These are crazy times in the Ontario Hockey League. With the OHL's London Knights hosting the Memorial Cup this year, it seems both the trade market and rumour mill have spun out of control.
The latest bit of speculation came on the heels of Tuesday's blockbuster deal which saw the Windsor Spitfires move star forward Kerby Rychel and defenceman Nick Ebert within the conference to the Guelph Storm in exchange for Brody Milne and a long list of draft picks.
Tony Saxon of the Guelph Mercury, a veteran OHL reporter, had originally reported the deal as involving Windsor defenceman Slater Koekkoek — a Tampa Bay Lightning prospect. When the Koekkoek portion of the report failed to materialize, the assumption was the 19-year-old blueliner had used his no-trade clause. And that's where the rumours of Koekkoek holding the Spits hostage for a deal to the London Knights kicked in because:
1. How could he be happy playing in Windsor?
2. The London Knights are hosting the Memorial Cup
3. Everyone wants to play for the London Knights
4. It's the London Knights
5. London Knights!
According to Koekkoek's agent, Murray Kuntz, Koekkoek is very happy to be a member of the Windsor Spitfires and has never asked GM Warren Rychel for a trade to London. In addition, Kuntz says the defenceman is only likely to entertain a trade if the Windsor Spitfires are out of the playoff picture by the Jan. 10, trade deadline.
"Slater Koekkoek never said anything about only wanting to play for London," said Kuntz via email. "This is more about the appreciation he has for the Windsor coaching staff and all they have done for his game than anything else.
"If Windsor falls out of the (p)layoffs and the team approaches him then we will look at everything."
UPDATE: Spoke to someone in the Spitfires organization who confirms Koekkoek has never made a trade demand to be sent to the London Knights.
The first-round pick of the Lightning started his OHL career off with the Peterborough Petes under less than ideal conditions. The organization at the time was dysfunctional (good people out of touch with junior hockey) which eventually prompted an exodus of top players like Austin Watson, Ryan Spooner, Matt Puempel and Alan Quine.
Under new management, the Petes then traded Koekkoek to Windsor at the deadline last year. He only played two games for the Spitfires before requiring a second surgery on his left shoulder that ended his season.
It's understandable then that Koekkoek might afford Windsor coach Bob Boughner and his staff a little loyalty after bringing him into a stable situation. Despite an injury-plagued junior stint, he's on pace for a career-best season with six goals and 17 assists in 26 games.
At present, the Spitfires are in fifth place (34 points) in the Western Conference standings — six points behind the fourth place Knights. But after the recent trades in the conference with Guelph landing Kerby Rychel and Erie trading for Brendan Gaunce, the chances of Windsor keeping pace with the powerhouses are slim. They should still make playoffs though, given the situation at the bottom of the standings with Kitchener (21 points) and Sarnia (20 points) both young teams under rookie OHL head coaches.
If Windsor drops further it'll be up to Koekkoek and his camp to decide how he wants to finish his OHL season and potential junior career — with security or with a title shot?