The Christmas break has wrapped up for the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and that signals the beginning of another big season within the season – the 2022-23 Trade Deadline. For the Windsor Spitfires, it means making decisions that will affect the club over the long term.
This season is general manager (GM) Bill Bowler‘s third official deadline (Tues., Jan. 10) since taking over from former GM Warren Rychel in July 2019. In his first season, the club did very little which was good in hindsight as the league shut down two months later because of COVID-19. However, last season, he found his groove by bringing some fantastic value deals that helped the Spitfires get to the OHL Championship. Fast forward a year and he’s in a similar position with a talented roster that just needs a few tweaks. However, does he go big, look towards the future, or simply hold his ground and let the chips fall where they may? Let’s take a look at his options, starting with the least likely.
Option 1: Sell Mode
When head coach Marc Savard joined the team at the start of 2021-22, he implemented new systems and a new culture that has allowed the players to flourish. Several players, including veterans Matthew Maggio, Alex Christopoulos, and Oliver Peer, are having career seasons and watching their values skyrocket. With that, though, comes the option for Bowler to “sell high.”
In theory, the Spitfires could sell off key assets to contenders and bring in numerous draft picks and younger talents in hopes of building a roster for 2023-24 and beyond. If the Spitfires were fighting to get into the playoffs this season, that would unquestionably be the route to go. However, with the club in a battle for the first seed in the Western Conference, it doesn’t make much sense.
For example – if Bowler ships out Maggio to start the rebuild, the Spitfires could receive a king’s ransom of high picks and a 16-or-17-year-old player. However, now you’ve just traded your hometown captain, a fan favourite, and leading scorer, with no real way of replacing any of that in the immediate future. His value to the club is far higher than any individual piece they would get back.
The same could be said for Christopoulos, forward Jacob Maillet, defenceman Michael Renwick, and the list goes on. When you’re riding a high, take it as far as you can go. Tearing this down in the middle of a prime season will only cause unnecessary chaos.
Option 2: Stand Pat
This season, we’ve seen some monster trades around the league including five deals in December where one player went for at least four picks. Prices are sky-high and, if you want to play, you’re going to pay. Bowler is working the phones but if the prices get too high, he may just sit back and let the other teams overpay.
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According to the OHL Draft Pick Database, the Spitfires have at least one pick in each of the first five rounds through 2028 with the exception being no fifth-round pick in 2023. They also have several extra picks among those drafts, too. This means Bowler can afford to sit back and work with what he has without worrying about needing picks down the road.
Since the start of the season, Savard, Maggio, and the rest of the coaches and leaders have said how family-oriented this team is. Given the club’s success so far – 19-7-3-1, good for 42 points and first place in the conference – nobody wants to see the club overpay if it means spoiling the chemistry.
The Spitfires know what kind of group they have and their formula has worked so far. If they can keep their confidence and work ethic as high as it is, other teams can add but will still be in tough against Savard’s club. This isn’t the most entertaining option for fans but it’s one that can’t be ignored.
Option 3: Buy Mode
The third (and final) option here is for Bowler to become a buyer. Whether it’s going all-in or simply tweaking, this may make the most sense.
An “all-in” scenario would involve making the bold move. The Spitfires have several young players who have flourished so far including 17-year-old forward Ethan Miedema (2021 first-rounder) and 16-year-old defenceman Anthony Cristoforo (2022 first-rounder). You could see one of them sent to a rebuilding club along with several high picks for a 19-year-old star. However, while Rychel may have pulled this off in the past, it hasn’t been Bowler’s style so far.
Instead, Bowler could do something similar to last season where he sends out picks for solid depth that prove to be valuable down the stretch. In those (separate) deals, he acquired Christopoulos, defenceman Andrew Perrott, and goaltender Mathias Onuska for picks. This season, the Spitfires need a big, veteran defenceman and maybe an upgrade up front or in goal. They have the picks needed, plus a depth player or two, in order to make the tweaks.
Who might be available? That’s tough to say for certain but teams like the Kingston Frontenacs, Hamilton Bulldogs, and the Niagara IceDogs (among others) have either been mentioned in trade talks or have already made moves to rebuild. The trick is making sure you add someone who’s going to benefit the club both on and off the ice. They want to enhance the organization, not create unnecessary issues. Let’s see if Bowler can play his cards right.
As always, the trade deadline is two-fold. Teams must be down to three overage (20-year-old) players by Mon., Jan. 9. The full trade deadline is on Tues., Jan. 10.
A nearly life-long resident of Windsor, ON, I graduated from St. Clair College (Journalism) and University of Windsor (Communications) and have attended Windsor Spitfires’ (and OHL) games for 30-years. My areas include multimedia journalism and photography.