Last month, the Windsor Spitfires finalized a trade that was big in more ways than one, shipping behemoth defenceman Logan Stanley to the Kitchener Rangers for a parcel of distant draft picks.
Stanley is a first-round NHL pick, 18th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in 2016, and there’s a possibility that he sticks with the Jets this year. But he’s also just 19, and the history of mid-to-late first-round NHL-drafted defencemen making the leap as underage players isn’t great. Expect Stanley to play for Kitchener.
Assuming Stanley does suit up for the Rangers, the trade will look like this:
|To Kitchener||To Windsor|
|D Logan Stanley||KIT 4th Round – 2020|
|KIT 2nd Round – 2023|
|KIT 3rd Round – 2023|
|KIT 2nd Round – 2024|
Avid fans who are familiar with Stanley and with the economics of OHL transactions might be a bit surprised. Isn’t that trade slanted in favour of the Rangers? While some have expressed doubts about Stanley’s ability to compete at the NHL level, he’s been a force in junior and was among 13 defencemen who participated in the 2017-18 Canadian National Junior Team Development Camp, an early audition for the 2018 World Junior Tournament. He’s a bona fide star and was a key reason the Spitfires took home the Memorial Cup back in May.
In return, the Spitfires got a pu pu platter of picks six-plus years away. While it’s no longer uncommon for teams to trade picks six, seven or even eight years out, these trades almost always happen because the team trading the picks has already given up all of their near-term assets. Not so with the Rangers, who held six second-round picks, five third-round picks, and another two fourth-round picks that all fall sooner than the same-round picks they sent Windsor in the deal.
In other words, yes, the trade was slanted in the Rangers’ favour. And without more context, it made zero sense. Windsor, more than any other team, needs near-future picks. Even after the trade, they have just one pick in the first five rounds of the 2018 draft and no second-round picks until 2023. Why would they agree to buy a cottage five kilometres from the beach when there’s an acre of waterfront listed at the same price?
The short answer is that, despite league efforts to curb these sorts of deals, the Stanley trade is the second half of a two-part transaction that began with the Spitfires’ acquisition of Jeremy Bracco from the Rangers back in January. For the long answer, we’ll have to take a dive into recent OHL history.
A Brief History of Two-Part Trades
Back at the 2008 trade deadline, the Rangers pulled off a shocking trade with their archrival London Knights, shipping out a pair of roster players and a quartet of high picks for Canadian World Junior hero Steve Mason:
|To Kitchener||To London|
|G Steve Mason||D Steven Tarasuk|
|C Phil Varone|
|KIT 2nd Round – 2011|
|KIT 3rd Round – 2011|
|KIT 4th Round – 2011|
|KIT 2nd Round – 2012|
The day the trade window opened after the 2008 Memorial Cup, the Knights returned three of those picks to the Rangers for centre Nazem Kadri:
|To London||To Kitchener|
|C Nazem Kadri||KIT 2nd Round – 2011|
|KIT 3rd Round – 2011|
|KIT 2nd Round – 2012|
These two-part affairs weren’t uncommon back in the late 2000’s. At the 2007 trade deadline, the Brampton Battalion sent defenceman Phil Oreskovic and winger Howie Martin to the Owen Sound Attack for rookie Thomas Stajan, OA placeholder Dalyn Flatt, and six picks. Five months later, the Battalion sent five of those six picks back to the Attack for star blueliner Bobby Sanguinetti.
In the 2008 offseason, the Oshawa Generals packed former 43-goal man Dale Mitchell off to Windsor for a single second-round pick—truly an absurd bargain—as part of an explicit two-part deal initiated at the previous deadline.
The Kadri trade was different, however. His impending move to London was a poorly kept secret, and the Rangers’ second-line centre was dogged with questions about his future throughout their 2008 Memorial Cup run.
Deciding they wanted to avoid a similar sideshow in the future, the OHL quietly issued a new rule, affectionately dubbed the “Kadri Rule” by fans, that stated teams could not return picks received from a team in trade to that same team in a second trade within a set period, believed to be one year. This, and the willingness of teams to trade picks further and further into the future, seemed to effectively dampen the frequency of two-part trades—until now.
Revisiting the Jeremy Bracco Heist
Flash forward to this year: January 9, 2017, one day before the 2017 trade deadline. Kitchener, a decent team stuck idling in sixth in a historically strong Western Conference, ships out Jeremy Bracco, their star winger and one of the league’s leading scorers, to Windsor to bolster the Spitfires’ championship run.
The trade looked like this:
|To Windsor||To Kitchener|
|RW Jeremy Bracco||D Andrew Burns|
|KIT 8th Round – 2017||RW Cole Carter|
|KIT 13th Round – 2018||WSR 2nd Round – 2023|
|WSR 2nd Round – 2024|
|WSR 2nd Round – 2025|
Rangers fans were livid. Bracco had been electric for them, scoring at a rate of almost two points per game for the season. He’d also impressed at the 2017 World Junior Tournament, notching five points in seven games for the champion U.S. squad. Most thought he needed to be dealt to a contender, but all agreed he would fetch a sizable return. With all due respect to Burns and Carter—two undoubtedly fine young men with obvious hockey talent—that didn’t happen here.
Burns was a throw-in, a stop-gap for the Rangers in his 19-year-old season who is actually older than Bracco. He was passable for the Rangers down the stretch, helping to stabilize a back-end damaged by injury, but found himself outside the Rangers’ plans this coming season as an over-ager and has since left the team.
Carter is a more interesting piece, but as a smaller player who put up just 34 points last year at age 18, he’d need to take a significant and unexpected step forward to become a top-six player on a contending team.
Carter and Burns together were likely worth a couple of near-future, mid-round picks. They were decent players, useful on a rebuilding team, but neither should have been a headliner in a trade for one of the OHL’s top talents. Couple that with the fact that the Spitfires’ picks were a minimum of seven years out (in this case due to necessity, as Windsor had no recent second rounders left to deal) and that the Rangers actually sent the Spitfires picks—admittedly, late-round flotsam—and you can see why Rangers fans were so upset.
This Trade Has Two Parts
In the scorched-earth wasteland of the trade deadline aftermath, a number of theories popped up as to why the Rangers’ return was so low. Most settled on one of two explanations: 1) Bracco exercised his no-trade rights to veto deals with other contenders or 2) there was some sort of two-part trade in place, to be finalized after the Memorial Cup.
Full disclosure: I was firmly in the first camp. Rumours abounded that Bracco preferred to go to Windsor, either because of the franchise’s strong reputation or for the guaranteed opportunity to play in the Memorial Cup. If that was the case, Windsor GM Warren Rychel could hardly be expected to bid against himself.
While it’s still possible that Windsor was Bracco’s preferred destination, the Stanley trade, consummated after months of rumours, makes clear that a two-part deal was, in fact, in place.
Here’s the final accounting, assuming Stanley reports to the Rangers, and with Kitchener and Windsor’s 2023 and 2024 second rounder swap removed from the tally:
|To Windsor||To Kitchener|
|RW Jeremy Bracco||D Logan Stanley|
|KIT 8th Round – 2017||D Andrew Burns|
|KIT 13th Round – 2018||RW Cole Carter|
|KIT 4th Round – 2020||WSR 2nd Round – 2025|
|KIT 3rd Round – 2023|
This trade looks more balanced than either the Stanley or Bracco deal alone. For their star, Kitchener gets a legitimate world-junior-calibre talent from Windsor and a bonus second rounder that could actually fall much sooner than 2025 if certain trade conditions are met. Reportedly, if Windsor acquires an earlier second-round pick, the Rangers can swap that pick for the 2025 selection.
Here, Burns and Carter, a useful stopgap and a minor lottery ticket, respectively, look much more palatable as throw-ins. The Rangers kick in a few distant picks and late-round near-futures to even out the math.
Both teams are happy; everybody wins. Right? Not so fast.
Ask the Otters if the Kadri Rule Matters
While the Stanley trade doesn’t violate the “Kadri Rule” about swapping draft picks back and forth between teams on paper, it violates it in spirit. The Rangers settled for 2023 and 2024 second-round picks from Windsor in the Bracco trade. Seven months later, the Spitfires dutifully selected 2023 and 2024 second-round picks from the Rangers’ stockpile that included a plethora of more valuable assets. There’s no other way to spin this: the teams engaged in a two-part trade and didn’t particularly try to hide it.
This is a problem, for a few reasons.
First and foremost, it isn’t fair to the teams that have played by the rules. By delaying the Stanley portion of the trade until after the Memorial Cup, the Spitfires essentially rented Stanley from the Rangers for the remainder of the season and the playoffs.
Stanley was a major factor in the Spitfires’ success. He missed all of their first-round matchups against London as Windsor stumbled to a 3-4 series loss. But when he returned for the Memorial Cup, the team rebounded to run the table, going 4-0. This difference wasn’t all Stanley; the Spitfires’ extended layoff following their first-round exit allowed a number of their players to heal. But the big d-man was excellent in the tournament, playing solid defensive hockey (his plus-4 rating was second on the team) and chipping in a goal and an assist.
Bracco, for his part, led the team in scoring with eight points and was plus-5 on the tournament. He notched three points in the Spitfires’ 4-3 tournament final victory over the Erie Otters, and was the game’s first star.
It’s impossible to know whether the Spitfires would have won the Cup without one of Bracco or Stanley, but the Otters were a formidable team, and the final game was tight. It’s easy to see how the result might have been different, and knowing that rules are explicitly in place to prevent the kind of trading tomfoolery that went down between Kitchener and Windsor, this cannot sit well with Otters fans.
Some might argue, well, why didn’t Erie do what Windsor did and make a two-part trade of their own? The simple answer is that they didn’t need to: Erie has had more success than Windsor drafting and developing players over the past half decade (though the sanctions against Windsor certainly didn’t help). They were able to add a World Junior-calibre player in Oshawa’s Anthony Cirelli by paying the market rate, though it cost them promising rookie Allan McShane.
Erie might have added more, but the expectation that they too would flout the Kadri Rule is cynical at best. Why have a rule if contending teams will simply circumvent it via technicality?
The Kadri Rule Prevents Unfettered Trading
Make no mistake: the Kadri Rule is a good one. Many media members and fans alike have complained about OHL GMs’ willingness to trade away draft picks years into the future. Even OHL Commissioner David Branch weighed in on the topic back at the 2012 trade deadline:
We’ve discussed it, and we’ve discussed it recently actually. 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 on how far away draft picks could be traded). I’m not necessarily sure I’m comfortable with it but they don’t feel it’s cause for concern.
The argument in favour of trading distant draft picks is that allowing these trades minimizes player movement and reduces the disruption the players’ hockey commitment places on their life outside the game. This is a good argument, and one I think most fans support. But for all of the haranguing about “what five-year-old does (some GM) have his eye on now?” the draft pick market does not extend indefinitely.
We understand intuitively that something has more value now than it does down the line. We’d all rather someone hand us a hundred-dollar bill today than wait and give us the same bill next year. The same is true of OHL draft picks. At some point in the future, a pick has so little value that it’s not worth trading. As an extreme example, consider what you’d give up if you were an OHL GM and one of your counterparts offered you a pick in the 2050 second round.
A decade is an eon in junior hockey. Ten seasons ago, Windsor was a league doormat while Kitchener was a perennial contender. A quarter of the OHL’s franchises, including three fifths of the Central Division, were playing in a different city than they are currently.
Two-part trades have a theoretical limit too, but we’re far from it. If Windsor can rent Stanley from the Rangers, they theoretically could have rented some of their other players as well. Why not make a two-part trade centred around Gabriel Vilardi? Logan Brown? Michael DiPietro? Ultimately, allowing two-part trades allows teams to engage in more horse trading without reducing player movement, as players like Stanley end up switching teams eventually anyway.
Other Problems with Two-Part Trades
Two-part trades present some less obvious problems, too. Back in the 2008 offseason, before the Kadri Rule was introduced, interim Generals GM Chris DiPiero attempted to circumvent on conditions of the Dale Mitchell trade to avoid having to send Mitchell to Windsor for so little. He cited injuries to goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who went from Windsor to Oshawa in the trade—a sympathetic argument, if not a convincing one. The OHL enforced the condition anyway, but with the league’s protection for these deals eliminated, it’s conceivable a GM might renege on a similar future deal, leaving his trading partner hanging.
There’s also the fact that these kinds of deals are explicitly prohibited in the NHL, where any “future considerations” in trades must be draft picks. Even in Major League Baseball, where trades occasionally include a “player to be named later”, such players are strictly minor leaguers or major-league journeymen. By allowing these kinds of trades, the OHL places distance between itself and tightly regulated, well respected professional leagues without reason.
Finally, these trades embarrass everyone involved. The league looked toothless for failing to enforce its own rule. Bracco’s character took a hit from what were likely unsubstantiated rumours that he refused to report to any team but Windsor.
Then-Rangers GM Murray Hiebert was pilloried by fans for the initial trade. Those same fans, apoplectic about the original Bracco return, looked silly for their bluster when the other shoe finally dropped, though the sight of Stanley manning the Rangers’ blueline in the pre-season has likely assuaged some of the pain.
Even the Memorial Cup champion Spitfires were left awkwardly pointing to the fact that Stanley hails from a city near Kitchener as a kind of half-hearted justification for the lopsided second half of the trade.
The Solution: Enforce the Rules
There’s something fundamentally improper about the practice of engaging in these kinds of trades. It’s a time-honoured principle of life that you can’t “have your cake and eat it too,” as the saying goes. Yet, that’s exactly what the Spitfires did with Bracco and Stanley.
This isn’t the fault of the Spitfires and Rangers. In fact, both teams deserve credit for finding a way to meet their needs. But the OHL can, and should, do better. It’s time for the league to step in and end these kinds of trades once and for all.
The OHL trade market is robust enough that baseline market prices for specific types of players become well established each year. If two teams engage in mirror-image trades within months of each other and the league determines that one or both trades are lopsided, the league should reserve the right to void the second trade at its discretion. This will give teams pause before consummating the first half of a planned two-part deal.
The result will be a much needed move toward better competitive balance, more honesty and transparency regarding league transactions between teams, fans, and the media, and a little more sanity during horse-trading season.
Commissioner Branch, the puck is in your end.