The Western Hockey League’s wild trade deadline ended Wednesday, and after a flurry of deals with a number of top-end players on the move, the Spokane Chiefs sat quietly, only making one minor trade.
On Wednesday, the Chiefs acquired goaltender Bailey Brkin from the Kootenay Ice in exchange for an eighth-round pick at the 2019 Bantam Draft. Brkin will report to the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
That was their only move.
The same can’t be said for the rest of the league, and the U.S. Division in particular.
The Tri-City Americans, Portland Winterhawks and Everett Silvertips all made moves and got better, proving they’re swinging for the fences in a division in which the distance between first and last place is seven points heading into Friday’s games.
The Seattle Thunderbirds also made some trades, though not nearly on the same scale as the Americans, Winterhawks or Silvertips.
The first major move came when Tri-City acquired defenseman Jake Bean from the Calgary Hitmen. Bean is fresh off a gold medal at the World Junior Hockey Championships and is a 2016 first-round draft pick of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Portland acquired defenseman Dennis Cholowski from the Prince George Cougars prior to the deadline. Cholowski is a 2016 first-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings and has 39 points in 37 games.
The Silvertips made a number of moves, the highlight being their acquisition of defenseman Ondrej Vala and center Garrett Pilon from the Kamloops Blazers. Vala has an NHL contract with the Dallas Stars after going undrafted, and Pilon is a 2016 third-round draft pick of the Washington Capitals.
So while the Chiefs’ division rivals were clearly buyers, the Chiefs stood pat. The Chiefs made a big trade in October, though, when they acquired Zach Fischer from the Medicine Hat Tigers. Fischer has 31 points in 31 games for Spokane.
The Chiefs didn’t land a big name, but they did hold on to their prospects and draft picks, not to mention the young talent on the roster.
The Americans, Winterhawks and Silvertips all paid high prices in their trades. Tri-City gave up two young players plus a 2019 first-round pick in the Bantam Draft and second-round draft picks in 2018 and 2020, for instance.
Mortgaging the future will pay off in the short term for some teams, but those draft picks will have to be recouped in some fashion down the road.
The Chiefs sit in last place in the U.S. Division but also hold onto the Western Conference’s last playoff spot. They just got defenseman Filip Kral back from the World Juniors, and should have Kailer Yamamoto back soon as well.
Yamamoto’s return will be watched closely. The Edmonton Oilers’ first-round draft pick last summer has played in 13 of the Chiefs’ 42 games this season and hasn’t found a rhythm. He’s scoring at slightly less than a point per game and will be counted on to create some offense for the Chiefs as the playoff push warms up.
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