There is an art to trading.
London Knights general manager Mark Hunter has mastered the art.
In previous years, he's patched holes, found missing pieces for championship runs and made his team strong enough for playoff runs. This year he's mastered the art of giving up without appearing to give up.
The OHL trade deadline has come and gone with the Big 2 -- the Barrie Colts and Windsor Spitfires -- loading up in anticipation of an eventual championship meeting.
There are some side players in all this. The Plymouth Whalers dealt for the Knights' Phil McRae and paid a pretty hefty price. They have to believe they can give the big boys some trouble and make it far enough to earn money from extra playoff gates.
There's something everyone should realize about the Knights. They don't like giving anyone the impression they've folded their tent and gone home. The last thing they want is to leave the 9,000 fans who pay to come to games feeling cheated. That's true even in years when it was obviously the most prudent and lucrative thing to do.
Junior hockey is an odd animal. Nothing can be predetermined. But if there is any year when it appears things are predetermined, this is it.
Windsor is very strong so anything the Knights would have done to load up to take a run at the Spitfires, may not have worked.
Other the last few years, the Knights have been on the other side. They've made trades to get stronger. It has cost them good, young players and draft choices.
This year, the Knights had commodities they could move including Nazem Kadri who won't be back in junior hockey next year.
The Knights wanted players who would be back and needed more draft choices to replace the draft choices they dealt away.
But there's that folding-their-tent-thing.
This time around, Mark Hunter managed a sleight-of-hand. When his wheeling and dealing was done, Hunter had dealt Zac Rinaldo, Dominic DeSando and Phil McRae to other teams and got back Tyler J. Brown and Chris DeSousa along with seven draft choices.
Hunter managed to keep goaltender Michael Hutchinson and Kadri despite requests for the pair. He got some toughness and scoring back. He kept his team competitive. Because Windsor and Barrie stand out as the top teams, it's easy to forget that London is No. 3 in the league and that's not a bad place to be.
His goaltending is enough to give anyone trouble in the playoffs. The Knights did some trading for the future and in the end did not weaken themselves considerably. They are still strong enough to make it to the Western Conference championship and that's a minimum six playoff dates at home.
"That was about all I could do," Hunter said when the trade deadline had passed. "I was happy with the picks we got back. You can't replace the Rinaldo's hitting . . . Brown is a pretty tough kid and DeSousa can play. If he doesn't get a contract, he'll be back next year."
When it was all said and done, Hunter would have liked to do more. But he wasn't about to give away his players just for the sake of moving them. This happens to be a year when other teams dictated how things are going to work.
For the most part Hunter accomplished what he wanted in a market that wasn't favourable to the Knights.
In this era of hockey, it pays to be either very good or very bad. That way you know what direction you are headed.
Hunter moved a couple of key members of his hockey club in what could be termed a sell-off but what he kept, and got back from other teams, should keep the fans satisfied the Knights remain a playoff contender. It will keep them coming back.
This year, he couldn't do much else.