Tuesday’s trade deadline came and went for the Thunderbirds, who didn’t make any moves in the hours immediately prior. All in all, it was a relatively quiet day around the league, with only 10 deals being made and even fewer involving impact players.
Seattle, as it turns out, accomplished most of what they wanted to in the final week of 2016 by acquiring defensemen Austin Strand and Aaron Hyman in separate deals with the Red Deer Rebels and Calgary Hitmen, respectively.
“It was a good thing we got our moves done early because everyone was looking for defense which is what we thought was our biggest need,” said T-Birds general manager Russ Farwell. “We needed to spread things out a little more than just relying on our top four guys. We were happy to get the guys we got and as it turned out, outside of the deal between Red Deer and Regina, there wasn’t a lot of defense to be moved around. Everyone was looking for it so we were happy to be done already.”
Red Deer and Regina completed perhaps the biggest blockbuster deal of the day, with the Pats sending Lane Zablocki, Dawson Barteaux and three draft picks — including two first-rounders — to the Rebels for Josh Mahura, a third-round pick by the Anaheim Ducks in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Jeff de Wit and a future draft pick.
Seattle’s moves were precipitated by the departures of Brandon Schuldhaus and Bryan Allbee, both of whom decided not to return to Seattle following the holiday break.
“Allbee wasn’t really a surprise and we were trying to upgrade there anyway, so (him staying home) didn’t really affect anything,” said Farwell when asked if the departures forced his hand with so little time until the deadline. “For Schuldhaus, I wasn’t really unhappy with him. But with the moves we made we’re really happy with where we ended up. Timing-wise, it was OK. Being able to make the Hyman deal quickly relieved the pressure and it gave us a little more time to deal with the Schuldhaus thing.”
The T-Birds felt their biggest improvements needed to come on the blue line but felt mostly comfortable with their forward group moving into the second half. Seattle did make one deal in mid-December to acquire Tyler Adams from Swift Current to strengthen their fourth line.
It’s been an odd situation for Seattle up front, as they still have yet to have their entire group of forwards healthy and on the ice at the same time. Even when Mathew Barzal, Keegan Kolesar and Ryan Gropp were all dressed, it came at a time when Kolesar was still recovering from injury and getting his legs back under him.
“We talked about making some other moves, but a lot of the guys that changed hands (Tuesday) and some of those 19-year-olds, they were on the market but we felt none of them were better than the top nine guys we had,” said Farwell about what was available around the league. “Adams has been really good here and we felt we really needed to add and change the makeup of what will be our fourth line once everything sorts out. (Our fourth line) would get hemmed into our own end and Steve felt he couldn’t really play them like he wanted to, which prompted the move for Adams.”
Farwell continued to describe how it feels like Seattle will make significant strides just by having everyone in the lineup and healthy.
“We had such an odd start to the year with Mat being away and Keegan getting hurt. Then Keegan came back but he wasn’t really up to speed at first. He did play well in four or five games right before Christmas but Barzal was gone by then, so we haven’t really had our team together yet. But we do think that just looking at those top nine guys, there wasn’t a trade that improved on that group.”
Some had thought the T-Birds might look at alternate options at goaltender, where Rylan Toth’s somewhat inconsistent first half became the easy scapegoat for Seattle’s mediocre record.
“Rylan’s a real solid guy and his approach is good,” said Farwell when asked if the team entertained the idea of finding a new netminder. “He’s an older, mature guy and he’s come back since Christmas and given us some good goaltending and is a calm presence in the locker room. The early numbers might not look good, but there were a couple nights where he got stuck with seven goals where we hung him out to dry. Our improvement on defense will help those numbers and since Christmas we’ve been very happy with how he’s played. (Making a move) wasn’t something we felt we wanted to do.”
With the T-Birds currently sitting sixth in the Western Conference and third in the U.S. Division, they’ll certainly have their work cut out for them in the second half. The biggest mover this season has been Prince George, who has made it clear they’re all in by trading a number of young players and future assets for veterans, including Radovan Bondra from the Vancouver Giants, on deadline day.
“Prince George obviously wants to take a run at it this year,” admitted Farwell. “They kept adding as much as they could. It’s going to be a bit of a puzzle for the coach to fit that all together. But we’ll wait and see. We’re done with Prince George for the regular season. Obviously they’re all in though after trading for nothing but older guys.”
Aside from the Cougars, division rival Everett added a big name in Aaron Irving from the Edmonton Oil Kings. Irving, a Nashville Predators draftee and point-per-game defenseman, adds to an already very strong defensive group for the Silvertips. But, like Prince George, adding a mainstay on the blue line didn’t come at a small cost.
“Everett paid a big price but just added one guy,” said Farwell about the Silvertips’ deadline activity. “They’ve had such a good start so I’m sure they didn’t want to take that apart. But they took (Graham) Millar out — he was an effective player and they didn’t really replace him.”
Overall, Seattle felt they accomplished what they wanted to with regards to the makeup of their roster in the weeks leading up to the deadline, even if they remained silent on Tuesday. A healthy, present forward group and the addition of two defensemen to give Seattle a deep defensive corps that should help offset some of struggles they’ve had early in the season.