2 overall draft choice (Pepin). The 'C' grade here comes from the questions surrounding Pepin and why both Charlottetown and Gatineau have traded him in the past year.

VICTORIAVILLE - GM Daniel Frechette - A-
IN  - F Pascal Laberge (GAT), 2016-1st (GAT) and G Olivier Tremblay (RIM)
OUT - F Yan-Pavel Laplante (GAT), F Tommy Vielleux (GAT), D Anthony Beaulieu, 2015-2nd (BAT -> RIM) and 2016-2nd (RIM)
NOTES: Frechette did extremely well to acquire the 2014 No. 2 overall pick (Laberge) for veterans and arguably the QMJHL's second best 17 year-old goalie (Tremblay). The 'A-' likely would have been an 'A+' if Frechette had not made the last minute trade with Gatineau for 6'6" defensive stalwart Beaulieu - who was expected to be one of the Tigres three overage players next season (along with F Carl Marois and G Chase Marchand).   

Photo: Marc Henwood/Station Nation

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