The Michigan Gray Wolves have never been ones for the trade market. While other contenders have frequently used the trade deadline as a chance to patch weaknesses before the stretch run, the Wolves have always passed. In some cases, this has been because they were too far ahead to be caught. But it also seemed to be a matter of philosophy; Michigan tended to trust their own players, even when they struggled, rather than looking to add outsiders.
“The guys in this locker room have been around from the beginning,” said Wolves coach Ron Wright in the run-up to this year’s deadline. “They’ve made the sacrifices and bought in to what we’re trying to do. I’m happy with what we have.”
But with Michigan clinging to a razor-thin lead in the West and with three other teams hot on their heels, GM Tim Carrier decided to break with tradition and make a deal. The Wolves picked up LW Kelvin Starkey and D Scott Hexton from the Kansas City Smoke in exchange for minor-league winger Cleo Rodgers, goalie Gus Parrish, and a 2nd-round draft pick.
“This is obviously not our usual approach at the deadline,” said Carrier. “And this is not in any way a commentary on the players on our current rosters. But with the race as tight as it is, I’d be remiss if I wasn’t looking for ways to improve our team. And this is a deal that makes us better now and in the future.”
While Michigan’s success has always been built on defense and goaltending, their punchless offense and aging roster have been growing concerns. As of the deadline, the Wolves were tied with Boston for dead last in the league with only 88 goals. And of their 15 regular starting skaters, eight of them are over age 30.
Starkey helps the Wolves address both concerns. The winger has been a reliable and steady scorer for Kansas City, with 23 points (9 goals, 14 assists) so far on the season. The 26-year-old is also signed for this year and next at a very reasonable $200,000 annual salary, another plus for the cap-strapped Wolves.
“This is a pretty cool opportunity for me,” said Starkey. “Knowing that a strong team like Michigan was interested in me… that’s a real boost. I can’t wait to get over there!”
The 28-year-old Hexton has struggled with the Smoke this season, recording a lone assist in 16 games as he has shuttled between Kansas City and their Omaha farm club. But he is a veteran with a reliable track record, and he was reportedly highly disenchanted with a Smoke team that he considered directionless and unprofessional. According to team sources, he had asked to be dealt if the opportunity presented itself.
With the Wolves, he’ll replace Igor Shovshenkov, a depth defender who was another member of the over-30 club. To facilitate the trade, the Smoke agreed to retain $150,000 of Hexton’s salary.
For the Smoke, the 21-year-old Rodgers provides the team with a much-needed scoring prospect. He had been considered a likely replacement for one of Michigan’s aging wingers, but despite a solid season with the Wolves’ affiliate in Cleveland (14 goals, 20 assists), his star seemed to have dimmed a bit within the organization. He will report to the Smoke’s farm club in Omaha, but is considered a strong shot to make the big-league roster next season.
The 29-year-old Parrish, meanwhile, will reportedly head straight to Kansas City to aid the Smoke’s woes in the crease. Kansas City is last in the league in GAA (4.13) and save percentage (.880). Parrish was having an exceptional season in Cleveland (8-9-4, 1.97 GAA, .912 save percentage), but was blocked in Michigan by the exceptional tandem of Dirk Lundquist and Art Cowan.
So after his “happy with what we have” comment a couple days earlier, how does Wright feel about the new additions? “I’m all for it,” the coach said. “What, you thought they were going to make this deal without asking me?”