If you follow our sports coverage, then you may remember a column in which I ranted about a recent trade that was executed by Flint Firebirds’ general manager Terry Christensen. He sent goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic and defenseman Josh Wesley, two Carolina Hurricanes’ prospects, to Niagara for goaltender Brent Moran and five future Ontario Hockey League Draft picks.
I still think the trade heavily favored Niagara, but I have to admit, Moran impressed me last Tuesday with a 52-save performance in an overtime loss to Hamilton. He wouldn’t have had to face that many shots if we still had Wesley, and we probably win the game if Nedeljkovic was between the pipes, but I digress.
This time around, my rant has to do with a trade that took place this past Sunday. Christensen sent right wing Connor Chatham, a New Jersey Devils prospect, as well as second and fourth round OHL Draft selections in 2017 to the Windsor Spitfires in exchange for forward Luke Kirwan.
In case you’re unfamiliar, Chatham was one of Flint’s best players. In 34 games, he scored 11 goals and assisted in 18 others. Kirwan, however, has totaled just two goals and two assists in 31 games. Tell me how that trade makes sense?
“It’s tough for us to let a guy like Connor Chatham go but we are building for the future,” said Christensen in a press release. “When Kirwan came into the OHL, he was projected as a top draft pick in the National Hockey League. We’re hoping that a new environment alongside John Gruden’s coaching will bring out the very best in Luke’s game.”
Okay. Maybe he was projected to be an NHL Draft pick, but so far he hasn’t even come close to living up to that billing at the OHL level. Secondly, the only way that this helps in the future is if you consider that Kirwan will be able to stick around in Flint an extra season or so because Chatham is most assuredly going to end up in the pros in the next year or two. Aside from that, it’s a bad deal for Flint.
Apparently, I’m not the only one with this opinion, either. When news of the trade broke out on social media on Sunday, fans began to bash the trade, as well as the other questionable deals that Christensen has made all season. In fact, before it became official, here’s what one person had to say about it on the Twitter page of OHL Insiders.
“One thing I can absolutely guarantee is if Connor Chatham is moved out of Flint, it will be in a deal where Flint gets absolutely fleeced.”
Well, that turned out to be 100 percent correct; Flint got the shaft in this deal. But you can’t blame Windsor for that. Christensen is the one who agreed to the deal, as well as the other head-scratching trades he’s made this season.
In the Nedeljkovic- Wesley deal, he claimed the trade was to help them move toward their goal of making the playoffs this season, but in reality, it did nothing to help this season, whatsoever. If anything, it helped the future. Now with this trade, the future is all he seems to be interested in.
Here’s what he doesn’t seem to understand; this team was already pretty talented at the beginning of the year. He should’ve let them stick together and see how far it would’ve taken them. With a new franchise, you want to put the best product on the ice as you possibly can to help build a fan base and get the team on solid footing within the league. Without that, there is no future to build on.
Ironically, as I wrote this column, the Firebirds apparently shared my opinion, also. Less than 24 hours before it went to press, the ownership promoted head coach John Gruden to general manager, as well as continuing his run as the head coach.
I know this franchise is young, but it was long overdue. Gruden is a solid hockey mind and knows what he’s doing. It’s hard enough to run a first-year team without your general manager constantly shipping your best players out of town. Christensen has an opportunity to stay with the organization, but in a smaller capacity.