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Around the VHL: February 14th, 2021

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It’s been a great week to be a VHL fan. So many interesting storylines to explore, so many major trades and roster moves - none of them waited until the actual deadline, but still this particular midseason has been far more active than usual. It seems largely to be the result of a rather unusual standings, where the top and bottom of the league are in the European Conference, which has crammed the North American Conference all largely toward the middle. 4 of the top 6 (1, 2, 4, and 6 as of the time of writing) are European teams, and 4 of the bottom 7 (1, 3, 6, and 7) are also European teams. This has left a lot of teams feeling like they’re in position to pass up a team or two in front of them, or needing to make a move to stave off a pass by a team or two below them. 


There are a few packs of teams wherein the final positions are largely yet up for debate, and these moves could alter such positions; this would surely be the thought process behind most of the moves themselves. One such team, the Vancouver Wolves, saw themselves in a neck and neck race with the Chicago Phoenix for the top North American team, and as a result, decided to buy in somewhat and traded for SS Hornet from Davos. Obviously Davos is in a position to trade away what they have, as they’re not only in last but they’re not particularly close to any other teams. In order to fit Hornet though, Vancouver had to part with Kevin King, so it’s not as much of an upgrade as it might have been otherwise. Speaking of King, as part of the same trade, he was brought in by London in an attempt to make the final playoff spot in Europe. At the time, they were chasing Malmo for the 5th seed, and their addition of King (plus a move we’ll get to in a bit) helped them pass Malmo. Unfortunately for them, it did not prevent Riga from making a few moves of their own and passing both them and Malmo. Despite the fact that it hasn’t immediately worked out for them in the standings, the King addition is still a good move for London as he’s still got several seasons in the tank. It certainly made more sense to add London in as a third team in the trade than to send King to Davos, who really aren’t set up to use him at the moment. 


There were, however, two external factors that contributed to London’s positioning just as much as their own trade, as we’ve just alluded to. The first, and the one that’s beneficial to London, was the Prague-Malmo trade. Prague sold off just a bit of their seemingly bright future in order to improve significantly in the present, bringing in Grekkark Gyrfalcon and Jungkok from Malmo, while prospect Eeli Rantanen and longtime Phantom Woody McPine going the other way as well as picks. This is an interesting move from Prague’s perspective, because the gap is so far between them and Helsinki (although it has closed slightly since the trade, and there’s enough time left that overturning it is doable, if not entirely likely) and arguably this season is still probably not it; it does, however, set them up for a decent chance this season and a better one over the next few. The prospect pool is one of the deeper in the league and as these players start to come up, having a few stronger pieces could make all the difference in the world. Malmo, on the other hand, is clearly entering a rebuild. Perhaps a strange move coming off of a cup win, but with a few players in their last season and this particular season looking unlikely for them, it’s a logical direction to take. McPine was basically just for roster balance, as Prague could not carry 3 goalies and Fletcher, as the young prospect, made more sense to keep. Rantanen and the picks, however, will be a solid kickstart to Malmo’s rebuild, under whichever GM takes over as Frostbeard steps down from the position. Much respect to the man, both for time served, and for knowing when he’s just no longer in a position to do it. Best of luck with everything Frosty. 


The other (and more detrimental) factor in how the trades worked out for London is perhaps an even stranger one. It again sees Malmo take a step back, with Ray Sheilds, Oscar Lagesson, and Guy Sasakamoose heading out. The destination, however, was not an expected one. Riga, out of the playoffs entirely at the time (and at best likely to get the 5 seed) traded for two guys in their last season in Lagesson and Sasakamoose. Sheilds at least is a bit of a calculated gamble; it’s feasible that Riga’s competitive window could start up again before he is retired as he has two seasons after this one. Perhaps part of the price for Sheilds (as my autocorrect tries for a third time to get me to invert the e and the i to the more standardized spelling) was to take on the retirees, giving them perhaps a final playoff berth that Malmo was attempting to relinquish, for all the good it’ll do as the 5 seed. Nonetheless, Lagesson and Sasakamoose can have no complaints, coming off of a cup win just the season prior. Riga was certainly in a position where they could afford to make this trade - there’s a reason I said Prague’s prospect pool was one of the deeper in the league. Riga was by far the deepest prior to this deal, and much of what they gave up was future depth more than future stars anyway. Middling prospects along with a few inactives that weren’t really developed enough to help, as well as picks that they really don’t need as the pool is already as full as it is. Ultimately, while they might not have been a team that fits the standard buyer profile, it was a shot worth taking, primarily for the extended length of Sheilds going forward. It’s also refreshing to see two teams so far from the competitive end of the scale actually trying to compete and get into the final playoff spot, considering the league tries to frown upon tanking.


The North American Conference has largely been quieter on the trade front - odd, given their more tightly packed nature as compared to the European Conference, but that’s not to say they’ve been entirely quiet. In addition to the Vancouver trade that brought them SS Hornet, a few other teams have picked up pieces from Davos. It’s interesting that despite their place in the standings, Davos had a lot of pieces worth trading for, despite their inability to get things to work with these players together on one team. Seattle, a team who has had significant success in recent memory, brought in Soren Jensen for his final season. Jensen has arguably been a bit cursed in terms of the teams he’s ended up on, with his entire career between Davos and New York prior to this move. It would be a fitting end if he does especially well this season in Seattle. Meanwhile, Chicago, the team currently atop the North American standings, actually kicked off the whole flurry of trades by bringing in Robin Winter. Originally seen as largely a pair with Hornet and the potential future backbone of Davos in the contending period they were expected to have, Winter has fallen somewhat back of Hornet in recent seasons but is still a solid player in his own right. Perhaps it’s fitting, with Vancouver and Chicago being the top two teams in North America at this time, that Hornet and Winter now must see each other as adversaries. The final trade is a much smaller one - DC, the third North American team (despite a gap in front of them to Chicago and Vancouver) picked up the retiring Lewis Dawson. Dawson is a worse acquisition than Winter and/or Hornet, in no small part because of his pending retirement, and likely won’t be enough to bridge the gap to Chicago and Vancouver who acquired players of their own. It’s still a decent move for DC though as once a team is in the playoffs, anything can happen and anyone can get hot at the right time.


That wraps up the tumultuous week or so of trades in the VHL, and it’s been unexpectedly busy and exciting this season because of these trades. The effects of these trades on the fortunes of the teams that executed them remains to be seen, as it’s only been a few days for some, and approximately a week for most. With a quarter of the season left to go, we might be in for some genuine playoff races, both for seeding as well as for simply making the playoffs at all.

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