January 11, 2012
Whalers buck trade trendPlymouth stands pat at deadline because 'we're a pretty good team'
By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency
LONDON, ONT. - The Ontario Hockey League trade deadline is done.
So is, in all probability, the chance of a Cinderella club squeaking into the playoffs and making a thrilling run to the league final.
The underdog has been snuffed out in junior hockey by heavyweights loading up in mid-season and slinging prospects and draft picks at the also-rans.
If you don't win your division these days, you have virtually zero shot at going the distance.
That's how it's been the past four years.
The NHL doesn't feature that same level of certainty and, at least in that respect, its playoffs can be more compelling.
The last OHL team to buck the odds was the 2006-07 Sudbury Wolves, which made it to the league final from the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference.
They eventually lost to Mike Vellucci's Plymouth Whalers, who are again in a contending position.
They're the hottest team in the league and that's why Vellucci's actions at the deadline are so curious.
In one of the busiest years for movement, he chose to do nothing.
He watched Niagara and London beef up with star talent, saw rival Sarnia re-model itself twice since the summer, then elected to stick with the players that got him into top spot of the OHL's West Division in the first place.
"We're in a unique position this year," the Whalers GM and head coach said.
"I didn't see a trade for us to make.
"You follow what other teams do, of course, and a couple of them, you say, 'Nice trade,' but you think of why teams are making moves -- because they have holes. They need another forward, defenceman, a backup goalie.
"Niagara has five Canadian world junior players? We have four who played in the tournament, plus another NHL first-round pick in Stefan Noesen.
"We think we're a pretty good team.
"Besides, the prices out there this year were crazy."
Vellucci is a big believer in building team chemistry.
His club from last year nearly all returned and another 15 players (plus three overagers) are eligible to be back next year.
"Our trade deadline was in the summer when we got J.T. Miller and the start of the season when (big, physical forward) Jamie Devane came back for an overage year (from the Leafs)," Vellucci said.
"We looked at our team and didn't see a reason to make big changes."
Too many times, GMs feel the pressure to do something -- a quick fix to change a franchise's fortune.
It rarely works.
The best way to win in the OHL is to build around a strong draft class, then add to it.
"I do think all the trades are why we haven't seen a Cinderella team in some time," Vellucci said.
"I don't believe you have to be a buyer or seller every year. In the end, you have to play the games. You look at last year, we were rebuilding, but we didn't sell the farm and still managed to win a seven-game series in a tough building (Kitchener) before losing in the second round to the eventual OHL champions (Owen Sound). Our guys learned from those experiences and they have that with them moving forward this year."
When the Windsor Spitfires were winning back-to-back OHL titles, Vellucci didn't back off.
His teams went right after the eventual champs.
"When we had (Boston Bruin) Tyler Seguin, there was all this talk that we were going to trade him (to speed up a rebuild)," he said, "but why would you do that?
"I don't believe in that."
That's why the Whalers never bottom out.
They keep making the playoffs and giving themselves opportunities to succeed.
"We don't get the most media attention," he said, "so we're just happy to keep trying to win games and playoff series.
"That's our focus."
They weren't one of the busiest teams at the OHL trade deadline.
But they're no Cinderella, either.
If they win after standing pat, maybe it'll serve to give some future sellers a little more courage.