WHL imposes heavy sanctions on Portland

Nov 29, 2012, 11:18 AM | Updated: 11:20 am

The Portland Winterhawks drafted Nicolas Petan 16th overall in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft. (WHL.ca photo)

By Tim Pigulski

By now, anyone who pays attention to Major Junior hockey knows that the Portland Winterhawks were hammered with heavy sanctions on Wednesday that, if you believe the Winterhawks’ press release following the announcement, essentially included paying for flights for parents, a couple of summer training camps, and giving a player a cell phone.

To summarize, the sanctions included:

1. Forfeiture of draft choices through the first five rounds in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft;
2. Forfeiture of first-round draft choices between the 2014-’17 WHL Bantam Drafts;
3. Suspension of head coach/general manager Mike Johnston for the remainder of the 2012-’13 season, including the playoffs;
4. $200,000 in fines.

The punishments don’t seem to fit the bill as advertised on the Portland website, so this will be an interesting story to watch unfold. Many believe the Winterhawks aren’t telling the full truth, but regardless it will be interesting to see exactly which players were involved, should we ever find out.

For the past few years, Portland has been considered one of the WHL’s biggest success stories and much of the praises they’ve received have been directed towards Johnston, who transformed a team that had missed the playoffs three years in a row and won only a combined 47 games during that span into a league powerhouse. Needless to say, missing Johnston behind the bench for the balance of this season will be a tough obstacle to overcome.

Even without their trusted leader calling the shots, it’s likely that the Winterhawks will continue to be a very strong team this season. The true consequences of these penalties won’t be realized for a few years, as Portland is forced to pass on some of the best talent in the world without its first-round draft choices.

For the past five seasons, the same number of first-round draft picks they will be without, Portland has been able to turn their top selection into a star caliber player. From 2008-’12, Portland’s highest picks have been used to draft two future NHLers (likely three) and trade for two others.

2008: Ty Rattie (second overall in the WHL Bantam Draft)

Since he arrived on the scene full time in 2009, Ty Rattie has been a significant offensive contributor. As a rookie playing on Portland’s lower lines, he was still able to contribute 38 points in 61 games as a 16-year-old. He broke out during his sophomore campaign, registering 79 points in 67 games to go along with 22 points in the playoffs.

Rattie’s progression led to the St. Louis Blues selecting him in the second round of the NHL Entry Draft and he’s continued to improve. As an 18-year-old last season, the wing put up an astounding 121 points in 69 games, placing him third overall in the WHL.

This year, after a bit of a slow start, Rattie has picked up his play considerably and currently has 38 points in 24 games played, tying him for second on the team with Brendan Leipsic.

Needless to say, Rattie has become one of the league’s top offensive producers and a huge part of the reversal of fortune the Winterhawks have experienced.

2009: Derrick Pouliot (first overall)

Like Rattie, Pouliot has shown what he is capable of since he first entered the WHL. As a 16-year-old, the defenseman put up 30 points in 66 games to go along with a plus-13 rating.

In his second season, Pouliot averaged nearly a point per game with 11 goals and 48 assists in 72 games played. His strong play continued into the playoffs, where he notched 17 points in 22 contests. He was eventually drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins eighth overall in the 2012 draft and has continued to be a very good defender for in Juniors.

To date this season, he has 24 points in 25 games and is tied for third in that category among all WHL defensemen. He’s developed into one of the league’s top offensive blueliners and will likely see himself fulfilling the same role in the NHL sooner rather than later.

2010: Nicolas Petan (16th overall)

After being buried behind a number of very good Portland centers last year, Petan has had a breakout season in 2012, scoring 44 points in 25 games played so far. The undersized forward is currently Portland’s top center and will likely find himself selected in the first couple of rounds once the NHL draft rolls around.

After losing big time offensive contributors Sven Bärtschi, Brad Ross, and Oliver Gabriel, among others, Petan has been asked to assume a much larger role this season and has done an admirable job.

2011: Traded their first-round pick (20th overall) in 2011, Teal Burns, Spencer Bennett, and second-round draft choice to Vancouver in exchange for Craig Cunningham and sixth-round draft choice

During the 2010-’11 season, Portland decided to go for it all, dealing their first-round choice, two role players, and a second-round choice to the rebuilding Vancouver Giants for elite scorer Craig Cunningham who, to that point, had outscored Burns and Bennett combined.

Cunningham scored 42 points in his 35 regular season games with the ‘Hawks and put up another 21 during the playoffs. Portland advanced to the WHL finals that year, but ultimately came up short as they fell to Kootenay 4-1. The rental of Cunningham helped take Portland farther than they’d been in a number of years and established the dynasty that was to come.

Vancouver eventually used Portland’s first-round pick, 20th overall, to select center Thomas Foster out of Slave Lake, Alberta. 2012-’13 marks Foster’s rookie year in which he has put up two points in 11 games for the struggling Giants.

2012: Traded their first-round pick (20th overall) in 2012, first-round pick in 2013, and Seth Swenson to Seattle in exchange for Marcel Noebels

In their second effort in as many years to win the WHL championship and advance to the Memorial Cup tournament, the Winterhawks made another deadline splash, dealing two first-round draft choices and under-utilized wing Seth Swenson for German import and Philadelphia Flyers draftee Marcel Noebels.

Noebels put up 34 points in 31 games after being acquired by Portland and helped them advance to the WHL finals for the second straight year by scoring 23 points in the playoffs. Once again, the Winterhawks fell just short, losing to the Edmonton Oil Kings in seven games.

The T-Birds used the 2012 draft choice on power forward Keegan Kolesar, who has signed with the team and should be on the opening day roster when next season opens.

Sources from the team indicate that the 2013 first-round choice acquired by the T-Birds won’t be affected by the sanctions imposed by the league.

Portland’s success over the past few seasons has been due in large part to their successful drafts. It’s not a stretch to say that the loss of five straight first-round draft choices could be a huge blow to a club that appeared to have established itself as a perennial powerhouse.


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