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Trying to read Blaine Smith's mind

By: Scott Haddow – Straight Up Sports

 | Dec 12, 2013 - 10:31 AM |
Sudbury Wolves GM Blaine Smith made a big move when he traded defenceman Jimmy McDowell and a second-round pick to the Sarnia Sting for tough Craig Duininck (pictured). Scott Haddow wonders what Smith has up his sleeve as the OHL trade deadline approaches. Terry Wilson/OHL Images.

Sudbury Wolves GM Blaine Smith made a big move when he traded defenceman Jimmy McDowell and a second-round pick to the Sarnia Sting for tough Craig Duininck (pictured). Scott Haddow wonders what Smith has up his sleeve as the OHL trade deadline approaches. Terry Wilson/OHL Images.

What does Wolves' GM have in mind as OHL trade deadline approaches

As the Wolves approach the half-way mark of the season with a winning record, they have established themselves as contenders in the wide-open Eastern Conference.

There's only the holiday break standing in the way of the January trade deadline, which goes Jan. 9 for overage players and Jan. 10 for all others. The Wolves brass are going to have some tough and big decisions to make coming up, especially since the road to the Memorial Cup is never easier.

The London Knights of the Western Conference are the Memorial Cup hosts and feature a stacked squad. The Knights are expected to make a few more splashes in the trade pool before all is said and done. Simply put, if the Knights win the Western Conference, the team facing them out of the east has an automatic berth in major junior’s ultimate dance.

Despite how good London is, they have their work cut out for them.

The Western Conference teams have already begun to load up their rosters in anticipation of the major slugfest commencing at playoff time.

Guelph, Erie and even Saginaw have made big moves to re-shape their teams and put them in better positions to steal the charge from London.

This brings us back to the Wolves and, in particular, the team’s decision-makers. President and GM Blaine Smith is in a tough spot having to decide shortly on whether he should bust the bank by picking up a few more pieces and going for it in the east.

In my opinion, the Wolves are not that far from being a team that could win the conference.

If Smith was to make a move or two, it is going to be costly. Make that ridiculous. For example, recently Guelph traded a veteran roster player and nine draft picks, including five second-round selections, to Windsor for forward Kerby Rychel and defenceman Nick Ebert.

Rumours are swirling the Wolves are looking to pull off a huge deal, too. If this happens, the reality is the Wolves will have to give up a load of draft picks and a solid roster player.

In talking with OHL scouts from around the league, a lot of teams are interested in prying away Stefan LeBlanc or Kyle Capobianco, two young defencemen with bright futures ahead of them.

Go ahead and let that choke you up a bit, but it is the cold, hard truth.

I wouldn’t want to see either of them go. As one GM put it to me the other day, no team is just going to make a trade for the sake of making a trade. The stakes are high in the OHL this year. With the Memorial Cup berth being more reachable than in other years, the cost for impact players is at a sky-high premium.

If you’re not willing to include a young stud and a big portion of the future, you might as well not even pick up the phone and kick the tires.
If it was me in the GM’s seat, I would pull the trigger on a deal or two to help solidify the Wolves chances come spring. The Eastern Conference is there for the taking.

Besides Sudbury, Barrie, Oshawa and Kingston are legitimate contenders. It is known Barrie is going to make moves and Kingston has already swung some deals.

Oshawa is a wild card. They have a great record, but are poised to make a more serious run next season. The Generals could go either way.

I also realize Smith has done a big move in bringing in defenceman Craig Duininck from Sarnia in a transaction that cost fellow defender Jimmy McDowell and a second-round pick. So, it goes to show Smith will push the button on a move in hopes of improving the club’s fortunes right now.

Either way, it is going to be an interesting and anxious month leading up to the trade deadlines. Enjoy it and hopefully it doesn’t leave you sick to your stomach.

Don't forget, Sunday's home game is also the annual Wolves teddy bear toss. Fans are asked to bring a new stuffed toy to the game and throw it on the ice after the team’s first goal. Toys go to children in need.

Enemy lines

Wolves at war: Sizing up Oshawa, North Bay

A pair of Eastern Conference showdowns provide the local OHL action this weekend. The Sudbury Wolves face the Oshawa Generals on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and square off against the North Bay Battalion on Sunday at 2 p.m. Both games are at Sudbury Arena. Here’s a quick look at both teams. (Note: all stats are as of Tuesday press deadline.)

Oshawa

The Generals continue to be the class of the Eastern Conference and lead all east teams in wins and points. In their first 32 games, the Generals rung up a .750 winning percentage and a 23-7-0-2 record. This game marks the first regular season meeting between the two teams.

There is a lot of hype surrounding Generals forward Michael Dal Colle and for good reason. He is generally regarded as a Top-five prospect for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Dal Colle has done nothing to make anyone doubt the hype this season as he is on fire.

Dal Colle racked up 22 goals and 54 points in his first 32 games and had been almost unstoppable. Oshawa is no one-trick pony. Teams must regard forward Scott Laughton, Cole Cassels and Josh Sterk with a high degree of respect.

They also have a wicked power play, ranking among the best in the league, especially on the road. They also own one of the best penalty killing units in the OHL, again, ranking among the top in the league.

North Bay

The Battalion and the Wolves hook up for their third meeting of the regular season. Both teams have notched a victory in the season series so far. Sudbury drew first blood on Nov. 7 by dumping North Bay 4-3 on the road.

Sudbury’s Nicholas Baptiste lead the charge with two goals and three points. The Battalion returned the favour by knocking off the Wolves on home ice 3-1 on Nov. 15. Battalion forward Vincent Praplan stole the show by scoring three goals. The goalies have been solid in the series.

Sudbury’s Franky Palazzese has thwarted 72 of 77 shots overall. North Bay’s Jake Smith has been just as good, stopping 66 of 71 shots. In late November, North Bay swung a deal with Kitchener to acquire veteran, bruising forward Ben Thomson, who has lit if up offensively in his new digs.

Thomson had three goals and six points in 12 games with Kitchener, but in his first seven games with North Bay, he put up five goals and eight points.

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