Changing Face of Express Trainby J.J. Jameson | March 16, 2016, 10:14 PM ET
"It is not a total tear-down rebuild, no." claimed GM Mark MacRae.
When a total of five veteran star players, including the team's points leader, are all traded in deals spanning less than two weeks, it is hard to see it as anything else. The Express started by trading Patrik Elias to the revolving door known as the Boston Colonials (Elias has already been traded again). Next it was a deal that sent Eric Brewer to the Brandon Wheat Kings. Most recently a 7-player trade with highway 7 rivals Acadia involving Andy Greene, Scott Hartnell and Dan Girardi.
"I see it as more a refacing." said MacRae, who took over head coaching duties earlier this year after the team got off to a slow start under longtime bench boss Cam Neely. "We've been sitting around the 8th or 9th spot in the conference all season. Never able to climb up into the top 4 where I thought we should be. The Canadian Conference is just really tough. We'd win the World Conference easily."
"It was time to do something, and I wasn't going to fire my coach."
It's hard to tell when MacRae is joking. Anyway, let's look at who and what he got in return.
Jared Spurgeon and Reilly Smith were the major pieces to the Acadia deal. Both are in the their early twenties and have the potential to be part of the (new) long term plan. With both Greene and Girardi gone, the hope is that Spurgeon will develop into a top pairing D. He certainly isn't there yet. And in fact he was injured just prior to being traded. Suspicious timing that MacRae was quick to dismiss.
"Guy and I had been talking about Spurgeon for a week or so before he got hurt. He's day-to-day as I understand it, and should be available tomorrow night when we play the Bears."
Unlike Spurgeon, Smith has been able to play since joining the Express and has already knotched two goals. But much like Spurgeon, he's also as-yet unproven in the SICHL. A 5th round pick in 2009 by the Amsterdam Admirals, he is joining his third franchise already with barely one season's worth of games under his belt. Hopefully it's third time lucky.
In the Colonials trade, we picked up plucky winger Lauri Korpikoski, who's been on fire since arriving in Fredericton. Unfortunately he's a UFA at the end of the season and it will be a crapshoot whether he stays beyond this season.
MacRae also picked up prospects Joel Edmundson, Rocco Grimaldi and Dysin Mayo, as well as several draft picks. No picks higher than a second rounder, so the most interesting "future" here is probably Edmundson. Some scouts project him to be a top-4 defensive D in the mold of an Andy Greene. With players under 25 it is never a sure bet, but here's hoping.
He can call it what he likes, but it definitely doesn't look like GM MacRae cares much about making the playoffs this year. That means that pending UFA Chris Kunitz (41 Pts in 53 GP) is likely to be moved by Sunday and beyond that, who knows...
It's a tough time to be an Express fan.