Keeping Spitfires in range

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

What was a sizable talent gap between the Windsor Spitfires and London Knights just closed considerably.

The Spitfires were head and shoulders better than any other team in the Ontario Hockey League this year. They'll be head, shoulder and torso better than anyone next year.

But even with all their talent, the Knights' acquistion of John Tavares and Michael Del Zotto yesterday from the Oshawa Generals should give the Spitfires pause.

It still might not be enough to overturn the balance of power, but the revitalization of the Spitfire franchise and the Knights willingness to take big risks for big returns, is going to make the eventual collision in the Western Conference final a thing to behold.

You didn't need to read the script to Knights general manager Mark Hunter. He looked at Windsor and he looked at his team. He then looked at what Windsor is going to have next year and the year after and then he looked at what his team is going to have next year and the year after.

Hunter knew immediately if he didn't take a serious run at improving his team this year, it was going to be a long wait before the Knights got another sniff of a Western Conference title.

Knights' fans are feeling pretty heady right now. Hunter brought in the guy who's going to be the No .1 pick in the National Hockey League draft this summer. He brought in an offensively gifted defenceman in Del Zotto, a first-round pick of the New York Rangers. Offensively gifted but defensively challenged.

He ought to fit in well with a group that already plays better in the other end than their own.

This trade will be analysed for days. How will it shake out?

The Spitfires are still in the driver's seat. They are solid throughout their lineup. The acquistion of Josh Unice from the Kitchener Rangers gives them goaltending insurance with a guy who played in the Memorial Cup last year. And Ben Shutron is a good addition to the blue-line.

Compare the Windsor blueline that includes Ryan Ellis, Rob Kwiet, Jesse Blacker, Shutron, Mark Cundari, Harry Young, Ron Soucie to that of the London's with John Carlson, Kevin Montgomery, Scott Aarssen, Phil Tarasuk, Vladimir Roth, Matt Clarke and Del Zotto.

The Knights might have to win a lot of games 6-5.

The Spitfires get goals from a number of players. Five of the top 20 scorers in the OHL are Spitfires.

When it comes to size and toughness, the Spits still have an edge. But the edge isn't as sharp as before yesterday.

The addition of Tavares obviously gives the Knights a new dimension in the offensive end. They were lacking pure goal scorers, players who given an opening can hurt the other team. There were a lot of games when the Knights generated good scoring chances that went begging.

It will be interesting to see whom Tavares plays with but you can bet that Nazem Kadri will be happy to see a player who has good enough hands to convert some of those fine passes he makes.

It's also no accident that Del Zotto is part of this massive deal. Even with Tavares, Hunter knows he needs more scoring to threaten the Spitfires. There aren't a lot of scorers floating around so he needs to find more offence from somewhere.

With Carlson, Montgomery and Del Zotto, this Knight team resembles the team of Danny Syvret, Bryan Rodney, Marc Methot and Dan Girardi that produced a lot of offence from the blue-line.

The Spitfires still have to feel good about the team they are able to put on the ice. With the trade deadline at noon today, the Spitfires are probably assessing if they need to do anything to respond to what London has done. Is anyone out there who can make the Spitfires significantly better than what they are now?

As usual, Mark Hunter makes news. We say it almost every year. He isn't afraid to take a risk.

He dealt three players and with six draft picks spread over four drafts for one of the top players in junior hockey. He also got a top scoring defenceman.

It's a great deal. Hunter did what he could to give this team a chance to win.

You can't ask for any more than that.

IMPACT TRADES BY THE HUNTERS

2001: Acquires Dennis Wideman and a third-round choice from Sudbury Wolves for Chris Kelly and Dan Jancevski

2003: Acquires Rob Schremp from Mississauga IceDogs for Kyle Quincey, Chris Bain and two draft picks

2004: Acquires Bryan Rodney from Kingston Frontenacs for Adam Nemeth, Bobby Bolt and draft choice

2004: Acquires Drew Larman from Sarnia Sting for draft choice

2005: Acquires Adam Dennis from Guelph Storm for Ryan MacDonald and three draft picks

2005: Acquires Dan Girardi from Guelph for Ryan Potruff, Rick Steadman and draft pick

2005: Acquires Danny Fritsche from Sarnia Sting for three draft picks

2008: Acquires Nazem Kadri, left, Phil Varone, Steve Tarasuk from Kitchener Rangers for Steve Mason


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