January 16, 2012
OHL picking itself apart
By DAVE POLLARD, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Maybe I'm alone in my disgust, a singular voice of dissention shouting in the junior hockey wilderness.
Nobody else, it would appear, thinks it's inherently wrong that general managers in the Ontario Hockey League have the power to trade draft picks as far into the future as, well, whenever. The silence is deafening.
Here's the deal. In the OHL, there's no cutoff point for dealing draft picks, at least none that I'm aware of. So if you want to trade me your stud defenceman for a middling prospect and a pair of seconds, including one for 10 years from now, there's nothing from stopping me from making that deal.
If a GM is dumb enough to accept a pick that far in the future, he's well within his right. Can't trade his first-round pick, mind you -- that's against the rules in the OHL, although the WHL and QMJHL allow it -- but, hey, a 12th for the 2021 (I hear it's gonna be a monster draft; the crop of five-year-olds is out of this world) is perfectly acceptable.
In the 10 days leading up to the OHL's trade deadline this year, 65 picks changed hands, including 31 for the 2014-18 drafts. Oh, 49 players were traded, too, if you're counting.
It makes absolutely no sense to me that there isn't some sort of cap in place, say three years, for dealing draft picks. Apparently it's been discussed by the competition committee, which recommended the three-year window (which in this case would be 2012, '13 and '14), but it was nixed by the owners.
"We've discussed it, and we've discussed it recently actually," OHL commissioner David Branch said Monday. "The feeling was there was not a concern or a need to put a cap on it. The teams seem to be uncomfortable (with a cap). I'm not necessarily sure I'm comfortable with it but they don't feel it's cause for concern.
"They feel the possibility of trading draft picks diminishes the trading of players. There's no thought of changing it."
There's a good reason it's not going to change any time soon. One noble, theoretically anyway, and another that's in the GMs' best interest.
League brass doesn't exactly like the thought of GMs becoming a bunch of horse traders, dealing players with nary an afterthought as they chase that elusive Memorial Cup title. Branch has made it clear in the past that he isn't big on transactions that involve players, some as young as 16, being uprooted in mid-season.
Let's face it, that's bad for business. In a league that effectively recruits its best players -- the high-end types have other options, like U.S. college -- having a large group of players change teams two or three times during their career isn't something the OHL wants to brag about.
So, the next best thing is to swap draft picks.
A pick is essentially a piece of paper, not a warm body. No harm in paper changing hands as often as you'd like. And, let's face it, you can always get those picks back.
"I prefer to see draft picks moved rather than players," Niagara IceDogs coach/GM Marty Williamson said. "I think it's a good philosophy. If the league puts a limit of five years on it, who knows (how it affect trades)? It's not hurting anybody by trading draft picks. I don't see any damage being done by it."
No visible damage is being done but, trust me, trading draft picks can crush a franchise. Teams are built through the draft (some more than others, nudge, nudge, wink, wink) so the absence of picks means other avenues must be explored. That means trading players, those warm bodies the league doesn't want to talk about being moved.
Here's another example: Let's say a GM mortgages the future (say prospects and picks) for a couple of star players and, lo and behold, goes on to win the Memorial Cup. Said GM then gets an offer to move up to the NHL, which, natch, he accepts.
The OHL team then hires a new GM and, yikes, what's he got left to work with going forward? Zip. Nada. Nuthin'. Start scrambling son, because you've got work to do to get back to respectibility.
But what really stinks about trading picks for a draft that won't happen for five years is that it gives GMs that much time to get them back. All of a sudden, that big deadline deal that sent to six second-round picks out of town starts looking like a "future considerations" trade if they wind up back in the original owner's hands. And the league definitely doesn't want placeholder trades like the Steve Mason-Nazem Kadri deal between Kitchener and London a few years back.
All I can say is this: I don't like it. I think it's absurd that teams can get an impact player now for picks that won't even be used for five years. If that 2015 pick does get used to draft a player, his presence likely won't be felt until 2017 at the earliest.
And that helps a rebuilding team how, exactly?