The Windsor Spitfires have gotten the ball rolling towards a title run next season.
The Ontario Hockey League’s trade window opened on June 1st, and Windsor, who hosts the 2017 Memorial Cup next May, promptly started on their quest to create their ideal roster. On Thursday, June 2, the Spitfires acquired veteran winger Mike Baird from the North Bay Battalion in exchange for a 4th round pick in 2017. Baird, a ’97-birth, brings significant grit, toughness, agitation, and a side of offence with 18 points last season in 51 games.
The deal may look familiar to both Spitfires fans and Battalions fans, as the teams met up for a similar deal during the 2007-08 season. That deal saw Windsor acquire Conor O’Donnell from Brampton, who moved to North Bay at the start of the 2013-14 season. In return, Windsor sent a 4th round pick to Brampton in 2009.
O’Donnell came to the Spitfires with 13 points in 75 games for Brampton, but found his offence the following season during Windsor’s Memorial Cup run in 2009. In 45 games he racked up a career-best 24 points, and was instrumental as a third and fourth-line grinder who ate valuable minutes and killed penalties. This is what Windsor can expect from Baird; a bit of offence, lots of crashing-and-banging along the boards, and some time on the penalty kill.
Depth Proves Crucial for Title Teams
Players like this are essential for a championship caliber squad. While having the offensive talents, the clutch defense, and the elite goaltending are all crucial parts to hoisting the Memorial Cup in late May, players who can eat minutes to give the top guys a rest, kill off important penalties, and really get the fans out of their seats with a big hit or a timely scrap, are a component that you cannot under-estimate.
During their two Memorial Cup runs, Windsor had a handful of players similar to Baird. Guys like Richard Greenop, Adam Wallace, Lane MacDermid, and the aforementioned O’Donnell ensured the stars had their space, the fans had peak excitement, and the little things were done every night to secure victory.
Baird, unfortunately, does come with a strange reputation, one that most players would prefer not to have. He has been suspended. A lot.
In April 2014, he was given 20-games by the OHL for an incident with an official, to which he later apologized.
In December 2015, Baird was part of a line brawl against London which saw him fight goaltender Brendan Burke. He got three games for it, though, when a goalie provokes and eggs you on, you might as well give the fans some entertainment.
Finally, Baird received 10 games in February for a head-check against the Niagara Ice Dogs. While he’s not one to go looking for the spotlight, Baird has proven to be more than willing to defend his team and answer the bell when called upon.
Veteran Acquisition Just the Start for Windsor Spitfires
This is a key acquisition for the Spitfires, especially given who the team lost after last season. Windsor saw the graduation of two key left wingers in defensive winger Mads Ellers and speedy veteran Bradley Latour. It left a gaping hole on the left side, which is where Baird fits in well. He’ll join Cristiano DiGiacinto on the left side, and he’ll join a team that’s going the veteran route in general. The Memorial Cup tends to be a veteran tournament, with teams usually stocking up on the 19 and 20-year -olds to make their runs. Windsor will likely continue that trend, and Baird fits the mold perfectly, as he’ll be 20-years old when the tournament begins.
The OHL trade deadline for the 2016-17 season is in early January, so there are likely more trades coming for Windsor between now and then. This trade, though, is a big start. It fills a hole, provides much needed truculence along the boards, and could prove to be one of the key deals of the season should the Spitfires win the Memorial Cup in May. Big, multi-player deals are fun to watch and see how they unfold, but it’s the smaller deals, the role-player deals, that can have just as big of an impact in the long run.