For Marty Williamson, it must be like playing poker at Hogwarts — those three aces in his hand could suddenly disappear thanks to unseen forces. The lockout windfall that the Niagara IceDogs received from getting defenceman Dougie Hamilton, right wing Brett Ritchie and centre Ryan Strome from the very start of the season until they departed for Team Canada has been a big twist in the OHL season.
Now the impasse is affecting how entire league approaches the Jan. 10 trade deadline. The IceDogs have three bona fide 19-year-old stars, which usually is a prompt to load up for a playoff run. But coach-GM Williamson, whose team struggled to score Thursday without its big guns, also has to restock with draft picks as the IceDogs look to be a contender when their new arena opens in St. Catharines, Ont., in a couple seasons. Ron Burgundy was never in such a pickle.
From Sean Fitz-Gerald:
If the collective bargaining talks between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association tiptoe to an agreement — the sides met at an undisclosed location on Wednesday — [Hamilton, Ritchie and Strome], could be gone forever.
"With those guys, we're competitive every night; we have three of the best players in the league," Williamson said. "We have a nice little supporting cast around them. And maybe if I added a player or two, we can take a shot at this thing and take another run at trying to win a championship. If we lose those three guys, then the mentality is different here."
"You go into what you thought in the summertime, that it's more of a rebuild year; it's more about development," he said. "Winning the championship isn't really a possibility when you lose those three guys. That's a reality that sets into our team."
... Niagara is only three points out of first place in its conference. The three players have combined for 57 goals, or 46% of the team's total output. (National Post)
Niagara coach-GM Marty Williamson (OHL Images)The IceDogs (19-12-1-1, .606 point pct.) are within striking distance of the Eastern Conference leads, as Fitz-Gerald noted. Their record might be inflated. By Rob Pettapiece's reckoning, the IceDogs have played the weakest schedule in the entire 60-team Canadian Hockey League.
The other top two teams in the East haven't exactly skated a gauntlet, either. The second-place Belleville Bulls (19-9-3-1, .656) are 54th (or seventh-lowest) in strength of schedule. The Eastern-leading Barrie Colts (21-9-0-1, .694) are 41st. In other words, it's not clear if any team should take its gaudy record to the bank. The Mississauga Steelheads' strength of schedule is 31st; that's what happens when you play London twice in the first half and earn a 'tie' in one of those, I guess.
The IceDogs leveraged their future heavily to make their consecutive runs deep into the playoffs in the past two seasons. It is in their interest to recoup the second-round choices in the next three OHL priority selection drafts they anted up to go for a title. But how can a team trade an asset when no one knows about his availability when/if the NHL season is saved?
The trickle-down effect on teams that will be sellers also deserves comment. Dougie Hamilton, hands down, would be the most highly sought defenceman if the IceDogs are able to trade. That affects the return the last-place Ottawa 67's would get for their final-year defenceman, Ottawa Senators draft choice Cody Ceci. The same goes for either Ritchie or Strome and any other team with a big trade chip. Like the kids say, it's complicated.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.