- On Monday, the Quebec Tigres returned RW Luc LePettier to their minor-league affiliate in Maine. The Tigres called up LePettier two weeks ago, at a time when LW Stellan Fisker was injured and Quebec needed forward depth. Fisker returned shortly after, and LePettier appeared in only one game with Quebec, failing to record a point. After suffering a couple injuries of their own, Maine is now in need of some forward help; additionally, Quebec wanted to avoid stunting LePettier’s development due to a lack of playing time. The Tigres are currently one shy of the roster limit due to D Richard McKinley‘s injury; for now, they will leave the slot unfilled.
- On Wednesday, the Dakota Jackalopes traded G Dennis Wampler and D Terry “T-Rex” Hendricks to the Kansas City Smoke in exchange for G Brooks Copeland and D Geoff Moultrie. Read more about the trade here. In order to make room for Wampler and Hendricks on their roster, the Smoke demoted G Bill Bates and D Lowell Sharkey to their CHL farm club in Omaha. The 20-year-old Bates went 1-1-0 with a 3.50 GAA and an .872 save percentage with Kansas City. The 19-year-old Sharkey, who was called up last week, appeared in only 2 games without recording a point.
- On Friday, the Jackalopes reinstated LW “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston from the injured list. Airston missed nearly three weeks with an upper-body injury. Airston’s return can’t come soon enough for the struggling Jackalopes; they have lost every game they played without him, and averaged a pitiful 1.8 goals per game in his absence. To make room for Airston on the roster, Dakota reassigned LW Van Dyke Browning to their affiliate in Idaho. Browning appeared in 3 games with the Jackalopes, recording an assist and a -1 rating.
- On Saturday, the Michigan Gray Wolves placed C Hunter Bailes on the 10-game DL. Bailes suffered a lower-body injury blocking a shot in the third period of the Wolves’ 1-1 tie against Quebec. It’s the second injury of the year for the fragile center, who missed 3 games last week with an upper-body ailment. To replace Bailes on the roster, Michigan called up C Phoenix Cage from their farm team in Cleveland. Cage has 2 goals and 11 assists in the CHL this season.
Ordinarily, a trade between two of the SHL’s worst teams wouldn’t attract much attention. Just shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic, a cynic might say. But this week’s deal between the Dakota Jackalopes and Kansas City Smoke raised eyebrows around the league, and prompted the persistent whispers about the Jackalopes’ financial stability to grow a bit louder.
On its face, the deal looks like an old-fashioned challenge trade. The Smoke shipped G Brooks Copeland and D Geoff Moultrie to Dakota in exchange for backup netminder Dennis Wampler and reserve D Terry “T-Rex” Hendricks. There’s a case to be made that the parties involved could use a change of scenery.
The 24-year-old Copeland began the season as KC’s starting goalie, and the team hoped the former Michigan draft pick would seize the opportunity. However, he quickly lost the job to rookie Jim Fleetwood; he was later banished to the minors after compiling an 0-5-0 record with an unsightly 5.00 GAA and an .843 save percentage.
Kansas City acquired the 22-year-old Moultrie from Quebec last season, but struggled to find a spot in the Smoke’s blueline rotation. Like Copeland, he was demoted to Omaha after recording a single goal and a -6 rating in 8 games with KC this season. He had reportedly asked for a trade.
Like Copeland and Moultrie, the players KC received had worn out their welcome with their former team.
The 24-year-old Wampler has underwhelmed for Dakota this season, going 1-4-0 with a 4.50 GAA and an .865 save percentage. According to sources within the organization, the Jackalopes were considering sending him to the minors before working out the trade.
The 24-year-old Hendricks was drafted by Dakota in 2016 and became a fan favorite due to his hard-hitting style. However, his ice time has steadily decreased from season to season, and he seemed virtually certain to leave in free agency this offseason. He appeared in 7 games for the Jackalopes this season, recording 2 assists.
So why the fuss about the deal? In a word, money. Dakota is the SHL’s smallest market, and their financial troubles have been an open secret for several years. The organization has pared payroll sharply in the last couple seasons, causing fan discontent to grow and attendance to shrink. It’s a negative spiral that may ultimately force the team to relocate.
This year, according to rival GMs, Dakota has been trying to dump its few remaining high-salary players. They’ve aggressively shopped their top defensive pairing of Matt Cherner and Rusty Anderson, both of whom are on expiring deals. They haven’t directly shopped star winger “Flyin’ Ryan” Airston, but they’ve said to be listening to trade proposals. Dakota’s payroll is among the league’s lowest; if those players (especially Airston) are traded, they’d be well under $10 million, an alarming figure in a league with a $25 million salary cap.
Given that, it’s hard to ignore that the trade saves the Jackalopes $650,000 in salary. While it’s not certain that this motivated the deal, it did raise some red flags around the league.
Trading Wampler, in particular, seems curious. The Jackalopes signed him to a three-year deal worth $750,000 per season. The contract was intended in part to reassure skeptical fans that Dakota was willing to spend. Could the organization really have soured on him after less than half a season?
Wampler seemed perplexed by the trade. “When I signed on with [the Jackalopes], I thought we were making a long-term commitment to each other,” the goalie told reporters. “I knew it was going to be a long season, but I thought we were building toward the future. A month later, I’m packing my bags. Go figure. But hey, I like barbecue, so KC should be fun!”
As if to prove his value to his new club, Wampler debuted on Thursday, stopping 24 of 25 shots to lead the Smoke to a 2-1 win over Quebec.
Jackalopes GM Paul Mindegaard vigorously denied that he’d made the trade for financial reasons. “I know everyone thinks we’re passing the hat in the stands to keep the lights on, but it isn’t true,” Mindegaard said at the press conference. “We made this deal for hockey reasons. Brooks Copeland is a promising young netminder; we’ve had our eye on him for a while. In the right environment, he can thrive. Geoff Moultrie is a rugged two-way defenseman who fits right in with the corps of young, talented blueliners we’re trying to create. That’s what matters to us. We didn’t make this trade just to make payroll.”
The deal didn’t seem to trouble the team. In their first game post-trade, the Jackalopes tied New York 2-2, snapping their 11-game losing streak.
Smoke GM Garth Melvin, meanwhile, likes his team’s return in the trade. “We’re real glad to have Wamp on board,” Melvin said. “He’s a rising young player, and I look forwarded to seeing what he and Fleet can do together. And T-Rex is a great young D-man. Our fans are going to love him! We might not win the Vandy this year, but we’re in for a fun season.”
- On Satursday, the Kansas City Smoke demoted D Geoff Moultrie to their minor-league affiliate in Omaha, and called up D Jon Rogers from Omaha. The Smoke have given up 41 goals on the season, the worst total in the league, and their defense is allowing 36.3 shots per game, the league’s third-highest average. In 8 games with Kansas City, the 22-year-old Moultrie recorded a goal and posted a -6 rating, worst among their blueline corps. The 23-year-old Rogers, who was the first player ever signed by the Smoke and played in 52 games for KC last year, had recorded 3 points (1 goal, 2 assists) with Omaha this season.
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.”