Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Could a player play for a team BEFORE he actually gets traded there?

Only in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

It appears former Halifax Mooseheads defenceman Garrett Clarke (photo) will do just that, suiting up for the Shawinigan Cataractes before the trade window opens on Dec. 19.

No time machine necessary, just take a disgruntled player, and add convoluted transaction rules (also cumin and coriander, Rachael Ray puts that on everything).

The quirky cousin in the CHL limits in-season trading to 20-year-olds and imports, except for a three-week period around Christmas. Meant to provide stability for players who are also students, the rule can occasionally end up hurting a player who falls out of favor with his team, as Clarke has.

This year, however, Shawinigan may be able to take advantage of a change that opens a loophole for players stuck in situations such as Clarke’s.

Shawinigan general manager Martin Mondou said a deal is in place to acquire Clarke from the Mooseheads.

“He’s going to be playing his first game for our ‘farm team’ – we own a junior AAA team in La Tuque – and he’s going to be playing there on Friday,” Mondou said.

Mondou continued to explain that Clarke could play up to 10 games with Shawinigan as an “affiliate player,” which seems to open the door to him playing with the Cats before Dec. 19.

So could Clarke be wearing a Shawinigan uniform before it’s officially announced that he’s traded there?

“We don’t know yet, we’ll see, it could be,” said Mondou, who did not reveal what the Cataractes will be giving up for the sixth overall pick in the 2008 QMJHL draft.

Halifax owner/coach Bobby Smith, who made the decision to cut ties with Clarke, provided a similarly ambiguous answer.

“We’ll just have to see. There’s a new rule that came in that affected that, we’ll see how that falls into place,” said Smith, who did not confirm the trade.

The league officially announced a trade earlier this year between Shawinigan and the Gatineau Olympiques that sent overager Tommy Tremblay to Gatineau for 17-year-old Cedric Dubois. In previous years, that trade would not have been announced. Gatineau would have sent a “draft pick” – wink, wink, nudge, nudge – to Shawinigan, which would have been flipped back for the player at Christmas. Instead, Dubois has been able to get on with his career, playing junior AAA and suiting up for two games as an affiliate with Shawinigan.

Shawinigan has 15 games remaining before Clarke can become an “official” member of the roster, but they could easily let him get his legs back in junior AAA for a week or two, then integrate him into their lineup seamlessly as an affiliate.

The change is a good one for players, who don’t have to languish at a lower level just because their style of play or attitude doesn’t mesh with a certain coach.

I’m reminded of Marc-Andre Labelle, a former Moncton Wildcats forward who flourished as a rookie under John Torchetti in 2006-07, but didn’t fit into Danny Flynn’s plans the following year. Labelle went from a solid 35 points in 67 games to just four points in 15 games in a miserable first half of his 18-year-old season spent mostly in the press box. Labelle was eventually traded to the Chicoutimi Sagueneens but never recaptured his earlier promise and was out of junior hockey the next season.

I’m not saying Labelle was destined for The Show, but he certainly had potential and would have benefited from getting on with his career as soon as possible. Mondou hopes Clarke will get that chance in Shawinigan.

“Halifax has been very honest with us on the issues with Garrett, our coach (Eric Veilleux) has talked to him and we’ll see if he can put this aside and become a Cataracte,” Mondou said.

Writer Nathan White is a QMJHL correspondent for Buzzing the Net. You can reach him at n8bw7@yahoo.com or on Twitter @nbwhite.

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