The WHL's trade deadline is approaching, and, tomorrow at 2 p.m., Kelowna's roster for this season will be written in permanent ink.
Going into Thursday, the big questions are: Who will Kelowna keep? Or trade for? Or will they do nothing?
A quick look at the standings says Kelowna should improve its already good roster. Currently, Kelowna (29-10-1-1) is tied for first in B.C. Division standings with Kamloops (28-10-2-2), though both teams are seven points behind the Western Conference-leading Portland Winterhawks (33-5-1-0).
Had the Rockets not stumbled at season's beginning, going 4-6, they could be just three points behind in the race for first overall (home-ice advantage) had it gone a decent 6-4 instead.
Still, the Rockets are to be commended for what they've done lately, which is win. Erase those first 10 games, and Kelowna's record is 25-4-1-1 in its last 31. That's heady stuff. Just not as heady as Portland during the same time span (27-2-0-0). Incidentally, the Winterhawks were 6-4 in their first 10 games.
Clearly, the Winterhawks are the class of the Western Conference. How classy? Consider this: Portland was 10-0 in its last 10 games prior to last night's results - and that was minus three of its best players in forward Ty Rattie plus blue-liners Tyler Wotherspoon and Seth Jones, who were away at the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championship in Ufa, Russia. With those three back in Portland's fold, the Hawks will be even better .
So, if winning the league title this season is Kelowna's goal, the Rockets need to improve its roster to compete with Portland. But how? And at what cost? Short or long term?
Kelowna's defence and goaltending is already solid and doesn't need to be tinkered with. The forwards are also solid, but if there's one knock, it's that they're undersized. Of Kelowna's 16 forwards, only three are 6-foot-2 or taller. Looking back to Kelowna's 2008-09 championship team, the Rockets had six players 6-2 or taller.
While it seems unfair to compare this season's roster to that stacked squad, remember this: In that season's playoff run, the Rockets not only outskilled teams, but, just importantly, outhit and outmuscled teams. For example, the Tri-City Americans had a great squad that season (49-20-0-3), but, with only three forwards 6-2 or taller, were pancaked by Kelowna. The Vancouver Giants (57-10-2-3) and Calgary Hitmen (59-9-3-1), with both teams sporting smaller rosters, also fell prey to Kelowna's lethal mix that spring.
While it'd be nice to see Kelowna add size and skill - such as Swift Current's 6-5 Adam Lowry (27 goals, 56 points in 43 games) or Brandon's 6-2 Michael Ferland (47 goals, 96 pts. in 68 games last season) - those trades are unlikely to happen.
Trades made earlier this season, and the high prices they commanded, will make valuable commodities such as Lowry and Ferland, nigh-untouchable.
Swift Current GM and head coach Mark Lamb told Broncos broadcaster Shawn Mullin that "the prices are very steep (for Lowry). He's one of the top players in the league. We want to surround him not have him leave town."
My guess? The Rockets won't do much. Prices are too high, there aren't any broken parts or parts that are in desperate need of upgrading (can you ever have enough agitators, though?) and Kelowna will return a lot of players for next season who will understand what it takes to win.
In related news, the Rockets' crowded
20-year-old scenario sorted itself out on Tuesday, with the team announcing that injured defenceman Mitchell Chapman will have ankle surgery and will be out for the rest of the season. According to the team, the 6-3 rearguard has been out with a high-ankle sprain since getting hurt on the first day of the training camp. Chapman joined Kelowna in 2009-10. He's played in 165 regular-season games and 18 playoff games.
"It was decided by our medical team today that Mitchell is likely going to need surgery," said Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton. "It's a huge blow for our organization, losing a player like that. He's been with us for three full years and missing his 20-year-old season is a tough break for him."
"He's had a lot of appointments over the last little while trying to figure out what was going on with his ankle," said Rockets coach Ryan Huska. "Then it came to the time where we had to make a decision with our 20-year-olds, and Mitchell was still struggling with it. So he's going to get it taken care of, and he'll remain in the IR until the season is over."
Tuesday's news meant that Kelowna won't have to trade one of its four 20-year-olds away to reach the league-mandated maximum of three. The other three will be forwards JT Barnett, Cody Fowlie and Dylen McKinlay - pending a trade.
"If something makes sense for our team, then (the team) will always look at it," said Huska. "We've never been a team that will make a trade to just make a trade. We're happy with the way our 20-year-olds have played; they've done a great job of giving us depth up front."
Huska added that though Chapman won't be playing, he'll still be around and is part of the team.
"That's something we've always done with players who, unfortunately, get hurt and have injuries that end their (junior) career before they should have ended," said Huska. "We try to make them a part of things as much as possible."
ICE CHIPS: The Victoria Royals were sellers on Monday, as they parted ways with D Jesse Zgraggen, 19, to the Calgary Hitmen for a fourth-round bantam pick in 2013. The trade gives the Hitmen extra depth in what will be a frantic Eastern Conference playoff race. . . . The Rockets are 6-0 overall in their last six games, and have won 15 consecutive home games. . . . Victoria's Ben Walker is listed day-to-day after getting hurt in a 4-2 loss at Kelowna last week.