League's rich get richer

DOUG GRAHAM, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 10:50 AM ET

Once again in an Ontario Hockey League trading period which is becoming too predictable, the good have become great.

After the powerful Windsor Spitfires and Barrie Colts upgraded their rosters, there may not be much suspense when the playoffs start in March.

Opening odds for the OHL championship? Try Windsor at even money and Barrie at 2-1. After that, it's the field.

There's no question the Spitfires and Colts are a notch above everyone else in their respective conferences.

Does this hockey version of stacking the deck hurt the league?

"It's a dangerous thing to have happen, but upsets are always a big part of junior hockey," said Kingston general manager Larry Mavety, who is no stranger to dealing after spending nearly 30 years in the league.

The aspect that Mavety sees changing is the number of high-end draft picks teams are willing to move to acquire a player.

London general manager Mark Hunter said Windsor and Barrie did a good job of going after the players they wanted to fit into their clubs.

"I guess it looks a little less competitive (to fans) but those teams did a good job of backing (other clubs) off," Hunter said. "Now it is up to the rest of us to adapt to what is in front of us. Everybody knows upsets are a big part of our sport."

Peterborough GM Jeff Twohey doesn't think fan interest will dip because the Spitfires and Colts appear to be home free in the race to finish first in their conferences and odds-on favourites to be in the OHL final.

"Now that the trading is done, there should be no more speculating. The (playoff) races are what should keep fans excited," Twohey said.

"We've got some great races going on. Most of our games are in the conference so every game is a four-pointer."

Twohey said that while first in the conference has pretty well been conceded to Barrie, it does bring into play a new race -- for seventh place.

"All of us are trying to avoid the series (that matches the eighth-place team against the first)."

Same in the Western Conference, where the best race could be between the Owen Sound Attack and Erie Otters for seventh to avoid Windsor in the first round. Belleville GM/coach George Burnett said other clubs, such as the Plymouth Whalers and Mississauga St. Michael's Majors, shouldn't be overlooked.

"Clubs have solidified their position. It's junior hockey as well. Windsor went six games against Plymouth last year in the (Western Conference semifinal)," Burnett said.

"You are assuming teams stay healthy and that's not always the case."

No GM, of course, wants to throw in the towel. There are attainable goals for teams not named the Colts or Spitfires.

Belleville, for example, can accomplish what it wanted to do at season's start -- committing to its younger players while still making the playoffs.

"Our hope is that with the players we have added that we will get back to that level faster that we were at a few years ago," said Burnett, referring to the Bulls' 4-3 series loss to the Kitchener Rangers in the 2008 OHL championship.

Twohey said the Petes weren't trying to move captain Zack Kassian, 19. Rather, the Spitfires came courting him.

"Windsor is trying to win another Memorial Cup. They realized Zack could be a piece to help them do that," Twohey said.

The Petes, in return, got forward Austin Watson, 18, and second-round picks in 2012 and 2014. Those are the type of commodities that could easily be used in moves next year at this time by Twohey.

AROUND THE OHL

Rookie defenceman Scott Harrington of the London Knights isn't acting his age for the Midwest Division leaders. With Matt Ashman down, the Kingston native has been logging 20 to 25 minutes and playing as one of the team's top two defencemen. "I don't want to jinx him but he's been amazing for us," general manager Mark Hunter said of Harrington, who makes his Kingston homecoming Friday against the Frontenacs ... Twohey thought he was going to have a relaxing trading deadline morning on Monday. However, when he got an injury update on defenceman Barron Smith at 10 a.m., projecting the 18-year-old to be gone six to eight weeks with a bone chip in his right knee, Twohey had to scramble. Thus a deal with Ottawa for defenceman Brian Birkhoff, 18, became the final trade before the deadline.

doug.graham@sunmedia.ca


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