Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Saying the London Knights regret the John Tavares Christian Thomas trade to two seasons ago is a stretch. At least GM Mark Hunter is willing to admit his team is facing a reckoning for trading away young players, including likely Team Canada candidate Thomas, during its bids for Ontario Hockey League championships in 2008 and '09.

"Wondering why the Knights have only won 11 of their first 22 games this season? That draft is a pretty good place to start.

" 'I don't know if it's our worst,' said London GM Mark Hunter, who has an encyclopedic memory of OHL drafts and picks. "We didn't have a third-rounder that year. We traded (goalie) Michael Zador and Scott Valentine in the Tavares-Del Zotto deal. We sent Barron Smith to Peterborough for Trevor Cann.

" 'Teams who make big trades really have to think long and hard before they do it. You'll be forced to play catch-up. When you make a big trade, you have to hit on your late picks and we weren't able to do that (in 2007). Don't blame anyone but me. It was my fault.'

That class of '07 is now 19 years old. At this point, those core group of players should be carrying their OHL teams.

"It's how Owen Sound is challenging for first and why Mississauga St. Michael's has the best record in the league." (London Free Press)

The Knights (.568 point percentage, fifth in the OHL's 10-team Western Conference) are still somewhat competitive. They're not in league basement à la the Barrie Colts.

The question really boils down to what the paying public wants. It might be a false dichotomy, but has anyone ever polled diehards to see what they prefer, a team which might make the MasterCard Memorial Cup but then crash hard, or one which stays mid-pack season after season?

The Knights aren't likely to touch the 102 points it ground out last season, but are averaging 8,955 fans at the John Labatt Centre, a less than one per cent drop from the same point last season. Those Colts, after the Cup-host Majors and Owen Sound, have the third-largest largest attendance increases in the OHL, up more than 400 fans per game.

The Calgary Hitmen, who have also taken the freight elevator from the penthouse to a basement apartment, have also since their attendance hold firm at a time when many Western Hockey League teams are treading water at the gate.

The real test comes the following season, after expectations have been doused. But one common thread with the Knights, or Barrie, or the Kitchener Rangers a few seasons back, or Calgary, is by and large each team was in a marketplace that trusted that product. Having a base which is willing to ride it out justifies the risk, but what if a franchise doesn't have that?

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

(Photo: Terry Wilson, OHL Images.)

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