If you are a London Knights fan feeling frustration or anger right now, you need to do something.
Go to Youtube or Spotify or your favourite reasonable facsimile and find a song that was written in the late 1950s. It was recorded by everyone from The Limelighters to The Seekers, but “Turn! Turn! Turn!” didn’t get a whole lot of notice until the Byrds recorded in 1965.
Load it up and put it on. Have a listen. It’s as calming a song as Sailing by Christopher Cross, but the words have better meaning for the way you happen to be feeling right now.
If you want to really put a stop to your frustration following trades of Knights veterans for young players and draft picks, you need to examine the art of building a team in Major Junior hockey.
Hockey at the junior level is not like hockey at the NHL level, and not just because the players tend to be younger and thinner.
You have players for a very short period of time and getting a team into a position to win a championship is a lot like trying to juggle a school of piranhas while treading water in the ocean. Many things happen that are very much out of your control and at anytime something could bite you on the hand.
You have two main strategies:
- Live life like there is no tomorrow
- Live life like there will be a tomorrow that you would very much like to be a part of
In the first scenario, you have a good hockey team. You are winning more games than you are losing and you decide you would like to try to win it all. You take every valuable draft pick, prospect and young player in your organization and you trade them for every veteran star you can find. You are Charlie Sheen. You are Mickey Rourke. You are every member of Guns ‘N Roses (except maybe for Slash).
That kind of maneuvering has been common in 2018. Hamilton and Kingston are two teams that have moved key pieces of their future in an attempt to win now. They could experience large slides down the standings next season and might need a bit of time to climb back up.
After their run to the 2014 Memorial Cup final, the Guelph Storm went through something very similar. They finished last in 2014-15 and then second-to-last the following season and they are hovering around the .500 mark this year. If living life like there is no tomorrow makes you a champion, then it all feels worth it. If it doesn’t, there is a major hangover that can last years.
The second scenario is harder to pull off, but it can still bring success. The hardest part about rebuilding your team on the fly is making the decision to do it. To do it right, you must give your older, marquee players a chance to join a contender in exchange for younger, unproven players whose names your fan base doesn’t know. That kind of trigger-pulling thought process is the kind of thing that causes general managers to wake up suddenly in the middle of the night wondering if what they are doing is actually the right move. What if they had kept all those players and added a couple more? Could they have won? But that’s what differentiates those GMs from the ones living like there is no tomorrow. It has been a trait of the London Knights since Mark and Dale Hunter purchased the team in 2000.
One of the first major deals the Knights made sent their captain, Chris Kelly, and Dan Jancevski to Sudbury for Dennis Wideman and draft picks. That was the start of London’s build toward a Memorial Cup victory in 2005.
In 2011, the Knights traded their captain again. Sending Michael D’Orazio to Mississauga was one of five trades made around the deadline. A year later, a fairly young London team was in the Memorial Cup final in Shawinigan. Their fourth line was made up of Chris Tierney, Josh Anderson and Bo Horvat. People might have been familiar with Horvat, but Tierney and Anderson were not overly recognizable. Now they both play in the National Hockey League with Horvat. That build on the fly brought London back-to-back OHL Championships and three straight trips to the Memorial Cup.
In 2015, Dakota Mermis and Michael McCarron moved to Oshawa in two separate trades. The deals brought the Knights a 16-year old Cliff Pu and draft picks. They also helped turn London into Memorial Cup Champions in 2016.
In the end, it’s the willingness to evaluate your present situation and to see a bit of the future that allows you to take steps forward without having to slide all the way back.
With 60 teams in the running to win the Memorial Cup each year, there are no guarantees. But when people talk about and wonder how the London Knights manage to stay competitive year after year, what they have done with the trades they have made in January is an up-close look at part of the formula that makes it happen.
On Jan. 4, the Knights acquired 17-year old forward Nathan Dunkley, a second-round pick in 2020 and a third-round pick in 2019 from Kingston for Cliff Pu. Dunkley was the Frontenacs’ first round pick in 2016, 17th overall.
On Jan. 7, London acquired 17-year old forward Sergey Popov, a second-round pick in 2023 and a third-round pick in 2021 from the Frontenacs for Max Jones. Popov was Kingston’s second-round pick in 2016.
On Jan. 8, the Knights acquired 16-year-old forward Connor McMichael, a second-round pick, three conditional second-round picks (two contingent on whether Thomas returns in 2018-19) and a conditional third-round pick for Robert Thomas. McMichael was the 11th overall selection in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection.
On Jan. 9, London traded Sam Miletic and a third-round pick in 2018 to Niagara for second rounders in ’18, ’24 and ’25 and a third-round pick in 2022.