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Saint John Sea Dogs’ Mike Kelly happy with rebuild, despite no return for Jonathan Huberdeau

Saint John's Mike Kelly added 3 players and 9 draft picks by moving veteran players at the deadline (CHL Image …Saint John Sea Dogs coach and director of hockey operations Mike Kelly didn’t hide the fact that the offers were not there for star Sea Dog and Florida Panthers prospect Jonathan Huberdeau at last week's QMJHL trade deadline.

“Nobody was close,” he said.

“We were pretty honest with everybody. We were told there was a 99.9 per cent chance he wasn’t coming back.”

Huberdeau, 19, was the Panthers' No. 3 overall draft pick in 2011. He came within a hair of making the Florida lineup last season, before the Panthers thought better and returned him to Saint John. He is a virtual lock to make the team , but had to wait for the NHL and NHLPA to come to terms with a new collective bargaining agreement. He had 45 points in 30 games this season for the Sea Dogs.

Kelly said the details of a potential deal became very difficult to negotiate considering the possibility of Huberdeau not returning to the QMJHL. He added that the market on Huberdeau crashed when the new CBA was agreed to in principle on Jan. 6, fewer than 48 hours before the Q's deadline.

“It got quite complicated,” he said. “There were issues involved, such as if he stays in the National Hockey League then there was compensation, stuff like that. As soon as [the new CBA was announced], people knew he was going to be in Florida. That was pretty common knowledge.

“I think at the end of the day people just said, ‘You know what? It’s probably not worth it.’ and the focus was on the other guys.”

A similar scenario played out in the OHL with three of Huberdeau's Team Canada teammates. The Niagara IceDogs ultimately did not get the right offer for either Boston Bruins prospect Dougie Hamilton, New York Islanders prospect Ryan Strome or Dallas Stars prospect Brett Ritchie, who all headed to NHL camps. Ritchie and Strome actually did request that their OHL rights stay in Niagara.

Wanted players for Huby, not just picks

Despite not moving his biggest asset, Kelly was able to revamp his roster with youth during the league’s trading period, shipping out experienced veterans Stephen MacAulay, Kevin Gagne, Ryan Tesink and Aidan Kelly, who were part of the Sea Dogs' back-to-back President's Cup triumphs and their 2011 MasterCard Memorial Cup victory. In exchange, he acquired three players and nine draft picks in total, including two first-round picks this season.

“There was definite emphasis to rebuild our team,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we had the draft picks.

“If we didn’t get the return [that he wanted on MacAulay, Tesink and Gagne], we weren’t going to move them. We did.”

Kelly elaborated that Huberdeau’s asking price would have been roster players for next season, and not just draft picks or prospects.

“There’s two parts to it,” Kelly explained. “The first part, obviously, was to get draft picks which we felt we needed. The second part was if Jonathan was available to be moved, then we would have been looking more for players for next year, which would have accelerated the rebuild.

“We’re happy with our group," added Kelly, whose Sea Dogs (18-25-0-0) are holding down the second-to-last playoff position at 15th overall. "We’ve got 18 players eligible to return next year. The experience we get this year will accelerate our rebuild.”

Mike Sanderson is a QMJHL correspondent for Buzzing The Net.

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