There is an old adage in hockey that says "some times the best trades are the trades you don't make" and that's what Acadia Golden Bears GM Guy Flaming hopes is true after the 2017 SICHL deadline.
Acadia has been in unfamiliar territory for much of the season; in the middle of the pack without being able to make much ground on the teams ahead of them in the standings. Sure, the 2-time defending champions do have a winning record (.585) and are comfortably in a playoff spot, but after 3 years of Commissioner Trophy finishes it has been tough for the team to accept mediocrity.
"We're better than this, we are, but we haven't been playing like it for much of the year," said captain Brooks Orpik, "I don't know if it's a championship hangover or whatever but I know that when I look around the dressing room, I see a collection of guys who are better than 5th or 6th place in the conference."
Prior to the deadline, Acadia had only executed one trade all season and that, sending the rights to Nic Meloche to Boston, was one that had zero implication to the current roster. As the March 12th line in the sand got closer and movement around the league began to heat up, GM Flaming decided he didn't want to stand pat any longer.
"The plan was to either tinker a little bit and fill out some depth for the playoffs or to try and complete something larger that would make us better and maybe light a fire under some guys in our room," said Flaming.
Through much of February Flaming was trying to contact his frequent trade partner, the GM of the Toronto Titans.
"Weeks went by without any response and so I gave up and had to look elsewhere. That's when I called Sheetal."
Acadia and the Chicago Tigers made a simple swap of an impending UFA and a mid-round pick for a prospect and a late round pick.
Grossman played 82 games for the Bears back in 2013-14 and 15 more games in the playoffs that spring. He brings experience and solid defensive play although he joins the team while sidelined by a knee injury.
"I don't know how much Nik will actually play for us but he's a solid insurance chip in case we have any injury issues," said Flaming.
From there Flaming worked the phones to try and find some offence for his team. Although the Bears are in the top tier of the league in goals for, there are players on the roster who have underachieved in their production.
"I expect more from guys like Jordan Eberle and James Neal," Flaming confirmed, "And it seemes like no matter who (Dave) Hakstol plays them with, they can't get going. So yes, I was looking to shake things up and I talked to a number of GMs about guys I thought would fit the bill but it just didn't come together."
Flaming wouldn't confirm it but sources say that he pursued scoring forwards from clubs like Winnipeg, Reykjavik and Las Vegas but was unable to pull off those deals.
Then suddenly, near the last minute, the Bears heard from the Titans.
"Out of no where I get a reply from Derrick," said Flaming who had previously wanted to try and acquire Ryan McDoangh, "This was after I had already re-acquired Grossman so my need for a blueliner was gone, however, having my doubts that I was going to be able to get a forward I decided to try and get Ryan again."
McDonagh, a 26-year-old blue chipper has another year left on his current contract so the Bears will be able to extend him again before he reaches free agency. To acquire him they had to give up Scott Hartnell, who the Titans may decide to make their franchise player, center Nic Dowd and prospect Nelson Nogier.
"Scotty was one of the players that I expected more from this year and in the end, with him becoming a UFA this summer, it became clear we were not going to Franchise him so he became avaialble," explained Flaming. "Dowd looked good on the farm this year and I expect he'll be a regular in the SICHL next season while Nogier was a longshot to ever make our team because of our blueline depth."
Flaming desperately worked the phones all day on Monday looking to find a replacement for Hartnell and even shopped other impending free agents like Jay McClement and Lauri Korpikoski. Although he had many conversations, and a near deal with Whitehorse, Flaming failed to add a new forward to the SICHL roster.
The Bears made one final trade in the half hour ahead of the deadline.
"I like Pysyk a lot and think he will play in the SICHL for a long time but our depth allowed us to make this move," said Flaming.
VandeVelde rejoins the team that originally drafted him way back in 2005, the first year Acadia took part in the SICHL Entry Draft. He's been sent to the Villains but remains an option for recall should the need arise.
For Acadia, the key piece in the return for Pysyk is defenceman Tucker Poolman.
"He's big and strong and can play either as a forward or as a defenceman. He's a bit like Dustin Byfuglien in that regard," said Flaming, "He's finishing up at North Dakota and I think he'll push for a roster spot with us within 3 years."
Having dealt Hartnell without replacing him has left the Bears in a quandry. Do they promote someone like Adam Lowry to take on more minutes? Do they insert Ryan Dzingel who they are paying $2.5M to be a healthy scratch? The answer is neither. Instead, Dave Hakstol has decided to move Byfuglien back up front.
"It don't know how much it will help increase scoring but 'Buff' will provide more toughness and intimidation that Hartnell did and it also allows McDonagh to slide into his defensive pairing with Jacob Trouba without anyone else having to come out of the line up," said Hakstol.
Since the trades, Acadia has gone 2-0 beating both Chicago and Havana. The team is off for three days before back-to-back outings against the Canons and Aces this weekend.