The race for the SHL’s Eastern Division remains in flux. While the Hamilton Pistols remain the favorite to win the division, they haven’t put it away. Meanwhile, the Quebec Tigres and Washington Galaxy have been jostling for position all season long, knowing that there is likely only room for one of them in the postseason.
The Pistols made their move at the beginning of the week, shoring up their depth amid a run of injuries. Meanwhile, the Tigres and Galaxy waited until the final minutes before Thursday’s deadline, but each made a move designed to address shore up key areas and position themselves to punch their ticket to playoffs.
“We knew they were going to make a move,” said Galaxy GM Ace Adams of his Quebec rivals. “And if they were going to get better, we knew we needed to keep up, and hopefully get a step ahead.”
For the Tigres, the target areas for a trade were obvious. They wanted a better third-line center; Florian Theroux remains a fan favorite, but his stats were lackluster. And for a team that is built on defense, Quebec was relying heavily on a trio of rookies: Laurie Workman, Richard McKinley, and Geoff Moultrie.
They addressed both needs in one deal, acquiring C Phil Miller and D Doug Wesson from the Kansas City Smoke in exchange for Moultrie and minor-league winger Aaron Knorr.
“This was the perfect deal for us,” said Tigres GM Pete Gondret. “Kansas City had what we wanted, and the price was right.”
Wesson certainly add toughness for the Tigres; he is regularly one of the SHL leaders in penalty minutes and has been involved in several heavyweight bouts. He is an excellent fit with Quebec and coach Martin Delorme’s scrappy, hard-checking style. With the Smoke, he contributed 1 goal and 15 assists, in addition to 63 penalty minutes.
“I’m a two-fisted blue-collar guy, and Quebec is a two-fisted blue-collar team,” said Wesson. “Let’s go!”
With the deal, Miller continues his tour around the SHL. The Tigres are Miller’s fifth club in four seasons; he’d ben with Saskatchewan, Dakota, and New York before being claimed by the Smoke in the expansion draft. He rotated between the second and third lines for Kansas City, compiling 7 goals and 6 assists.
“Story of my life,” said Miller. “Good enough that teams want me, but not good enough to keep around.”
Moultrie was the least productive of Quebec’s trio of blueline rookies, putting up 6 points in 40 games. But at age 21, he presents considerable upside for a KC team that’s building for the future. Knorr was the leading scorer for the Tigres’ minor-league affiliate in Maine, with 19 goals, and he scored four goals in a game last season; however, he lacked the passing and defensive skills to make him a fit with Quebec.
The Galaxy, meanwhile, have struggled to get production from their bottom two lines, and their third defensive pairing has been a revolving door. To address those issues, Washington picked up RW Charlie Brooks and D Scott Hexton from the Boston Badgers in exchange for D Graham Bellinger and minor-league RW Marty “Fish” Pescatelli.
“I think we got underrated value here,” said Adams. “Charlie Brooks and Scott Hexton aren’t household names, but they’re both guys who can come in right away and help us get to the playoffs. We’re thrilled with this pickup.”
Brooks was one of the few offensive bright spots for Boston, producing 17 goals and 19 assists on the top line across from rookie Lix Darnholm. He’s known by the nickname “Sunny” for his cheerful disposition, which has made him a popular teammate throughout his career.
“Washington did well to land Sunny,” said Gondret; Brooks played for Quebec the last two seasons. “He’s a great guy to have around.”
Hexton, meanwhile, is known as a solid defender who isn’t as active on offense; he posted 9 points this season with the Badgers. It’s not clear whether he’ll replace Burt Hampton or Bruce Hogaboom on the bottom pairing, or whether the three will rotate. Coach Rodney Reagle said that “we’ll figure that out as we go, but it’s nice to have a lot of good choices to pick from.”
Bellinger was a highly-regarded prospect when Washington drafted him last year, but he struggled to get established and fell out of favor with Reagle. Twice in a row, he started the year with the Galaxy, only to be demoted to the minors in midseason. The Smoke hope that more consistent playing time and a longer leash will allow him to live up to the hype. Pescatelli is only 18 and showed some promise in the minors, scoring 5 goals and 18 assists in 41 games.
Will these deals put either team over the top? Perhaps not; neither acquisition is a blockbuster. But as Adams put it, “It really feels like we’ve got two teams that are about equal talent-wise. Any little edge that we can find to come out on top, we’re gonna take it.”