November 20, 2013

Let's Make a Deal. (Hockey trades, releases and callups)

One of the hardest things to bare when you're a die hard hockey fan, with loyalty to one team, is that sometimes the team will move a player that you really like. In the NHL it happens, as it does in the NAHL, but it tends to happen more often in junior hockey.

The biggest and most obvious reason to this is because in the pro game players have contracts and are getting paid. This makes moving players and releasing them a little more difficult then in junior hockey where the players still have contracts, but aren't being paid. Without having to deal with salary caps, or losing money on deals, the team can focus more on making sure they have the right players no matter what.

The GM's role is to deal with the team's player movements. He's the one that trades, releases, etc. He works closely with the coaches to either find them the players they're looking for or to move the players the coaches feel is necessary.

The Tomahawks GM is Rick Boyd. Some coaches in the NAHL (and in other leagues) are also the GM, like Port Huron's Mike Gershon.

But in Johnstown those duties are split.

Now trades and releases happen for many different reasons, a lot of which the fans are never told about. That's why when we see a player getting traded it comes as a shock, and when it's a fan favorite it can be quite upsetting.

But when you sit back and understand it's part of the game, and learn more about the inter workings of the thought processes behind player movement, it can take the sting out of these transactions.

As fans of the Johnstown Tomahawks we follow the players pretty closely. They interact with us in the community and at the arena. We build strong ties with many players and staff, which only makes it tougher when someone is no longer part of the team.

We see how they play. We see the type of person they are. This is what makes us a fan of them personally. But behind closed doors and away from the public's eye, the story can be a lot different.

In hockey, and maybe it's this way in other sports too, the locker room atmosphere is a very big deal. A team with a lot of talent will always win it's fair share of games, and may do very well in the standings. But a team that plays for each other, and makes the sacrifices for the greater good, can go on to do even greater things, because they have the passion.

Sometimes a well gelled team can begin to fall apart when there's a player or players not on the same page, or there might even a bad seed in the group. In a game were the team concept is so important, having a player(s) not buying into the concept can cause the downfall of the team.

Maybe they are carrying negative energy because of ice time, isn't happy with the way the team is playing, could even be that they don't get along with their teammates. There are many examples, but these are just a few. No man is better than the team, and if this becomes the case, a transaction can be made.

When teams are putting together their roster for the upcoming season, teams look for "their" type of player. There are many different factors for on the ice, and off.

In Johnstown, a team that is very involved in the community, looks for players with that can of personality. On the ice, Johnstown plays a physical--fast game. So they look for players that can bring that to the team.

Sometimes they feel they have that type of player, but it may turn out that they were wrong. Maybe the player feels he can play the systems that the coach implements, only to find out that the system doesn't fit their style of play, and can't help the team.

This can lead to the player and team parting ways. In the short time the Tomahawks have been around, this has happened a few times.

Winning is very important to every team. The main goal is to win a championship. This won't happen over night, and isn't the only factor the team thinks about when making player movements, but it's one of the big factors.

Sometimes we forget that this game is a business. If you don't win and put a good product on the ice, you won't bring in the fans. Without the fans you can't make money. Without the fans, you won't have sponsors helping support the team.

You can't win if you don't have good players, and a good system in place. A way that a team can get good players is by building a great reputation.

Having players called up the USHL is a great way for the team to show future players why Johnstown is the place to play, because playing in Johnstown can lead to moving up in the junior ranks. Sure, this isn't being traded or released, but it's still player movement.

This year Joe Drabin and Colin DeAugustine have both moved up to the USHL to play for the Youngstown Phantoms.

From last year's team, Andrew McDonald made the move up the USHL to play for Fargo. And Cody Gylling had started the season with Fargo before being released.

Also being able to get players college commitments is another factor in players wanting to play for that team. If a player has a chance to play for a team that colleges often get players from, it's a no-brainer to try and play for that team.

When we think of someone being traded we think that the team didn't want that player that they traded, which isn't always the case. When making a trade, to get something you've got to get rid of something, and some times that's a really good player.

If you look at the Gylling trade, we lost a really good player, but Amarillo lost a really good player in Omar Mullan. It goes both ways.

The move worked out for both teams, and most of the time they do.

When a trade happens it's because the team is looking to add to their current roster. Sometimes they're looking to add for years to come.

As we said before, there are or could be other factors to consider when a trade happens, but let's take a look at the Kessler deal.

Why would the Wilderness make this trade? Their head coach was the Alaska Avalanches head coach, and had coached Kessler before. He was familiar with him and could use his defense on his team.

Kessler being a player that would be over age at the end of the season would be leaving Johnstown at the end of the year anyway. The production he's been able to do in his career, gave him good value on the trade market. Johnstown picked up a tender and other assets which could prove to be something that helps the team for the next couple of season.

With enough d-men already on the team, it was a good trade for both sides to make. As we said, there could be other reasons a trade is made, but looking at it strictly from an on-ice perspective, it a trade that can only make Johnstown, and the Wilderness stronger.

Players can be released by a team too. This can happen for several reasons. The most obvious is when the player is deemed to not be good enough for this level of play. But it can also be that he's just not ready to play at the Tier 2 level, or there just isn't enough room for the player on the roster.

The team is allowed to carry 25 players for the first month of the season and then the teams have to trim that roster down to 23 players. No matter how much you'd love to keep everyone, it's just not possible.

Another reason might come from the player himself. Players can and do ask to be released from a team. We as fans like to think that every player would love to play for our team, but that's just not the case. Sure, players love to play in a city where there is support for the hockey team, but these players have the goal of committing to colleges. Sometimes to obtain that goal, it's best if they move on.

If a player isn't getting a lot of ice time they might ask to be released, especially if the player is in his last season of junior eligibly. He wants to get the best looks from colleges and if he's not playing he won't be seen.

Again, a player might not fit the system. If you look at the NHL, a player like  Pavel Datsyuk would not fit playing for a team like the Philadelphia Flyers. He just doesn't play their style of hockey.

Some players get home sick, that's just a fact. Sometimes they ask to be released so they can play closer to home.

These are only a couple of examples.

Currently the Tomahawks have 10 players that are 1993 birth years. This mean they will not be playing junior hockey next season. Guys like Hall, Watt, and Reinholz, no matter how much we like them, won't be around much longer.

The thing I've learned is to enjoy watching the players that are currently playing. I do this for both sides. We all have our favorites and that's fine. Who knows, you might be watching a player that will some day play in the NHL.

If you beat yourself up too much when a player leaves, then it only makes sense you probably won't be able to last to long as a fan of junior hockey, as there is always a new player moving in and an old player moving out.

But if you understand that player movements are part of the game, and they can benefit both sides (teams and players), it can make dealing with those movements a lot better.


Here are the number of players that were traded, released, or called up last year, team by team, in the north division. Some times it might feel like we're the only ones making moves but really, every team makes moves, and it's usually a lot during the long season.

Soo- 20
Jamestown- 11
Kalamazoo- 13
Port Huron- 18
Johnstown- 13
Springfield- 19
Janesville- 23
Michigan- 14


Anonymous said...

Great article. Keep up the good work!Alan

Jon Kohan said...

Thanks for the kind words, and for checking out the blog!