To buy or not to buy. That was the big question for the Windsor Spitfires as the 2020 OHL Trade Deadline approached on Friday. When the dust settled, the roster remains in-tact.
General manager Bill Bowler was in a bit of a pickle. The team is battling for first place in the Western Conference, which exceeded all expectations for the season. Making big moves risked the future, but anything else could mean being passed by other teams.
In the end, Bowler made the decision that he had to, for better or worse.
Bowler Happy With Roster
In past seasons, the deadline was chaotic. Former general manager Warren Rychel was known for big moves, regardless of the direction. This season, there was a vast difference. After making just two trades since becoming GM in July, Bowler continued on his course of patience, focusing on 2020-21 and beyond.
As Thursday’s overage deadline passed, the team decided to keep all of its graduating players. Captain Luke Boka, forward Cole Purboo, and defenceman Thomas Stevenson will finish off their careers as Spitfires. Boka’s is a unique situation as he’s approaching both the 300-game mark and the Spitfires’ all-time games played record (307). It’s only appropriate that he finish what he started.
While there were rumours of bigger deals prior to Friday’s main deadline, Bowler decided that making a splash just wasn’t worth risking anything. That’s understandable.
Many veterans are having career seasons and the youngsters are also showing signs of breaking out, including first-rounder Wyatt Johnston who has nine points in his last 10 games. Add in team chemistry plus a group that’s eager to prove critics wrong and it’s not something to mess with.
Bowler had the option to tweak but the situations simply didn’t work out. Even small moves have a big impact off the ice.
With the majority of the roster expected to return next season, the goal this season is getting to the second round for the first time in nine seasons. Anything beyond that is gravy and the experience itself will pay huge dividends when they make a true run next season and beyond.
In the end, the team remains near the top of the conference and has shown all season that they’re not going to be an easy out. Bank the points, build up the confidence, and get ready for the playoffs.
Western Foes Load Up
While Bowler continued with what he has, other Western Conference clubs loaded up in preparation for a gruelling playoff race.
The Saginaw Spirit, who are on the Spitfires’ heels, brought in sniper Ryan Suzuki from the Barrie Colts in a blockbuster five-player, seven pick deal. The Carolina Hurricanes’ prospect will add to an already lethal offence.
Down I-75 in Michigan, the Flint Firebirds acquired rugged defenceman Tyler Tucker in a multi-player deal as they try to make the playoffs for just the second time in four seasons. Their loyal fans have suffered over the last few seasons; they deserve success.
Not to be outdone, the Rangers made a bold move, grabbing Florida Panthers’ prospect Serron Noel from the Oshawa Generals. The club has won 8 of 10, climbing into fourth in the conference, and Noel can only help their cause.
With just four points separating the first seed from fifth, the deals make the conference even tighter. Fortunately for the Spitfires, they sit two points up on the Spirit with two games-in-hand.
It’s easy to scowl at the lack of deals by Bowler. When a team is in contention and ranked sixth in Canada, you expect big things at the deadline. However, why risk a big deal in either direction, using valuable assets or frustrating a locker room that wants to win? The Spitfires know this wasn’t a popular decision but sometimes the road less travelled is the best option.
For the Spitfires, patience is key. Next season will be different as they have plenty of assets to work with. Right now, though, worry about home ice, that first-round win, and then move onto bigger things.
The Spitfires hit the road this weekend to face the new-look Firebirds on Saturday and Rangers on Sunday. Let the post-deadline era begin!
I’m a resident of Windsor, ON and a graduate of St Clair College Journalism and New Media program as well as the University of Windsor Communication, Media, and Film program. I’ve been a junior hockey fan (specifically the Windsor Spitfires) for 30-years and have written about/photographed junior hockey since about 2005.