In recent seasons the Thunder may have looked to make a minor move at the Central Hockey League trading deadline, but Wichita was just as content to let the deadline come and go.
The past two Thunder teams were gearing up for runs to the CHL finals and weren’t in need of many upgrades. This year, the Thunder is teetering on the edge of the playoff picture and seeking out more drastic improvements.
Monday’s trade deadline may pass quietly for Wichita, but it won’t be for lack of effort.
“I’ve been in trade talks all year, especially since the year we’ve been having,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “I’ve been talking to other coaches and stuff like that, but it’s very difficult to get deals done.”
The CHL landscape makes midseason trading nearly impossible. Eight of 10 teams reach the postseason, and with expansion team St. Charles owning eight fewer wins than the ninth-place Thunder, nearly every team is looking toward the playoffs.
That makes teams reluctant to part with players who could make a difference elsewhere, and though buyers could potentially offer future considerations or money, the “win now” approach for most clubs makes those kind of deals even more unlikely.
The league’s last trade came on Jan. 10 and seven have happened all season.
“The trade deadline is on Monday, but we’ve been months trying to make deals,” McClelland said. “… When you’re offering up players from your team, you’re just not getting fair value back. You can make a trade just to make a trade for cosmetic reasons, but I’m not in the business for that.”
Wichita is in an odd position of likely needing a move to solidify playoff positioning but looking at benefits for avoiding a trade and disrupting the chemistry it took a long time to develop. The Thunder was beset by injuries in October and November before regaining its collective health; in the last two months Wichita is 13-8.
With improved play from most key positions, depth is the Thunder’s most pressing need according to McClelland. If Wichita strikes out in trade-seeking, it could improve by signing players from the recently disbanded San Francisco ECHL franchise or those whose seasons are wrapping up overseas.
“You’re always looking to make moves,” McClelland said. “Our consistency with our hockey club this year doesn’t alter that, whether we’re playing well or not, because you know the inconsistency is going to be back. That’s got to be fixed. Without throwing names out there, I’ve gotten a few nibbles but nobody wants to give anything back.”
Wichita could accomplish the same purpose as a trade through improvement from some of its mainstays. Veterans RG Flath, Matt Summers and Matt Robinson are all experiencing regression after keying the playoff runs of the past two seasons – a return to form from any or all of them could serve as the upgrade the Thunder needs.
That may be what the Thunder is left with, since CHL trading is often a futile exercise.
“We have been playing better, but there’s still some fine-tuning I would like to do no matter how we’re playing,” McClelland said. “It’s going to be very hard, obviously, with 72 hours left to make a trade. It’s going to be very difficult to make ones, but I’m not going to do one just to appease people.”